Television Review

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The Independent Culture
WHEN CHANNEL 4 was launched in 1982, its remit was to provide television for minorities whose concerns were not being addressed by the mainstream stations. Over the years, the channel has ruthlessly turned its back on that founding ideal, leaving just one ethnic minority which is significantly catered for: Americans. The modern Channel 4 schedule reminds me of PBS, which carries the lion's share of British imports on US television. Pretty soon they'll start taking a direct news feed from NBC, and the colonisation will be complete.

I know it sounds implausible, but in a week which saw the return of ER and the arrival of Sex and the City, there was a new programme on Channel 4 which wasn't made in the USA. Don't get too excited, though. Boyz Unlimited (C4) is about the making of a pop group. That sounds familiar, doesn't it? Now let me see, when did Channel 4 last send a scriptwriter into this field of human experience? Oh yes, it was just before Christmas in The Young Person's Guide to Becoming a Rock Star. Okay, there are discrepancies. Boyz Unlimited is a comedy, and it's about a boy band. It doesn't ape the visual signature of Trainspotting, but - goodness me, no - that of a fly-on-the-wall documentary. And this time, it's not the record company executive who's unscrupulous, but the band's manager.

Boy bands are an easy target, and the script's aim is fairly true. It does just about enough to outstrip the absurdity of its target subject. The cute middle-class band member suffers the indignity of an involuntary change of name: formerly Giles Hornchurch, he is now Scott Le Tissier. The gorgeous 15-year-old airhead Nicky Vickery is father of his headmistress's unborn baby. Jason Jackson's father is a Glaswegian crack dealer. Boyz will be boyz.

The script also seems mercifully aware that this is an area in which everything has been heard before. In the audition scene, familiar from The Fabulous Baker Boys and elsewhere, Nigel the manager finds lots of footling things wrong with one exceptional applicant. The documentary maker gets to the nub by asking him if it's a problem that the boy is black. When Nigel pitches his new charges to an A&R woman, she is all too familiar with the hyperbolic patter and briskly cuts to the chase. Girl group or boy band? Four boys or five? Will the fat one write the songs, even though they will actually be releasing cover versions?

In a way, the show itself is a kind of cover version, and like most cover versions it's not a patch on the original. The fly-on-the-wall aesthetic appears courtesy of This Is Spinal Tap, as does Nigel's baseball bat. Jo Whiley does the voiceover, and makes the usual allusions to the same old synthetic docu-crises, which come principally in the form of the soaraway success of their near rivals, Boys Limited. But Boyz Unlimited is more interested in taking a baseball bat to the content rather than the form, and that is probably refreshing. Just how long can you go on watching parodies before suddenly they are not enough, and you want to be shown parodies of the parodies?

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