Monday, July 21, 2008

into the dragons' den.

BBC2's Dragons' Den returns tonight, which is good news, although it's hard not to feel that the brand has been devalued by endless repeats over the last year. The Apprentice, which is only shown once, always appears relatively fresh, but - a slightly snazzier credit sequence and a flash hairdo aside - this might as well be a repeat, which I fear might put paid to the idea that Dragons Den is about to make a crossover from BBC2 curio to hit show. Nevertheless, I've liked previous series, so I'm interested enough to tune in, wondering whether this time around James Caan, Deborah Meadon and Theo Paphitis will emerge as genuine stars and equal partners, or whether it'll continue to be all about Peter Jones and Duncan Bannatyne.

My first impression is how odd it is to see Evan Davis back doing his TV presenting stuff, having got so used to hearing him on Radio 4. When you're listening to him on the Today programme each morning - even if he is lighter in tone than most of his colleagues - it's very easy to forget that the man has a mohawk.

The first idiots, sorry, entrepeuners into the den are a bunch of student types, but, do you know what, they've thought of a genuine twist to the process. Either that or they've got lost wondering around looking for the X Factor studio. For they are, in fact, not a business as such but rather a rock band, and a not altogether terrible one either, although they do seem to be called Hamfatter. They play a two minute track which is kind of muso-end indie rock with soul horns. I would not buy it, but someone might.

Anyway, they want 75 grand to record an album and market it. They say they'll be needing ten thousand pounds to record it. What's wrong with these people - why don't they just get 80 quid for a copy of Garageband?

But I discover that I like the young men a lot - they're well spoken, keen and they know their maths. This is vaguely reassuring - it'd be utterly daft for a load of rock and rollers to ask Theo Paphitis for cash, but these lads are as corporate as you like (no insult intended). But things soon start working against them when Peter Jones wants to hear another tune. It turns out they've only rehearsed that song. Well, fair enough, but they won't have a go at another number at all, even one that sounds a bit rough around the edges. A band that can't play their songs live? Eh?

But believe it or not the offers start rolling in. Bannatyne goes for a varied equity deal, where he wants 50% 'til he gets his money back. The newly-coiffured Meadon and Paphitis team up to make a rival bid. And Jones is in, too - it's extraordinary how they're all happy to make an investment on the basis of hearing a two minute clip of one song. They all claim to have loads of contacts in the music industry, too. Really? How is this so? Meaden boasts that she runs a music download site, and the band look impressed. I'm not sure this is warranted, unless she's talking about iTunes. But I doubt she is.

I lose track of which deal they go for. It doesn't matter - you'll never hear from them again.

Next up we're back on more familiar Dragons' Den grounds; someone's invented a cushion, a new kind of cushion. The dragons begin a lip-curling exercise which I anticipate will last much of the rest of the series. We don't need more cushions.

Next up we have a Brighton connection, hurrah. Air Oasis LTD have designed a machine that turns air into water. Just like that. At first I mis-hear and think the effect works the other way around - water into air. But that's just a kettle, isn't it? Anyway, they want 125k for 10% equity. Looks good, but they make the schoolboy error of using the phrase 'educating the public' - words like educating make the Dragons very very angry. It's not as bad as saying 'charity', but still.

The contraption actually looks quite good for hot, water starved countries, and the inventors have taken out patents for a few Middle Eastern territories, so it looks good for a while. I like Barry, the salesperson, although I note he's talking so fast that he's turning air into water himself, too - direct off his shiny pate.

After a few minutes Bannatyne offers an opinion. And he's annoyed about the use of the word 'educating'. Hurrah, I knew it. I notice that Bannatyne gets harder to understand with each series - like Alan Hanson, he is working at eliminating vowels from his vocabulary altogether.

Barry is still banging on, and Deborah complains that his pyramid selling scheme amounts to bullying. All the Dragons nod dissaprovingly, a moment no less hilarious that when Alan Sugar gets angry about the same thing. Pot, black, kettle etc.

Actually, I change my mind - Barry is not a bully, but he is a self-satisfied prat; shut up now. You're losing them, I think, and Evan Davis's voiceover gets a bit silly, talking up the Dragons' mild criticism, describing them as 'furious Deborah' and 'enraged Peter' - of course they're not enraged at all. They decide to taste the water. And now things really do go belly up. It tastes terrible. Totally unpalatable, apparently, and now Theo really does get cross. No deal. Barry makes a few excuses, but he's blown it. Oh dear.

Next up are a couple from Kenilworth, and we're back in pantomime territory; they emerge under a big white sheet - they've come as a ghost!! Indulgent smiles from the Dragons, who are making a show of really quite getting on with each other. That won't last And now the couple are acting out some sort of hammy take on amateur dramatics. They've invented, it turns out, the lay-line sheet. It's a white sheet with a nobbly line down the middle, apparently. The line, dead-centre, will solve arguments about which partner is encroaching onto the other side of the bed. I

It's a novelty bedsheet. It's a bloody terrible idea. But couples argue over this all the time, the inventor - a man with one of those weird groomed goatees, like Morgan Spurlock's - tells us. It's a pretty dispiriting view of relationships, all things considered.

The Dragons don't buy it either. Bannatyne complains that his wife doesn't cross to his side enough, and - capitalising on the silly mood - Theo and Peter jump in the bed and roll around a bit. "Shall we avert our eyes?", one of the inventors asks. Have you shown it to anyone, Jones asks Spurlock. He's shown it to his friends, he says, but that's it.

Well, now you've shown it to the nation. I don't suppose he'll find many orders waiting for him when he turns on his computer tomorrow morning.

The last contestants up are a couple of game girls, who share a 'passion for entertainment', and who have created a bespoke party-giving company which is pretty good stuff, really, even if it's just living sculptures - human trees, human tables, and chandalier ladies. Their past clients include celebrity childrens' parties and Asda. In the end the Dragons all make offers, stick out their chests, and begin to snipe at each-other; it's the first part of the show since the rock band which is vaguely gripping, and this is the problem with the format; the best bits are personal, but unlike the glossy docu-drama format of The Apprentice, which provokes conflict and alliances, the show is dependent on a chemistry in the panel which rarely sparks to life. In similar circumstances, Alan Sugar and his advisors invariably share smiles, raised eyebrows and rueful asides - but because the Dragons are facing out front and in competition with each other, there's nothing except the odd manufactured argument or bout of stage-managed horseplay to break up the only occasionally diverting inventions.

Talking of which, the girls, meanwhile, go off to confer and make a decision. They opt to go with the least boastful Dragon, which is actually rather heartening - if unlikely to prompt a change of tactics from the fevered egos out front. They go for James Caan, who is, I reflect, the only Dragon I'd trust to mind my wallet for ten minutes.

The Dragons Den needs a shake up, I think - or just a raise in temperature; at the moment they're belching out smoke, not fire.


Skuds said...

I think you might be wrong there and you will hear from Hamfatter again - the CD will be in the shops with a big sticker saying "as seen on TV"

The album may even have the word 'dragon' in the title somewhere.

Their concert posters will have a banner across saying "as seen on TV"

The notoriety of being on the show will probably do them more good than the £75K

jonfs said...

Great writeup and I agreed with it all! 57 layline bed sheets sold overnight from and hoping more today!
All the best,
Morgan Spurlock (aka Jon Foster-Smith)
BTW this is a silly moustache, not a goatee!

jonathan said...

Ha ha, pleased to hear it, Jon - glad you're prepared to take my piss-taking comments with good humour. Hope you sell a million bedsheets.