Television Review

Jasper Rees
Friday 30 April 1999 23:02

STRASSMAN (ITV) is a chat show in which the guests are interviewed by both a ventriloquist and his dummy. The show's unique selling point is that while the ventriloquist is politesse itself, the dummy is toweringly rude. The one tiny hitch with this particular innovation is that it breaks slightly less ground than the man who invents a wheel and takes it along to a Ferrari factory. The licence to offend has been written into the chat-show host's charter for most of the decade.

If David Strassman does map new territory, it is in making explicit the idea of a chat-show host as a kind of split personality - all smiles on the outside, undiluted venom within. In the normal run of things, a spoof host like Dame Edna or Mrs Merton is both ventriloquist and dummy, with a hand, as it were, up his or her own backside, moving his or her own lips. Chuck Wood is Strassman's exterior version of dressing in drag, a poisonous tumour perched visibly on the end of his right arm. In other words, he's a prop rather than a costume, but he amounts to the same thing. Or in Chuck's own charm-free assessment, "You need me to say the thing you don't got the balls to say". Anthony Hopkins played someone similar in a Richard Attenborough movie called Magic, in which his demonic dummy incited him, if memory recalls, to murder. You weren't looking for anything quite so X-rated here, but a little more danger than telling the Channel 4 betting pundit John McCririck where to go wouldn't have gone amiss. (McCririck didn't even notice, anyway. You don't get to where he has in that get-up without having rhinoceros skin.) There is another flaw: if Strassman's opening show is anything to go by, the guest list will be drawn exclusively from within the world of television grotesquerie. (Jilly Goolden also fielded questions about being paid to get smashed.) That would in itself be OK if Strassman weren't an apple-cheeked Yank who almost certainly knew nothing about either guest until the researcher handed him their biographies. To what extent did Strassman know the first thing about Harrow, McCririck's alma mater, whose colours he always wears on his bow tie? (Come to that, should anyone really be talking about Eton and Harrow on a Friday night on ITV?) When she hosted a BBC2 chat show about 10 years ago, Joan Rivers fell down a similar Atlantic-sized cavity.

Final complaint coming up: it's having your cake and eating it to invite a celebrity onto a ventriloquist's show and then tease him for playing along with the joke. "I'm not real," said Chuck when McCririck tried to taunt him. "You don't like it up you," retorted McCririck. I don't think McCririck intended this to be funny, but it was a far wittier and more complex joke about ventriloquism than anything his host came up with.

There were more split personalities in Britain's Richest Kids (ITV), a programme about the old heads on young shoulders who have contrived to make a pile in their teens. It wasn't the best advertisement for the joys of wealth. "I will be happy when I make a billion," said one tyro businessman. You looked at him and thought, don't count on it.

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