Monday, October 27, 2008

Honking Box Review: Britannia High

It’ll probably come as no surprise to hear that the whole High School Musical thing passed us by here at The Sloppy Dog. Presumably because it’s aimed at eight-year-old girls, and as if we’d let eight-year-old girls loose on our wonderful blog. No, we have them scrubbing floors in the basement instead. Arf, etc. However, for those ignorant of the phenomenon, ITV are doing their very best to ram it forcefully down the throats of anyone who missed it the first time. Except, this time, it’s called Britannia High.

Let’s clarify, first and foremost, that this is IN NO WAY a complete and utter rip-off of the Disney dollar-printer. It is an ENTIRELY ORIGINAL concept, and could NEVER be described as a forlorn attempt to shamelessly anglicise one of the biggest brands in the world today in the hope of making a few quid. In fairness, it actually looks more like a Visit London presentation than a High School Musical parody, launching with what felt like a 16-minute title sequence flagrantly begging to be sold to overseas broadcasters.

So, the premise of Britannia High in a nutshell. Performing arts school. Singing. Dancing. Bitching, albeit on a Bella-from-Tweenies level. Genitalia-free love story. Shoehorned-in cameos. And overall, it’s a vehicle for albums, merchandise and all kinds of multi-platform spasticity. Mind you, things haven’t gotten off to a great start - the school itself looks scarily like Drake Circus Shopping Centre, leaving you thinking the bendy girl practising her épaulements on the front steps is about to be shoved sideways by a noisy Devon lady bogged down with Primark bags running to catch a No. 41.

The drama – and when we say drama, we’re talking a Year 8 improvisation of shoplifting an apple – is interspliced with frankly bizarre pop video-type performances. A scene where two jazz-handed brats in tights and off-the-shoulder tops (and these are just the male students) will be discussing whether they’ve got Maths after Double Tap, until 80s power chords drown out the dialogue, provide a bed for ‘inspirational’ lyrics, then all of a sudden we’re transported to some sort of Total Eclipse of the Heart for the digital age. It’s inexplicable.

And briefly returning to the subject of dialogue, Britannia High’s first episode displayed some of the ropiest scripts ever broadcast, which you could well imagine even the cast of Robin Hood wincing at. Particular bile must be spat in the direction of Maxxie from fucking Skins, complete with God-awful perm a la Rita Fairclough, for his brazen use of the term “chillax” – a word which has quickly come to be defined as the calling card of an utter cunt.

Aside from anything else though, Britannia High finally gives some sort of explanation for why the atrocious DanceX actually happened. Rana and Marquelle, admittedly two of the more talented contenders, appear here in lead roles. And while, at the time, we thought Rana was all sorts of ace, she appears to have grown an entirely new voice in the past 18 months, and miraculously no longer sounds like Michael Jackson being ironed. So Britannia High is magic! Like Hogwarts!

Elsewhere from the DanceX camp, Daniel has been reduced to an extra role (sorry, “supporting artiste”), and an upcoming episode sees Phoenix starring in the Britannia High end-of-term production of Phantom of the Opera, where he doesn’t actually require a mask. This may or may not be a lie. But with Arlene Phillips on board as producer, who knows? If she can last a whole episode staying firmly off-camera, and not running on to dry-hump the male stars, anything – literally, anything – is possible.

All in all though, there’s little positive to say about Britannia High. Aside from the quality aspect, it’s just all very unoriginal and uninspired. The shadow of High School Musical… a questionable Fame redux… The Biz with a hefty budget. Undoubtedly though, there’s most likely a market for it; an audience that might consider Britannia High to be something halfway to passable. If only it were on in the slot between Lazytown and Newsround where it belongs...

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