Reality TV used to be so straightforward. Chuck a few attention-seekers in a house, film everything they do, and hope they start bickering about teabags. It was television gold, and its evolution was rapid. Eventually, reality TV ballooned into a monster, hoovering up formats at speed, mining the attention-seeking prowess of people who were already famous – because there’s little risk of them not performing. Which is why Anthea Turner is on a sort-of competition with Lee Ryan from Blue attempting to do entirely invented “challenges” from a 1987 film that featured no challenges, as far as I can recall. Welcome to The Real Dirty Dancing (Monday, 9pm, E4).
In recent years we have seen celebrities attempting to row boats around the British Isles, celebrities dating other celebrities and also non-celebrities, and on primetime Saturday nights, celebrities dressing up as cartoon creatures to belt out a tune using a disguised voice until Davina McCall shouts: “Take it off! Take it off!” at them. Has anyone else wondered whether celebrities might need our protection? Is it time to intervene, call a moratorium on letting famous people sign up to anything that suggests it might require a hint of a waiver?
The Real Dirty Dancing falls into a celebrity reality subgenre that borrows a famous film and builds a competitive element round it. The Real Full Monty took a film about a fictional bunch of laid-off Sheffield steelworkers who turned to stripping to pay the bills and used it to get a load of celebrities to take their clothes off for charity. The Real Marigold Hotel borrowed an idea from the whimsical travel movie and sent older celebrities to India to see if they might retire there. Sadly, The Real Quiet Place is yet to be picked up, though I suspect it is only a matter of time.
Keith Lemon and Ashley Roberts host this latest creation, which seems to be a cross between a historical re-enactment, a summer camp and a dance competition. The selection pack of famous people is a pitch-perfect cross-section of fame as it stands in 2022. There’s Turner, the oldest of the competitors, and by default the most famous, alongside Saffron Barker, who is a YouTuber apparently, and then a sprinkling of people from Hollyoaks and Geordie Shore and a couple of other TV shows. Bobby Seagull from University Challenge is there, as is Arg from Towie, who is excited to get on the dancefloor after his gastric band surgery, and then there is Ryan, a man single-handedly keeping the fedora alive. In the absence of much of a narrative, apart from getting to the obvious point of the Big Lift, they have to recreate less memorable scenes from the film. It’s basically Secret Cinema with Keith Lemon shouting at you and, I imagine, smaller queues.
Not all of these “challenges” – and I say that loosely – involve dancing; one just involves tipping water on a waiter and trying to do an American accent. I found the concept hard to follow, but I think the two men and two women who perform best are chosen to play Baby and Johnny in the final, and then those two couples get to try the lift. As prizes go, it makes Drag Race’s RuPeter Badges look generous, but nobody really cares about who’s good or bad, only how horrifically awkward it can get when famous people are asked to bump and grind when they’ve only just met.
The star, so far, is Chelsee Healey from Hollyoaks, who highlights the fact that this is all a gleeful stretch. “We got these big-arse melons banged on us,” she explains, as they carry watermelons into a club, because that’s what Baby does in the film. Healey came second on Strictly, and the spectre of that show looms large. The celebrity reality machine is such a tangled mess that some of the people on here, such as Healey, have already done it, while others would clearly like to do it, which makes this seem like both a training ground and resting home for the big daddy of twinkle-toed telly. This is no Strictly, but it isn’t trying to be. It’s a light, daft, surreal idea, stretched taut over the frame of reality TV, and it should hold, just about, until they’ve had the time of their lives.