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Off Their Rockers: ITV's prankster pensioners get laughs
Off Their Rockers is an ITV hit. Image. ITV
Off Their Rockers is a new ITV hidden camera show featuring a cast of old folks playing pranks on unsuspecting members of the public. The US version features Betty White - yes, she of The Golden Girls fame.
The pensioner trying to update his Facebook status by asking young strangers for help to spell personally embarrassing conditions.
The over-reliance on fart jokes. Cheap and not very cheerful.
The very words "hidden camera pranks show" fill me with dread. I hate them with a passion. I don't like schadenfreude. And programmes like Beadle's About and Richard Hammond's Secret Service (that one disappeared quietly from BBC1's Saturday night primetime schedules, didn't it?) leave me cold.
"Off Their Rockers had me almost rocking with laughter."
So how's this for weird? Hidden camera pranks show Off Their Rockers had me almost rocking with laughter.
And I think I know why. There is something very disarming about old people (I refuse to call them "older people" which is politically correct to the point of patronising).
We want to help them, not least when they ask us for help. And when they do actually ask us for help, we're at their mercy. Not that we know it. So we subconsciously lower our defences when we're with old folk.
It's a great premise for a candid camera thigh-slapping tomfoolery show.
But there's something else that makes this a good idea. The "victims" of the stunts are left laughing, without even realising what's happening is at their expense.
They think it's at the expense of the pensioner. And that's the crucial difference between this and that Hammond nonsense, and so many others before it.
One of the most famous stunts on Beadle's About had a man wound up with fury to such an extent that he grabbed a pitchfork and stabbed one of the actors in the leg. What's entertaining about that? Can't see it myself.
Why Off Their Rockers works
Off Their Rockers is the polar opposite in this respect - everyone is having fun - and it's executed as well as Ant and Dec's brilliant Louis Walsh hidden camera and earpiece skit on Saturday Night Takeaway - an all-time classic TV moment.
It has a cast of a dozen OAP actor pranksters whose main weapon of choice is the mobility scooter and primary location of choice the humble bench, be it in the park, the bus stop or the pedestrianised high street.
Crucially the stunts are short and sweet and they're packaged between a great soundtrack that MTV would be proud of.
Some work better than others, of course. There's a hit rate of about six or seven out of 10.
The best from episode one included: a pensioner getting help from strangers to update his Facebook status ("Still suffering with my irritable...' how do you spell haemorrhoids?"), a sweary nun with a loud horn, a marathon runner taking a pint of lager from a man outside a pub and pouring it over his head, and a mobility scooter ploughing into a beach stand.
Old people doing daft things on telly is fairly safe ground. Last year, OAP rappers The Zimmers made it onto Britain's Got Talent live shows. And only the other week, Celebrity Juice had Geri Halliwell as a guest.
But the reason I'm not giving this more than three stars is that I fear it will follow the same path as Channel 4's I'm Spazticus, in which disabled actors played the part of Off Their Rockers' grey army.
That show had about 15 minutes of good material packed into the first episode and then spent the rest of the series doing a variation on a theme with the same ideas repeated on other victims.
Judging by Twitter, Off Their Rockers has split the crowd down the middle. If you hated it, it will never win you over.
But even if, like me, you enjoyed it, I'll be amazed if it keeps us all on side for the remaining five half-hour episodes.
- Verdict: Off Their Rockers divided viewers' opinion but made an entertaining start that will be hard to maintain.
What other reviewers said
Time Out - "Expect someone to stand on a rake in episode two. Lame."
What people on Twitter said
@dmoly - "Turned over after two mins #cringe"
@DrFunkeB - "I'm loving it, very much like Don Jolly..but less obvious. Not at all keen on the title of the show though."
The views in this article are those of the author alone and not of MSN or Microsoft
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