Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

TV View: When Corden Met Barlow tale of the star and his groupie...

Gary Barlow being interviewed by James Corden
Gary Barlow being interviewed by James Corden

Tale of the star and his groupie...

Us blokes and our problems, eh? Never mind the patriarchal hegemony and all that, it seems that according to the telly, men are in crisis this week. I don't mean we're in crisis for just this week of course, that'd be fickle of us at best.

But it did seem to flare up on our screens with all the unseemliness of an embarrassing rash. At the vanguard of this outbreak of non-deadly male boo-hoo syndrome was the unlikely figure of Gary Barlow, loveable stadium-filling Tory, formerly of Take That and a previous contender for porcine anonymity.

It seems, you see, that multi-millionaire Barlow has had a few hiccups in his rollercoaster (to borrow an image from an Irish rival) of a career. And whereas John Lennon had Dr Arthur Janov and primal scream therapy to help deal with the "crisis" of his fame and masculinity, our Gary has the chubby bloke out of Gavin And Stacey.

What ensued on When Corden Met Barlow (BBC1) was a programme that you know GB could stick on his gigantic telly when the temptation returned to reach for the maxi-pack of chunky Kit-Kats, to reaffirm that being a multi-millionaire pop star who had a few fallow years isn't such a bad place to be.

And it was all thanks to James Corden, who left no bottom unnosed in his attempts to perk up a whimsical, misty-eyed Barlow – and all this without any formal counselling training.

"The greatest story of the modern pop music era." "Music was never gonna turn its back on him." "He could have gone one way, but he's gone the other." It was impossible not to be moved by the celeb testimonies trotted out throughout the show, even if it was to rewind to make sure you'd really heard what you thought you had.

But the biggest injections of badly needed succour for the affluent house-singer for the establishment came from Corden himself. Even if, sometimes, you did wonder whether he'd overegged the pudding of praise.

"Last night Gary Barlow played a sold-out arena tour across the UK." Gushed Corden at one point? Really, James? I mean, we already know his comeback is the greatest story of the modern pop music era, but still – all in just one night?

"You're one of the few people to get good-looking as you get older," he told a blushing Barlow later on, and it wasn't sycophantic – it was badly needed therapy for the former X Factor judge and proprietor of a palatial house in leafy Chesire. Gary poured his heart out about the time he'd "just stared" at his white grand piano. For two whole days.

If you were feeling it at home, just imagine Corden's near superhuman attempts to keep his composure at that stage.

His lip barely wobbled as he proceeded to lighten the mood, as they always say you should do with manic depressives and very contented successful people.

It wasn't all doom and gloom, however, they had fun too. "You're not as cool as Bruno Mars" joshed Corden at one point, taking Barlow almost by surprise, presumably because he'd forgotten how he was meant to react to that line in rehearsals. Or maybe he was, as we were, genuinely surprised that James Corden thought Bruno Mars was cool.

Lots of emotional middle-aged men joined in the chorus – even Robbie Williams, who said that when he called Barlow "a fat, talentless loser", it came from a place of love. And so the revelation that Gary found a new hope, lost weight and started to write songs again after he got a phone call that the viewing figures for the Take That TV reunion had exceeded expectation, was surely one of the most uplifting things of all, possibly.

Some have since deigned to call this one-off road trip a schmaltzy, cynical, saccharin pile of c**p, lazily cobbled together, but I called it affirmative male intervention. It's a dog eat dog world out there, even for Ivor Novello winners.

Stereotypes will tumble in the fight for survival on desert island

As I mentioned elsewhere, it was a week for men and manly things on telly. Not all of them hit the profound troughs of Corden/Barlow. There was also the rather murkily defined "experiment" of The Island With Bear Grylls (Channel 4).

Thirteen random men on a Pacific island with nothing but their 21st century blokiness and some basic camera training between them and sub-tropical oblivion. Bear, you see, wanted to squeeze out the hunter gatherer essence he knew there was inside these tubes.

But it was Dean the hairdresser who provoked most thought. "He's not going to survive, he's gay," was Dean's summation of what people would think of him, which led to two rather unpleasant thoughts. Do we really think being gay means you're somehow less able to rub a pair of sticks together to make fire? At any rate, they thought better of letting him have a go on the rubbing sticks thing, just in case. And sure enough, eight hours later, there was fire.

Secondly – was Dean assuming that the gay guy would be the first to be eaten by crocodiles and/or team-mates? In fairness, a lot of them used the word survive like they'd forgotten that it meant "not dying" as opposed to being voted off a reality show.

Nevertheless, bloody gripping stuff – which I hope isn't how the thing literally ends.

We'll miss Paxo doing his stuff

If you haven't realised, it was ‘men talking to other men week’ on TV. And amidst all the bluster, bravado and guffawing there was a blustering, guffawing exchange between Paxman, and Irvine Welsh on Newsnight (BBC2). Paxo asked Welsh what he made of the Scottish independence debate. When Welsh deigned to respond, Paxo bellowed in outrage with a sneer force of possibly 11, as to how the author might dare possess an opinion when he doesn't even live in Scotland anymore. It was classic rack 'em up, knock 'em down Paxman. Hugely unfair, utterly unjournalistic, but stupidly entertaining. We'll miss him when his harrumphing no longer soundtracks our supping of hot milk before bed-time.

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