There was a time when I couldn’t get enough of Come Dine With Me. I could happily waste four hours of a Sunday afternoon, listening to Dave Lamb sniping about posh housewives fucking up a soufflé, or ex-dinner ladies revealing their secret for a quick coulis – Robertson’s jam and a splash of hot water.
But the format’s starting to look a little tired, so lazy TV executives are keen to find a similar concept that will appeal to the same crowd, with just enough tweaks to make it feel fresh again. Like the telly equivalent of Monday leftovers.
And so it is that we’ve been invited to attend The Devil’s Dinner Party (cue ominous music). This new show mixes elements of CDWM, Big Brother and, my personal favourite, Without Prejudice, stirring them into a lumpy broth of snap judgements, bitchy backbiting and napkin rings. There’s also an ominous host – the unfortunately named Pip Torrens - who claims to be doing the devil’s bidding. Given that this is a Sky production, that might not be an entirely erroneous claim. Pip looks and acts like Lurch from the Addams Family, with a smidge of Evan Davies’ creepy ‘leather daddy’ vibe.
Pip explains that six strangers have been invited to dinner, and one will walk away the winner, having been voted the most popular guest at the table. Along the way, others will be eliminated. This is how Agatha Christie’s dinner parties usually ended up, so let’s see who’s going to end up on the business end of a shrimp fork.
After a burst of Apprentice-lite cab-porn, we meet our contestants. Francesca is a presenter “of mostly online stuff” which instantly gets the boys picturing her twiddling a phone cord around her finger and giving it the old come-hither. Amanda works with older people, and seems to have come disguised as one of them. Danny’s a recruiter in the city, and is so oily that he should come with his own breadsticks.
Layla is a brassy, take-no-prisoners Aussie, who claims to wear her heart on her sleeve. Unfortunately, she’s left the sleeves at home, along with a fitted bra. Since she’s going to spend most of the evening spilling out of her unforgiving LBD, I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that no-one brings a melon-baller to the table, otherwise this dinner might end with a trip to A&E.
Tony is a commercial interior decorator and part-time actor, but gives the immediate impression that he’s not been overly successful in either venture. More on that later. Finally, there’s Ryan, who works in IT and promises to “have chemistry with all the women”. He spends most of his VT complaining how stupid and dull everyone else is. Which is a little odd, since if I was stuck at a dinner party with him, I’d sooner strike up a conversation with the curtains.
As his guests make their awkward introductions, Lurch looms into view to announce, “I make the Devil’s mischief. It’s time to play.” Strap on your ball-gags, tonight’s safety word is “crabcake”.
The set dressers have gone overboard with the gothic styling, but all the candles in the world can’t hide the fact that it still looks like a Barratt’s showhome. Suddenly, Lurch is back to hit the guests with their first nasty surprise. Someone’s going home without so much as an amuse-bouche. The diners quickly vote, and it’s revealed that Danny will not be joining them for dinner. He might have professed to “enjoy meeting people” but clearly the feeling isn’t always mutual.
As the guests take their seats, their host tells them “You’ve earned your first £1,000. But here is where you start paying.” Throw in some sweaty leg warmers and this could be Debbie Allen’s intro to Fame.
Someone’s going home without so much as an amuse-bouche.
Over the next twenty minutes, each guest is taken away from the table to answer a probing question, with the barked instruction “Write an answer. Do. Not. Speak.” Meanwhile, the other guests have to guess how their missing member would answer the question.
Ryan is first in the hot seat, and has to decide who he would offer a room to – a family of refugees, a 16 year-old single mum, a rehabilitated ex-offender, or a single man who’d had a mental breakdown. I’m guessing he’s not an Express reader, otherwise he’d have just tried to slash his own throat with the answer card, rather than make the choice.
Having guessed Ryan’s answer incorrectly (he’d take the guy with a mental breakdown), it’s time for Layla to face a grilling. She’s asked how attractive she’d score herself out of ten. They think she’s an eight, but would probably score herself lower. In fact, she confidently declares that she’s an eight. All I can say is that Lurch must pour a pretty strong drink.
Now it’s Amanda’s turn. Who’s the most forgettable in the group? Once again, they get it wrong because they’re all trying too hard to be polite. No-one wants to tell Francesca that she’s pretty but dull. So they make up some bullshit about her being out of Amanda’s line of sight. It’s not like she’s spent the evening crouched behind a potted palm.
Lurch is back again, with the ominous warning that someone is certain to suffer. Given the line up around the table, I’d say that they’re all in the same boat there. Meanwhile, Amanda throws Tony a non-sequitur “If you’re a single dad, how old’s your child?” And that’s from a psychologist.
Tony takes the hot seat next, to reveal how successful out of ten he thinks he’s been in life. Divorced, redundant, running a failing business – is there a therapist hovering in the utility room? No need to worry, he’s a happy eight. That irks Ryan no end, who points out that if Trump and Sugar are tens, how can Jacko from Brush Strokes possibly score himself eight?
Lurch returns to ask gravely “Ladies and gentlemen, do you think you can win this complex contest?” I’m not sure where he got ‘complex’ from, maybe he’s watching Mr & Mrs on a black and white portable in the kitchen while his guests are making short work of the sorbets.
The guests all take a card from a pile and it’s revealed that Layla’s is marked. According to Lurch, she has an unpleasant task to perform. I hope she brought some mouthwash, just in case he’s been nibbling the asparagus when no-one was looking. Not to worry, it turns out she just has to select her least favourite guest for immediate eviction. In a less than surprising turn of events, she chooses Francesca, who grabs her coat and makes a hasty exit.
The group’s final challenge sees Tony trying to figure out which of his fellow diners is a member of Mensa. He guesses incorrectly, choosing Amanda instead of Ryan, who scoffs in his VT “No-one else around the table would have a snowball’s chance of getting into Mensa.” That’s hardly going to see their membership applications soaring, unless they’re still operating a cunts-only door policy.
Before the chocolate fondants have even been served, it’s time for the group to select a winner. And in time-honoured tradition, they choose the biggest wanker at the table. One small consolation is that Ryan only walks away with £1,000 since they were all so hopeless at guessing the answers. He’s happy enough, telling the camera “I cheated, I lied, I did what I have to.” Sensing that this isn’t exactly an upbeat ending for the pilot episode, Lurch warns us that the wicked find no solace in sleep. That may be so, but an easy grand could help them locate it in Spearmint Rhino.
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