There have been many perky contenders for 2013's most awful television programme. Namely, That Puppet Game Show, Mr Selfridge, the madcap-lads-on-tour wheeze of Rory McGrath and Will Mellor in Rory And Will – Champions of the World, or simply that 10-second clip during The Man with 10-Stone Testicles where our big-balled hero, Wesley, hoisted his enormous testicle sac around a cramped apartment on a stained towel. All awful. Well done, everyone.
These shows, however, seem harmlessly affable in the light of ITV's re-imagining of the classic game show Through the Keyhole, fronted by Keith Lemon, and currently being foisted upon primetime Saturday evening by TV commissioners who wanted something a bit like ITV2's Celebrity Juice for primetime. Celebrity Juice was what happened when ITV2 wanted a “broader” version of BBC2's Shooting Stars, which was a clever take on a game show, fronted by Keith Lemon, who isn't a clever take on anything.
At one point, 13 arduous years ago when Lemon first appeared, I remember there being a vague nod in the act towards Lemon being a capricious yet failing local Northern businessman (which didn't make a lot of sense either) but that heady reference has been smoothed out for ITV audiences. Now Lemon is just a bloke with a fake-tanned face who shouts about dog excrement or Holly Willoughby's knickers or knockers.
He is the sort of character Bob Mortimer might have created, slinging on a wig and ad libbing for three minutes in Bang, Bang It's Reeves and Mortimer in 1999, and then promptly forgotten about. Lemon, played by Leigh Francis, who is perfectly capable of being very, very funny, is what would have happened if Steve Coogan had played Tony Ferrino for ever, for big wodges of money, regardless of its one, solitary comedic note.
I watched last Saturday's episode of Through the Keyhole – featuring the supposed homes of Kerry Katona and Louis Walsh – with a quasi-tender admiration for the brass balls of those who propelled it on to our screens. We Shall Not Forget. Because an hour is a long time to watch Keith Lemon banter with Dave Berry about Kerry Katona's soft furnishings. Especially as she buys them from Dwell and likes those naff wooden signs that say “PEACE” or “LOVE”. But then an hour is a long time to watch Keith Lemon do anything because he is character comedy for the under-sevens (although Mr Tumble from Something Special on CBeebies has more depth) and the sort of human beings who soil themselves giggling at Warwick Davis falling out of a Range Rover.
Last Saturday's outing featured celebrity “guesser” Cilla Black (who really is better than this and needs an emergency meeting with her agent) pondering over the bare shell of a home that apparently belonged to Louis Walsh, which we knew was his because the fridge was bare aside from potatoes. He's Irish; they love potatoes.
Walsh's house – a completely different one – has been shown on ITV primetime during the X Factor's “judges' houses” round almost every year since 2004, but don't bother yourself with details, just hang back and enjoy the banter. When Walsh was revealed, Lemon leapt from his host's chair and for four long minutes pretended to audition for The X Factor by singing Jermaine Stewart's “We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off”, while Cilla, Dave and the audience laughed up spleen parts. At least with ITV's pleasingly bleak hit Take Me Out, one gets the feeling that someone sat down with its host, Paddy McGuinness, and wrote some bloody material.
Since last Saturday's show, I've been thinking about life experiences I'd rather endure again over watching another episode of Through the Keyhole. My list included: sitting on a suitcase for four hours on Christmas Eve beside an overflowing Virgin train toilet; retrieving rat entrails from behind the sofa; having a sick pet put to sleep on a wet Tuesday morning and walking home exhausted with an empty cat basket in one hand and a bottle of mini-mart merlot in the other; losing a contact lens round the back of my eyeball which I could feel scraping against my brain; scallop poisoning; the time I was head-butted by a drunk in a bar; and realising that Celebrity Big Brother was about to be won by a child from Geordie Shore famous only for urinating and defecating in her own bed while drunk.
Other things more pleasurable than Through the Keyhole: the inescapable torture of a retinal migraine; the dark annoyance of lovingly making a sandwich and realising on first bite that the bread has green mould speckles; being woken by the police at 7am and asked if you know your car has been keyed; that time I found a clump of what looked like pubic hair in a Cornish pasty.
In fact, and I say this with some amazement at this statement's largesse, I would rather agree to interact with Naomi Campbell on a daily basis for 30 days than watch one more episode. Through the Keyhole, you have broken me, not merely as a TV critic but, at some level, as a member of Planet Earth. ITV, mazel tov.
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