The X Factor is back and you can guess the profile of the contestants without having to watch. Northern lass who writes her own songs. Breakdancing boy band (for whom this is very much the last roll of the dice). And a plumber from Essex with a loopy gran. It’s not a contest in the sense of a genuine competition with unforeseen results; it is a formula.
Talking of which, David Mitchell and Robert Webb are also back in Back (Channel 4, Wednesday, 9pm), which has a familiar feel. Two midlife losers are thrown together by desperation, one a bundle of anxiety, the other a confident lothario.
Sounds a lot like Peep Show to me. Not that I’m complaining. Back is funny for the same reasons Peep Show was funny: it punctures the middle-class suburban dream to reveal neurosis, doubt and the terror of being exposed as a fake.
Mitchell plays a biological son unconvinced that his late father really loved him. Webb is a foster child convinced that the deceased dad, whom he knew for about five minutes, was the light of his life. They compete over who has the more accurate memory. Mitchell, we might assume, has the greater authority to judge – and yet his character is so wretchedly self-loathing that the jury remains out. At the heart of this is a nihilism that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
I’m all for irony, but no one in this drama seems honestly, uncomplicatedly loving. Is that really what life is like? Back has been praised for combining light and shade, but it seems pitch black to me. It needs to be balanced with something sweet, such as two or three episodes of The Good Life.
Or else some of the confected joy of The X Factor. All that’s missing this year is judge Cheryl, the pop star from Newcastle-upon-Tyne who is mysteriously missing her surname. First, she was Cheryl Tweedy, then Cheryl Cole, then Cheryl Fernandez-Versini. Now she’s simply called Cheryl. Why? My theory is that she got sick of crossing out her old surname on her business cards and having to write a new one in. Life’s too darn short.
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