Like HELLO! but written by evil people…
We have something of a tendency to look at certain eras and remember only the classic comedies then showing. We think of The Young Ones as being representative of the early eighties whilst forgetting that Terry And June was also showing at the time with June Whitfield dressing up as a punk. The Thick Of It and Curb Your Enthusiasm have less to say about what is popular than My Family and You’ve Been Framed.
On the other hand, Star Stories is absolutely of its time, showing on Channel 4 at the same time as the shelves of newsagents groan under the weight of celebrity magazines. These publications show a world apart from the everyday, where everyone is either too fat or too thin, never quite beautiful enough and talent comes a poor fourth to wealth, power and a willingness to fall out of one’s dress, swimsuit or limousine, preferably drunk, knickerless or both. Star Stories celebrates the lives of these celebrities, sometimes minor ones, by reducing everything to the very obvious, the surreal and, frequently, the very funny. Where ‘cripple-hater’ Glenn Hoddle reads Tarot Cards, Angelina Jolie is a vampire and David Jason drives a Reliant Robin and steals sandwiches from film sets. And Mel C (or Sporty Spice) has a moustache.
The six stories here offer potted versions of the romance between David and Victoria Beckham, George Michael discovering that he is ‘a gay’, Catherine Zeta Jones finding both love and success, Guy Ritchie making a home movie about his wife, Sadie Frost offering her side of the Jude’n’Sadie story and Jennifer Aniston losing Brad Pitt to a woman she describes as a total bitch. We learn that Billy Bob Thornton is a hillbilly with a fear of antique furniture and cannot leave Angelina for the chain that she’s fastened through the end of his penis. Boy George scuttles about Top Of The Pops like The Ring‘s Sadako and tells George Michael that he can detect the scent of a homosexual from a mile off. “(Sniffs) I put it to you, George Michael, that you are a gay!”. John Leslie is ‘an intensely sexual being’ who carries a suitcase of cocaine, dildos and gimp masks and tells fellow Blue Peter presenter Mark Curry that he will have him. Mick Hucknall hides in the woods, dresses like the killer from Don’t Look Now and bangs on about how ‘fookin’ loaded’ he is. Kate Moss falls out of her car with her knickers around her ankles and cocaine on her upper lip. And Jonny Lee Miller, bless him, likes colouring in books, balloons and sweeties.
There are brilliantly funny moments in Star Stories. But there are also moments that will have you wondering if the writers have taken pity on a celebrity or two, often without just cause. Catherine Zeta Jones gets off very lightly, Kelly Brook is treated terribly sweetly and even Gary Glitter, though we’re told that he’s currently living in a bamboo cage in a river in Vietnam, ends his short appearance looking rather sorry for himself. None of it, though, is particularly spiteful, as if wary of success and meeting Sadie Frost, David Beckham or, as unlikely as it sounds, Martin and Gary Kemp at some celebrity affair, the writers are really quite decent to them. Of course, some of this is due to the format of the show in which a star answers their critics with a hagiography of their own life but no one, with the possible exception of Jude Law, comes out of Star Stories terribly badly. Sex addict Michael Douglas is trying to make amends, shotgun-toting Vinnie Jones wants for nothing more than to be a teacher and Pearly King Ray Winstone is happy with a cup of tea and some jellied eels.
However, each twenty-minute episode is only as funny as the number of celebrities the writers can fit in. All the writers’ best jokes come in the first minute or so. As funny as Alex Ferguson is in David And Victoria’s Our Story – the joke being that he’s on full hairdryer fury every minute of the day – there’s nothing more after that. The first sight of Mick Hucknall is a memorable one but the two minutes of him saying how many ‘fookin’ albums’ he’s sold and how he’s got the ‘fookin’ voice’ is almost two minutes too long. The same can be said of David Jason, The Hairy Conflake, Antonio Banderas, the entire cast of Friends, Gary Neville and Simon Fuller. But for those same reasons, some of the very best material in the film is in the headlines that make brief appearances in the show. About Shanghai Suprise, “Film so bad it causes fluctuations in space/time continuum!” or, probably the best gag in the series, “Michael Winner: “I’ve made some shit – but Swept Away is total bollocks!”” This gives Star Stories the very thing it needs, leaving it fast-moving, quick-witted and not afraid to push a gag out there that might not work but, knowing another one will be along in a minute, isn’t especially worried. Admittedly, that does suggest quality control isn’t what it could be but when it’s as funny as it is in the Catherine Zeta Jones and the David and Victoria Beckham shows, it’s easy to look past the odd dud en route to the better material, which there is slightly more of over this six-episode set.
Anamorphically presented in 1.78:1, Star Stories looks fine but neither is it an outstanding example of a DVD release nor a particularly stylish-looking comedy. However, on DVD, it does show that Channel 4 have taken some car over it, ensuring that the source material is free of any defects and doing a reasonable job on the encoding of the show onto DVD. It does look slightly better than it did when it was shown on television, being clearer and without the artefacts obvious on Sky, but this is due more to the extra bandwidth afforded by DVD than anything Channel 4 have done as regards the picture. The DD2.0 audio track is, like the picture, reasonably good but without anything to distinguish it. There is some stereo separation and, via a Pro Logic decoder, some use of the rear channels but it really only serves to carry the dialogue cleanly and without fanfare. Finally, there are English subtitles on the main episodes and the bonus material but not the commentaries.
On-Set Diary (19m30s): By Thalia Zucchi, who’s probably better known for attempting to fool the current occupants of the Big Brother house, which shouldn’t be very difficult, by pretending to be Australian. That she failed suggests that she’s either a terrible actress, that Endemol sent her in unprepared or both. Here, armed with a camcorder, she simply wanders around sets and captures moments from the shoot, largely without structure or, indeed, laughs.
The Out-Takes (9m38s): Proving that out-takes are no funnier on a comedy than they are elsewhere, this is the usual nonsense of stars laughing, falling over and collapsing of a brain haemorrhage on a set. But without the haemorrhaging, unfortunately.
The Music Videos (4m35s): There aren’t a great many of these to choose from, only a handful from the Watch Without Prejudice episode of which the highlight is the sound of Ska Mrs Thatcher. “Oh, Mrs Thatcher! You’re really rubbish, go away!”
The Rehearsals (8m04s): Some things are better not seen. Like John McCririck’s home life. And the rehearsals for Star Stories, which is an unspeakably dull selection of video footage showing the stars reading from script in character.
Extended Scenes, Deleted Material (7m07s): These add very little to what actually appeared in the show, maybe a line or two or a slight edit to a scene but very little else. There is, therefore, not a great deal added in these seven minutes.
Commentaries: Only two episodes have commentaries included on them, those of David and Victoria Beckham (Kevin Bishop, Daisy Beaumont and Oliver Maltman) and George Michael (Kevin Bishop and Oliver Maltman), and they’re funny and sharp but do have a tendency to lapse into silence. i can’t say that I learned very much about the production or about celebrity facts that informed the show but, then again, I didn’t expect to either.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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