Extreme Male Beauty, Channel 4 Keep it in the Family, BBC2
IN THE first episode of Extreme Male Beauty, journalist Tim Shaw complained that he felt besieged and undermined by the predominant images of so-called male perfection in Western advertising. "Every time I turn around, pecs are in my face," he grumbled.
Well, why not just ignore them? Personally speaking, I've never felt threatened by images of pouting twonks in their underpants, largely because I have no desire to look like that. Or maybe, as I strongly suspect, Shaw was overstating his anxiety as an excuse to front his own crummy lifestyle series in which he repeatedly exposes his gingery man-boobs and genitals. Why he would wish to do this, I have no idea.
His shallow investigation was full of obvious observations – steroids are bad, exercise is good, only consider surgery as a final, desperate resort – and endless sniggering shots of flabby folds and naughty bits. Given the predominance of TV documentaries about female body issues, you could perhaps celebrate this as a welcome take on the subject from a male perspective – hey, the media makes guys feel insecure about their bodies too, you know! – but the programme is a mess, a higgledy-piggledy clash of stolen formats. When clumsily cobbled together, it seemed more like an extended trailer for a programme that never arrived.
Format one: "The Crazy Challenge Documentary", in which a hapless protagonist sets themselves a seemingly unattainable goal. Witness Shaw striving to transform himself from slob to Superman in just eight weeks. Will he succeed? Who cares?
Format two: "The Supposedly Uplifting Makeover Show", in which an unattractive member of the public is patronised by hateful image gurus. Witness a charmless Doncaster wideboy who dreams of looking like Peter Andre (who doesn't?) being groomed by three moneyed experts, their gittishness magnified by the decision to film them in the manner of a 1980s action/adventure series.
Format three: "Auditions, Judges, Show-Offs", in which – well, the clue is in the title. Witness a sequence chronicling the open auditions to become a cover star for Men's Health magazine, a dreary process lacking in drama for anyone other than the hopefuls themselves. The only things missing were a cookery section and a pointless celebrity cameo. I'm sure they're yet to come.
Despite its (skimpy) brief, the whole exercise seemed designed to make imperfectly shaped men feel worse about themselves. It tacitly endorsed the notion that six-pack Armani ad perfection is the ultimate physical goal for men, thus reinforcing the media-driven body fascism that Shaw was complaining about in the first place. In short: a flaccid ball of confusion.
There was more format thievery in Keeping it in the Family, which is essentially Faking It with a gene transplant. Jamie, a 28-year-old music director, had just two weeks to learn how to run his father's antiques business, which has been in the family's hands for three generations. Surprisingly, he did rather well, although unsurprisingly he declined to give up his day job, but any enjoyment I may have gained from this development was eviscerated by the worst case of repetitious narrator-itis I've ever encountered. Unnecessarily excessive recapitulation is one of the most infuriating aspects of modern TV documentaries, but this was outrageous: it was as though it was aimed at short-term amnesiacs.