The Daily Telegraph
Saturday night TV takes a small step into the absurd
This Astronaut definitely wasn’t over the moon. American actor Jesse Metcalfe removed his space helmet and became the first contestant eliminated from The Masked Dancer (ITV, Saturday). Like the choreographic equivalent of Nasa’s Artemis rocket, his routine failed to achieve lift-off. Many viewers wll have exclaimed “Who?” about Metcalfe, who is best known for appearing in Desperate Housewives 15 years ago. At least Oti Mabuse recognised him. “He was my high school crush!” she cried.
During last year’s debut series, we were treated to such surreal sights as Craig Revel Horwood cutting some rug in a knickerbocker glory costume, Dita Von Teese dressed as a burlesque beetroot and Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards throwing disco shapes inside a rubber chicken. For this second run of The Masked Singer’s twinkle-toed sister show, the garb is even more gloriously random. We’ll be wowed by the fancy footwork of Prawn Cocktail, Sea Slug, Odd Socks and, most outlandish of all, Onomatopoeia. Yes, they’re now basing outfits on linguistic terms. Just pity the poor captionwriter who has to spell it.
As the flamboyantly disguised contest returned, there was a change of personnel on the panel. With comedian Mo Gilligan tied up, former footballer Peter Crouch came off the sub’s bench. His sole qualification? Busting out robotics to celebrate scoring for England back in 2006. TV careers have been based on less.
He joined Mabuse, Jonathan Ross and Davina Mccall in trying to work out who was perspiring profusely behind those masks. Crouch proved a likeable addition, took the absurd game seriously and made multiple guesses for each dancer – including Boris Johnson for Candlestick.
The opening episode saw six of the 12 mystery celebrities trip the light fantastic. Candlestick danced off against Scissors in what host Joel Dommett called “a health and safety nightmare”. Odd Socks put her best foot forward. Pillar & Post became the show’s first ever duo. And Ross made his traditional “Mary Berry?” guess for elegant mover Prawn Cocktail.
It isn’t as compelling as The Masked Singer, duly drawing lower ratings. As family-friendly entertainment, though, it will plug the glittery gap until Strictly arrives. Michael Hogan
How To with John Wilson (BBC Two, Sunday) is an oddity. It is on the BBC, and so I assumed that it would be presented by the excellent Radio 4 presenter of that name. But no, the series is American and this John Wilson is an anxious New Yorker who makes handheldcamera documentaries in a style that is somewhere between Louis Theroux, Woody Allen and You’ve Been Framed.
The tone is offbeat with a hipster aesthetic. Each episode tackles a theme – the first is How To Make Small Talk, the second is How To Put Up Scaffolding. Later in the series we will get How To Improve Your Memory
and How To Cook the Perfect Risotto.
But this is a comedy show of sorts so the intention isn’t really to tell us how to do those things, but to take us on a meandering journey illustrated by random shots of people on the street and filmed encounters with strangers. It is social anthropology, studying lives in a big city, with Wilson narrating throughout in an awkward, halting voice-over.
Wilson is willing to go wherever conversation takes him. In How To Make Small Talk, he poses the question, “Do you think mankind is going to make a comeback?” to a man outside a Wrestlemania event, who then invites him to his home in Pennsylvania to learn more about his job: catching paedophiles on the internet by posing as a teenage girl.
Figuring that going on holiday will provide him with “ammunition for a year’s worth of encounters”, Wilson books a trip to Cancun. He claims to be surprised that the hotel is hosting an MTV Spring Break party, then strikes up a friendship of sorts with another man who is there alone. For the scaffolding episode – a subject that interests him because Manhattan is covered in the stuff – he travels to a scaffolding convention in New Orleans. The randomness of all of this is quite diverting, and the episodes are an easily-digestible half-hour.
In the US, the show has garnered great reviews, but there is a faux naivete on display that gave me pause. The premise is that Wilson – who is billed as writer, director and executive producer – is one man trying to make sense of the world by venturing out there with his camera. Yet the show is actually the scripted product of a comedy writers’ room, which takes away some of its charm. Anita Singh
The Masked Dancer ★★★
How To with John Wilson ★★★