The Masked Singer review – is that Angela Lansbury singing You Got the Love? If only! | Television & radio

Saturday-night singing contests are in a death spiral. Once the monarchs of the weekend schedules and the darlings of the weekday tabloids, now they are facing the end. They are popping six Vicodins a night, trying a garish new look every week and giving all their cash to a shady manager, who is also their sixth husband. They are in a right state.

The latest equivalent of a desperate crossover covers album or provincial panto booking is The Masked Singer (ITV), a prerecorded unspectacular crushed at birth by its contrived premise: celebrities sing, while wearing fancy dress that entirely covers their face and body. We, and a panel of judges, must decide who they are, based purely on their performing voice, their gait and an introductory video in which they give cryptic clues with their speech distorted. Welcome to … Celebrity Stars in Their Keyhole!

End-of-genre shows always grab fistfuls of concept from other programmes: the revolutionary twist in The Masked Singer is that the masks ruin everything. In Strictly Come Dancing or The X Factor: Celebrity, famous people who are not known as live performers show us how they handle themselves on stage. They do that here, but since we don’t find out who they are until much later, we can’t enjoy the surprise. We are robbed of the chance to whoop as we witness, say, Moira Stuart hitting the high notes in Defying Gravity, or Sally Gunnell proving herself to be a tight rapper. (They are hypothetical examples. Neither of them is on The Masked Singer. Or are they? We don’t know.)

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All talent shows feature a vote on who is through and who is in danger of leaving, which we get here – members of the studio audience have an app – with the customary reveal, stretched dramatically across a commercial break. Oh God, who is safe? Who is in the bottom three? Wait. I don’t know who anyone is. I don’t care!

The guessing game is all we have. Working out who an anonymised celeb is by listening to them speak would be hard enough; doing it by scrutinising their singing is impossible. That means the judging panel has a job that is too much even for the gang of silence-filling mercenaries The Masked Singer has recruited. “I recognise the voice, but I don’t know where from,” blathers Jonathan Ross, as a woman in a bee costume delivers a very decent Alive by Sia. Right, thanks. “Who is this person?!” asks Rita Ora, watching a unicorn do Babooshka. None of us knows, Reets. Meanwhile, Davina McCall takes the mature approach and hunts for hidden clues: “Funny. Comedy?” she notes as a duck does a duck walk before desecrating Like a Virgin.

Someone has seen the need for a wild card, a cult hero, so the fourth member of the panel is Ken Jeong. This could have been a further maddening “Ooh, who’s that?” parlour game, but we are told from the outset that he was in The Hangover and has been shipped in from the US version of The Masked Singer. There, the mystery contestants have included Gladys Knight, Kelly Osbourne and, confusingly, Seal dressed as a leopard. Anyway, Ken’s shtick is that he does not know any British people, but nevertheless confidently makes guesses. In fairness, his catchphrase – “I know exactly who this is” – gets funnier with repetition and is thus the highlight of the enterprise. When he comically asserts that a butterfly singing You Got the Love might be Angela Lansbury, or pronounces Eddie Izzard to rhyme with “blizzard”, it is not much more ridiculous than the names put forward by the homegrown judges. McCall wonders if the hedgehog performing Black Magic by Little Mix might be … David Thewlis? Gauging who is famous enough to be booked for this show, but not famous enough for their agent to hoot down the phone as they turn it down is tricky, but surely not that tricky.

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In the middle is your host Joel Dommett, who – for those ITV viewers befuddled even by the identity of the presenter – is a comedian, and also dissonance in a suit: he is a tremulous goof with catalogue-model looks, which helps his standup but doesn’t make it easier to say, “Chameleon, everybody! Yes!” after a nameless man in a revealing green leotard has lost his battle with the falsetto sections of Creep by Radiohead.

At the end of the episode, there is a final elimination, whereupon we are shown the face behind the losing mask. The surviving celebrities-dressed-as-animals maintain their anonymity until next week, as The Masked Singer moves towards a season finale where the overall winner will, at last, have their identity revealed. Keeping it secret would be a prize worth winning.



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