The pros and cons of WANNA-BEn

20:23, Oct 10 2010

What does it take to do some of the most interesting jobs on the planet? That's the premise behind WANNA-BEn, the new show featuring Ben Boyce - the dreadlocked half of the hosting team on Pulp Sport - as he figures out what's involved in a variety of high-profile jobs, then gets some help from established stars and has a crack at it for himself.

Friday's episode (10pm, TV3) revolved around Ben's efforts to become a pop star, tracking him as he chatted to former Spice Girl Mel B and chart topper Ke$ha, and while it wasn't the biggest thing to happen on NZ television over the weekend (tune in for my take on the Paul Henry fiasco tomorrow) it certainly generated some hype with media outlets and viewers alike. The question is whether it lived up to expectations.

If you ask me, there was plenty to like about WANNA-BEn.

Let me be clear: I think the premise of the show is good, and on paper it seems like the kind of show that should be thoroughly entertaining. It certainly had some good points: the interviews with Mel B and Ke$ha were great, and gave an insight into the stars that you wouldn't normally get from music journos. I also liked that Ben was fearless with his questioning and discussion - a lot of interviewers, "comedian" or otherwise, would have been too embarrassed to literally brush their teeth with a tiny bottle of Jack Daniels in front of Ke$ha, in a parody of the singer's hit Tik Tok.

I think the Pulp Sport style of comedy is pretty good too, with the substance of the show (the interviews) broken up by comedic sketches, silly dream sequences, and Candid Camera-style pieces. The problem with Friday's episode was that these scenes were hit-and-miss comedy-wise, and too many were squeezed into the half-hour show.

For example, the interview with Mel B was split into three parts and surrounded by a stack of sketches: Ben dressed as an avatar and trying to connect his ponytail to random people in the street; Jesus facing off against The Beatles to see who is more popular; a Girl Guides sketch which I found to be in pretty poor taste; and a bunch of others that dragged my attention off in too many directions and took the focus off the real point of the show.

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The whole show ended up feeling like some comic version of Discovery's Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe, only written for hyperactive people.

The sketches also committed two other crimes in my book.

First, some sketches were completely unrelated to the theme of the show. Take the avatar sketch, which came about because Mel B said the Spice Girls manager played an important role in the group's success, and involved Th' Dudes singer Peter Urlich telling a blue-painted Ben what to do. What on earth does this have to do with anything? At best there is only a loose connection between controlling someone and managing them.

Second, the sketches made far too much use of B-, C- and D-grade celebrities - from The Edge morning show hosts JJ, Mike and Dom parodying Simon, Paula and Randy on Plop Idol (another barely related sketch), to Ginette McDonald showing as Ben's fictional mum (the first time I can recall seeing her on TV since the horrible Lynn of Tawa was mercifully killed off), it seemed like every quasi-famous, semi-famous or formerly-famous person showed up at some point.

At the rate they're going, I might end up starring in an episode.

So to sum up my take on WANNA-BEn: it's a really good idea and benefits from the comedy style of related show Pulp Sport, but it has a few problems with execution and needs to stick to its chosen theme for the week. Also, I'm fully available to star in an episode if need be ... Ben, call me.

What did you think of WANNA-BEn? Do you like the idea of the show? Are you planning to watch each week?

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