There’s Simon Cowell, with his Stickle Brick hair and cheeks that deserve their own spin-off show

Patrick Freyne: BGT is back, but the UK is too broken for the judge to crush any more dreams

Britain’s Got Talent judges (from left) David Walliams, Alesha Dixon, Simon Cowell and Amanda Holden, and presenters Ant and Dec.  Photograph: PA Wire

Britain’s Got Talent judges (from left) David Walliams, Alesha Dixon, Simon Cowell and Amanda Holden, and presenters Ant and Dec. Photograph: PA Wire

 

This week, the large heads of Ant and Dec are Zoom chatting with their nation and soothing worried minds with footage from the ancient past, four weeks ago, a time when thousands of humans gathered in large halls to hug and handshake and cheer on jugglers and child acrobats.

It’s not that soothing to be honest. Ant and Dec have their own cameras and each of their big faces manifests on one half of the screen. They are, for some reason, pretending to live in different houses when we know that’re probably sitting at either end of the same table in the buttercup house they share in the Dingley Dell.

That said, they look slightly panicked. Even more disturbing than a city street without cars is a light entertainment star alone in his sittingroom with no laugh track. If a tree falls in a forest does anyone hear? If Ant or Dec speaks without a studio audience, can Ant or Dec really be said to even exist? And so, as their jokes echo back to them in the empty void, we all get to contemplate the strangeness of our new existence.

In a moment of poignancy we see Ant or Dec giving a piggyback to Ant or Dec. If they did that now they’d probably be dead

And then the credits roll. “Britain we love you,” shout the hosts as we see footage of bagpipers and fish and chips and elderly gents on penny farthings. In a moment of poignancy we see Ant or Dec giving a piggyback to Ant or Dec. If they did that now they’d probably be dead.

Yes, it’s the return of Britain’s Got Talent, or Britain’s Got Some Talent But It Still Needs to Source Significant Amounts of Skilled Labour from Abroad, as it probably should be known. “Talent” is rather narrowly defined on this programme. If you were trying to start society anew – after a pandemic, for example – you might look at these assembled jugglers, ventriloquists and card magicians and wish you’d held onto even a few nurses, engineers and farmers. And television reviewers. We’ll need them too when the dust settles.

But first things first. How to describe head judge Simon Cowell? Well, he has a black Stickle Brick for hair. Follow his Stickle Brick hair across the shiny plane of his forehead and you will find his eyebrows and eye slits in parallel curves like hastily scribbled quotation marks. What are they quoting? They are quoting his “cheeks”, which are nowadays so prominent they could get their own spin-off show (What a Cheek! starring Simon Cowell’s Cheeks).

They cannot star in a spin-off show now, however, for they have a job to do. They must jostle his whinnying nostrils into position above his huge chalky gnashers which, in turn, gnaw at the Cowellian underlip which proceeds onto a Desperate Dan chin. That’s it. That’s his head. It looks positively jolly these days, sitting jauntily on a body, presumably his own, on the far right of the judging table.

Alesha Dixon and Amanda Holden remain impassive except for moments at which they both spring leaks from their eyes. ‘The judges are leaking!’ a unionised crewmember shouts

On the other end of this table sits Cowell’s sometime frenemy, twinkly funnyman David Walliams, who grins benignly and at one point does a funny dance. I mean what else can he do? Epidemiology? Sadly not. Between Cowell and Walliams sits Alesha Dixon of the misspelled girl-band Mis-Teeq and Amanda Holden of the accurately spelled human woman Amanda Holden. They remain impassive except for moments at which they both spring leaks from their eyes. “The judges are leaking!” a unionised crewmember shouts.

At one point, Dixon wears a massive jacket or possibly has a tiny head. Holden, meanwhile, spends half the show in a frock that makes it look as though she’s emerging from a green felt money pouch of the kind Robin Hood might carry. All of them have a big buzzer in front of them with which they can express their displeasure, much like the US supreme court under Donald Trump.

And so they set about their important task of judging children. “Okay girls, you’ve got two minutes to change your whole lives,” says Holden to a school gospel choir, because this is what Britain has come to.

Following this, a pack of little girls with bows in their hair perform a terrifying, infant-tossing street dance. Where are your children tonight? You should worry. Because if this show is anything to go by, they’ve probably started a street dance crew. There are at least two other dance crews tonight. One of them is made up of dachshunds who scamper to Reet Petite; the other is a very talented group who have travelled from Thane in India to take part (when have the borders of Britain not been merely notional?). Yes, I have seen the best minds of a generation ruined by the street dance craze. Just say “No”, kids.

“What will you do with the £250,000 prize?” Cowell asks one of the tiny girls. “We’ll buy a mansion and all live in it,” she says, and everyone says “aaaaw”. She already knows she will never be able to afford a home of her own home and this is considered cute.

There’s more. A cheeky man juggles guitars. A shy child dances spectacularly. Several young disabled people sing and sign a song about being proud of who they are. I find myself leaking a little from the eyes along with the judges. It’s all very sweet and touching.

Simon Cowell’s heart must have grown several sizes since last season, and not just because his whole body has been injected with youth-preserving toxins, but metaphorically

In the past, the audition episodes of Britain’s Got Talent often involved Cowell crushing dreams and we enjoyed it for what it was. “Take that for daring to aspire, you fool!” we’d scream at some weeping teenager after Cowell had broken her spirit. Now the producers seem aware that Britain is broken enough already and are erring on the side of kindness. Almost every act is appreciated and Cowell seems charmed by just about everyone. His heart must have grown several sizes since the last season, and not just because his whole body has been injected with youth-preserving toxins, but metaphorically.

Indeed, when a man does a magic trick with his son that involves, in its denouement, a reference to Cowell’s own son, Cowell seems particularly moved. He calls his son to the stage and in a surprise twist, his son is a delightful little boy and not a huge pile of money or some sulphurous smoke whispering curses or a ghostly face screaming from a mirror. Cowell has, apparently, fathered a human child. “Aaaaw!” say the audience.

There are a few edgy moments. A skull-faced contortionist comes out in order to dislocate all of his limbs. The judges are visibly appalled at this, probably because some of them can barely move their foreheads and have the basic hinge joints of classic Star Wars figures. They still give him four yesses. “We need more monsters,” says Cowell, who knows of which he speaks.

There’s also a ventriloquist in a lab coat holding an octopus in his arms. He puts a Simon Cowell mask on his charge and has the tentacled abomination speak. This is the only act to be rejected tonight, possibly because he has revealed Cowell’s true form. But no, that’s mean of me. I need to face it. Cowell has changed. He’s good now. He was once a terrifying b*****d but now he’s nice, like the Selfish Giant, or Henry Kissinger or God in the New Testament or a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil coalition. What a time to be alive.

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