Can BGT Rediscover Itself? Episode One Review..

I remember asking my old man what the Cold War was all about when I was young. “Well son” he said. “Everyone was dead worried because they thought the world might end..” “Is that why you did all those drugs?” I asked. He really shouldn’t have let me watch that Rolling Stones documentary with him.

Thanks to the kind of hype that would usually only be reserved for Royal Weddings or David Beckham haircuts, it almost feels like the Saturday night conflict between the Beeb and ITV may well have the same repercussions in TV world this weekend. As you may have guessed, Simon Cowell was doing nothing to play things down at the Britain’s Got Talent launch on Thursday.

Will he be watching The Voice? “Maybe five minutes, then I’ll switch it off. Will you be watching it? I wouldn’t bother” – “The BBC are taking themselves too seriously if they’re going on about credibility” ..and “Put it like this, I’m backing my talent to beat their’s this summer!” Yes folks, Cowell is back in Britain and he’s determined to put a domestically disappointing 2011 behind him. I was just waiting for someone to ask him about Tulisa..

Last year’s BGT was poor. Not many people can remember who won, The Hoff lost his novelty value in minutes flat and that conspiracy-peddling faux ITV mole aside, the whole thing was utterly forgettable. Cowell has vowed to turn things around this year, but when the first act of this year’s series turned out to be a bloke reciting lines from Gladiator (seriously!) his boasting didn’t quite ring true. The music mogul obviously has a few acts up his sleeve, but what I really wanted to see was something NEW and I didn’t. We had an en masse male choir, a gay couple doing ballroom and a nice lad with a guitar and a great voice, but it would have been great to see a game-changer. I’m sure Cowell was searching for one, but once again, the whole thing seems destined to end up being a battle between a young singer, a dance group and a some form of vocal collective.

Bookies have already backed BGT to defeat The Voice on Saturday evening, but you can’t help but feel that the prediction has something to do with the fact that people love the familiar. Watching the early oddballs is also an undeniable draw and no one does that better than Britain’s Got Talent (look out for an intriguing performance from the ‘Owl and the Pussycat’) yet these car-crash contestants often make the earlier episodes far more entertaining than the final ones. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Despite the undeniably positive influence that Cowell will have on his return, the judges panel also looks light-weight. Michael McIntyre was easily the best thing about last year’s show and David Walliams should step into his shoes nicely, but the girls are far too vanilla to be crowd-pullers. Apart from being slightly stroppy, Alisha Dixon brings little character to the table and Amanda Holden remains an absolute passenger who seems unable to transfer her stage charisma to the screen.

Yet Simon Cowell is obviously not an idiot and it seems that he’s got a plan. It’s not very subtle, but it’ll probably work..

The final act of the opening episode – prime real-estate in the BGT landscape – is this year occupied by Charlotte and Jonathan: a pretty young girl and exceptionally large young man, who doesn’t look too dissimilar to that bloke from Lost and explains that he’s been subjected to a fair bit of bullying in his time. “Just when you think things can’t get any worse..” Cowell whispers to Holden and just to make sure we hear it, his disdain is subtitled. Now obviously these contestants have to go through preliminary auditions, where the good and horrendous are put forward and the boringly average knocked back, so the idea that no one’s warned him that this bloke has a voice like Pavarotti is laughable.

The whole episode seems to have been added in a bid to recreate the genuinely spine-tingling moment when Paul Potts gave us an eargasm with Nessum Dorma in his 2007 audition, yet Cowell wasn’t finished yet. He then went on to explain that he thought that Charlotte was ‘holding’ Jonathan back and that he might consider splitting them up. Having previously laboured over a VT in which Jonathan spoke of how Charlotte was the only person who believed in him, Jonathan told him that they came as a pair or nothing at all. Jonathan obviously has the makings of a star, but the whole thing felt more contrived than a WWF bout. Cowell was repainting himself as the villain and creating a “will he? Won’t he?” series-arc all at the same time. Steven Moffat would have been proud and the BBC should take warning. The X Factor boss is a master of public manipulation and he seems ready to use every last trick in the book in this battle.