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Playing it Straight

Now this is quite an interesting one. This began as an American series on the FOX network (owned by your chum and mine, Rupert Murdoch). In it, a woman had to whittle down potential suitors until there was just one left. Sadly for her, some of the men were (gasp) homosexual, and if she picked one of them to be her beau at the end, he won $1m, whereas if she picks a straight guy they get to split the $1m between them. In theory, it's the ultimate Murdoch show in that it should appeal to everybody - it's got gays in it (positive skew towards that all important 18-35 advertising demographic), and it also shows gays to be money grabbing and ultimately evil (positive skew towards the ugly puritanical side of the US). It's brilliant and cynical, and it bombed completely being pulled off the air after just three episodes. Happily, FOX did put the rest of the series up for pay-per-view download which as regular punters will remember, we think is a real step forward for American broadcasting. If you're still able to download these, do point out where because we'd like to see an episode and would be happy to pay a very small charge to do so.

A game involving actual real cowboys lassoing the contestantsAnyway, now there is a British version of it. The lovely Zoe, under the allusion she's going to be on a dating show, is flown out to The Hacienda in Mexico to meet ten elegible bachelors. Some of these men are (gasp) homosexual. She will whittle the ones she doesn't like away until she's left with her beau. If he's straight, they split £100,000 between them, if he's a horrible nasty gay, he gets the whole £100,000 to himself. The men don't know which of the other men are gay, or how many there are. T4's June Sarpong is there as host but she doesn't actually do very much. Which naturally improves the show immensely.

Zoe is given hints as to the orientation of our plucky men via a series of tests, which she always watches in secret, a fact the men always seem quite surprised about on the nth time of asking. The winners of each one gets to go on a one-to-one date with Zoe to make her fall in love with him. The tests are all based around masculine things that of course real hetrosexual men will have no trouble with, but gays obviously will (like, arm wrestling, putting up shelves and eating chillies). Of course, it's all done with obvious ironic intent (and it just about succeeds as comedy), although for a show that's about seeing past the stereotypes it's a shame they have to go on and on and on about the stereotypes all the time. It works on several levels really, us atop our collective socialist pedestal laughing at the intent and watching with the requisite correct amount of eyebrows raised, and other people who think that Will and Grace is just like real life and that all gay men are camp and a bit limp wristed aren't they.

The showdownThe voiceover is provided by Scottish Hollywood actor and comic Alan Cumming and is filled to the brim with innuendo. This varies between quite amusing to absolutely tedious. Fairing much better in our eyes is Brian the mariachi troubadour who pops up now and then to treat us and some of the contestants to a burst of song - again laiden with entendre, but done with enough silly charm and enthusuasm to raise a giggle.

We must confess to not being avid watchers of the dating genre. But what we quite like about this show is that the balance of power between picker and dates has shifted away from the picker and towards the dates. Whereas in other shows, she picks a he and they go riding off into the sunset, here there's a very real chance that he will go without her, provided he can keep his own urges in check. It is, just an incy-wincy bit, like The Mole, and it's perhaps fitting that Messrs Hugill and Davey, host and producers of The Mole, are producing this as well. It certainly has a very similar and (let's be honest) quite good fun playalong factor, as everyone thinks they're quite good at playing Spot The Gay (especially after a few bottles) but in reality aren't that good really.

So, we rather find this unexpectedly entertaining and enjoyably silly.