TV & RadioTV review

I’m a Celebrity ... South Africa is a bit like Apocalypse Now – but with a darker message

Patrick Freyne: The deathless TV franchise will eventually come with more skulls on spikes, I’m sure

There’s a point in every season of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! when its most charismatic participants are driven to the edge of reason by the barbarities thrown at them by those chuckling Chucky dolls Ant and Dec. On Tuesday’s episode of I’m a Celebrity ... South Africa (Virgin Media One and ITV2), for example, they explain, with delight, “You’ll each lie down inside your tomb, and the lids will be closed and locked shut.”

To which the most relatable participant might say: “But I don’t want to be stuck in a tomb with shrieking former EastEnders star Joe Swash. I’m claustrophobic and, also, I’m 50 snakes.”

Later in the episode the torturous tykes declare: “The last two celebrities to escape their crates will go home.” And they say this terrifying sentence to a glitz of celebrities (a glitz is the collective noun) whose heads emerge from locked boxes like latter-day Boscos.

To which another of the more charismatic contestants might say, “But I don’t want to be funnelled into a crate in which famously indiscreet celebrity butler Paul Burrell grumpily gyrates. I’m several thousand cockroaches and I feel there’s more to life than walking around on top of Paul Burrell.”


Yes. There probably is more to life than walking around on top of Paul Burrell. There may even be more to life than watching him on television. The creepy-crawlies will, I feel, ultimately seek revenge. There’s definitely a post-human-civilisation edition of I’m a Celebrity in which the last humans are dropped down funnels on to giant irradiated mutant cockroaches.

I imagine there are hundreds of thousands of crawling verminous beasts who have vowed vengeance on Byker Grove’s finest as it is. Some day their butler, probably Burrell, will cry, “Mr Ant! Mr Dec! There are several thousand cockroaches, snakes, rats and mealworms at the door who want to have a word with you.” Flash-forward to a press conference in which a cockroach reads from a prepared script while dabbing his weeping oculi with his cursorial leg: “Justice has been done. Our long nightmare is ended.”

I’m a Celebrity ... South Africa is an all-star variant of the deathless franchise in which the most popular celebs from former series are recaptured and made to starve and cry and bicker while subjected to confined spaces and biblical showers of vermin and filth. They are frequently pitted against one another for meagre treats and at one point made to dig for gold in coffins filled with slime, which is as good a metaphor for late capitalism as any. Ant and Dec, with the big roundy heads on them, look well fed and contented as they jabber and jape in a luxurious treetop bower, encouraged by the chilling chortles of their off-camera production crew. (The staff-wanted ads for I’m a Celebrity definitely said “chortling skills essential”.)

Even after Brexit, television producers don’t yet have the power to cull celebrities, even though many carry bovine TB

This series is heading towards the final episode, and there’s been a high attrition rate. The remaining residents include pop-music escapee Myleene Klass, literate and numerate television personality Carol Vorderman, celebrated quidditch player Phil Tufnell (it’s possibly cricket he plays actually) and Jordan Banjo, sadly not a large banjo but a human man who is inaccurately named. On the other hand, shouting supermodel Janice Dickinson, a Teletubby named Toff, psychonautical Mancunian music shouter Shaun Ryder and not-a-real-doctor Gillian McKeith have already been sent up the river.

This isn’t a euphemism. Even after Brexit, television producers don’t yet have the power to cull celebrities, even though many carry bovine TB. No, the failed contestants are literally sent up the river. They depart the jungle on a boat much like the one Captain Willard commandeers in Apocalypse Now but carrying with them an arguably darker message about human nature.

Yes, all along, Colonel Kurtz was just Ant standing on Dec’s shoulders and wearing a long coat. Apocalypse Now could have done with more chortling, all things considered. And I’m a Celebrity will eventually come with more skulls on spikes, I’m sure. For now we must content ourselves with the likes of Joe Swash screaming with terror in a box.

It’s nice to see the return of Oireachtas Report, though they’ve renamed it The Muppets Mayhem (Disney+), in keeping with our less deferential age. Okay, it’s actually a 10-part biopic about The Muppet Show’s house band, the Electric Mayhem. That said, when the band respond to the news that they owe a lot of money with “We’ll just pay you back in groove,” it does remind me a little of Fianna Fáil’s approach to book-balancing in the noughties.

Thankfully the Electric Mayhem are a hot musical combo with a rainbow-coloured bus, not a populist political party with a novel approach to wealth redistribution. I love the Electric Mayhem. They are melodic, hedonistic anarchists, and they now have legs, something Muppets couldn’t afford in the 1970s because of stagflation.

Unlike with Gillian McKeith, I would happily take the medical advice of the Mayhem’s piano-playing leader, Dr Teeth (definitely a real doctor). I would also gladly take a yoga class and eat granola with their hippy guitar player, Janice, and I’ve learned all I know about public speaking from their passionately loquacious drummer, Animal.

Somehow the Electric Mayhem feel more like real people to me than the characters in a comparable musical drama, Daisy Jones & the Six, over on Amazon Prime Video, despite being made out of felt and puppeteered by forces we cannot see. Although that also reminds me of some politicians, to be honest.

The most interesting programme on telly right now is Barry (Sky Comedy and Now), which is back for its fourth and final season. Its creators, Bill Hader and Alec Berg, have taken a rich premise – a hit man takes an acting class – and instead of trundling it down the easy road of artistic redemption have decided to push it somewhere more uncomfortable and weird.

From one scene to another the tone can move from cartoonish absurdity to raw emotional realism. Each episode and each season is emotionally, narratively and visually surprising and original. Barry (played by Hader) is not the cool hit man of cinema cliche but a bumbling, awkward geek with a distorted self-image as a good person. He has not been uplifted by his goofy creative desires. Instead he has become more self-servingly deluded and terrifying. The show says a lot about the corrosive nature of the United States’ wars, of the entertainment industry, of possessive love and of selfish dreams. Arguably, you can find the same themes in The Muppets Mayhem.