Superstars, Five

Did we like it?
We like to imagine the original Superstars from the 70s as the jolly, Cambridge-educated athlete jousting for Olympic glory in the 1500m and breasting the tape ahead of a sour-faced Hun. But those impressions, as well as our jaded jingoism, are antiquities and Superstars today is the obese kid walking the cross-country run, only able to jog a few paces before gripping his chest, wailing, “I’m dyin’! I’m dyin’!” Perhaps it always was so crippled, but Five manage to illuminate the faults as if picking out fleeing PoWs with a Stalag spotlight.

What was good about it?
• Jim Rosenthal. God knows what this ultra-professional is doing on this show, but he at least manages to burnish proceedings with his trademark tones. Sharon Davies also knows what she’s talking about.
• While it’s now impossible for the best current sports stars of the era to take part, most of the athletes seem to have been roused from slumbering in the elephants’ graveyard of sporting greats. Multi-Olympic winning Sir Steve Redgrave and Kelly Holmes are certainly two of the top names from the past 20 years, and Roger Black isn’t far behind. Mike Catt, meanwhile, won the Rugby World Cup. There’s a slight sadness that they – just like every other retired sportsperson in the country – are reduced to appearing on shows such as Superstars to buoy their public profile. Perhaps once retired, legendary icons should be humanely put down and crafted by top taxidermists into fleshy statues forever preserving their moment of crowing glory in municipal parks round the country.
• After a couple of dud events, the tug-‘o-war at last offered an adversarial duel. But even this was tarnished when, after battling through to the final, the first of the “best of three” tug-off was edited out. This was an astonishing lapse of judgement; it was like cutting to an ad break during the Champions League final penalty shoot-out.
• Next week’s edition should be much improved, with more attention on the actual sport rather than the dull people participating.

What was bad about it?
• The big problem with Superstars is the almost total absence of actual sporting action, and even the events we do get are assembled with ham-fisted incompetence.
• The whole opening episode was a protracted prelude for the competition proper, and focused largely on the picking of the teams.
• The rock-climbing captains, to determine the order of the first picks, seemed to last at eternity and rock-climbing has as much appeal as dog-shit clean-up as a spectator sport no matter how many helmet cameras are jammed in place.
• The disturbing inclination for programmes to zoom in on the personalities of people in the shows rather than what they are doing. It presumes that viewers are to a (wo)man those red-fanged ravenous hounds who savage WH Smith every day for the latest gossip magazine to gawp at photos of people performing such uniquely-Herculean artistic feats of lying on a beach, giving birth, walking down a street or smiling. We don’t give a damn about how nervous Iwan Thomas was as he prepared to dive off the high board, we just want to see him perform the dive and either applaud his skill or laugh at his ineptitude.
• And the diving was made much worse by the fact Jason Gardener won with a dive that looked more as if he’d just toppled over and by the way in which ex-football referee Graham Poll mumbling the scores as if surreptitiously trying to sell a dodgy consignment of cigarettes in a pub – scoring for dives should be shown by the judges holding up a card to ramp up the excitement.
• The notorious Superstars gym tests were also a feeble impression of the original. Steve Redgrave nominated Shelly Rudman to perform the dips, but then pulled her out in order to save her for later events. And each athlete performed individually, when it’s far more thrilling to see them all competing at once – although this was perhaps because the Croydon venue made it look as though Superstars had momentarily interrupted a public gym session such was the sparse and disinterested crowd.
• Why was Roberto Di Matteo billed as being “smooth-tongued” especially as he was one of the few athletes not to deliver a dreary soliloquy on their travails? Perhaps it was national stereotyping.
• The endless recaps after the ad breaks – people do often have memories longer than three minutes.
• Alain Baxter being hailed for winning “a bronze medal” in the 2002 Winter Olympics – without the necessary caveat that he was stripped of it after failing a drugs test.

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