Photo: Digital Spy

The X Factor, ITV1

Hey guys! You know One Direction? That boy band that are, like H-UGE at the moment? Guess what? They came from THE X FACTOR! And guys! You know what else? They’ve totally got a FILM out at the moment! So you know you guys should really go WATCH the FILM! Because they came from THE X FACTOR!

That was essentially the introduction to Saturday’s episode of The X Factor, the first of the new series which is now set to run (and run and run) until Christmas. (It’s like a really really long, drawn-out Advent calendar that replaces chocolate with Whitney Houston covers every time you open a door, culminating in an inevitably under-par rendition of a decent song with an added gospel choir and key change when you finally get to the door reading ‘Christmas Number 1’.)

Anyway, as I was saying, The X Factor thought it necessary to remind us that they are the culprits behind the plague of screaming teenage fangirls that descended on Leicester Square a couple of weeks ago. Thanks. They also took the time to explain the new not-as-complicated-as-it-was-made-out-to-be system of the DOUBLE AUDITION, which basically just means that instead of one audition in an arena, there are two auditions – one in the room today and another in an arena tomorrow. So if weekly X Factor all the way through to Yuletide doesn’t quite cut it for you, you now have the option of twice-weekly X Factor. Yippeeeee.

This series marks the return of Sharon Osborne, an event that cynics might cite as a desperate bid to boost the festering viewing figures of recent years. I’m inclined to disagree. If I had been given the task of reclaiming viewers for a tired talent show format, ‘Bringing back Sharon Osborne’ would have been pretty low on my List of Things That Will Make the Show Infinitely More Watchable and Enjoyable: probably somewhere between ‘Replacing Dermot with Jedward’ and ‘Giving Louis a category other than the groups for once’. However, there is one thing we all seem to agree on: that the show has never been the same since the live auditions were introduced. Keen to resurrect the stifled snorting-into-teacups and prolonged awkward silences that sustained previous series, The X Factor producers have relocated the auditions to the cardboard-flanked room once again.

It kind of worked. There were a couple of auditions that showed glimmers of the brilliance of yesterseries, namely the two girls singing operatically out of key, iPod earphones plugged firmly into their ears. But mostly you got the feeling that The X Factor was trying too hard to be funny again. This was especially evident in the so-hammed-up-it-had-to-be-a-joke rendition of Halelujah from model J Star Valentine (I know, I know), as well as in the whole ‘Fil-with-an-F’ debacle, during which I cringed for all the wrong reasons (just think Gary Barlow trying to do rock ‘n’ roll and that’s probably all you need to know). When it came to it, however, Mrs O was not as irritating as I had anticipated. Her ability to not take anything remotely seriously was refreshing and luckily, when it came to the other judges, contagious.

Sunday’s episode was basically a repeat of Saturday’s episode. Except (as we were reminded of once again in the introduction in case we hadn’t quite got it last night) it took place in the ARENA. Because we’re doing DOUBLE AUDITIONS this year. That means there are TWO of them. You may be thinking, and reasonably at that, that a second audition stage might be quite useful in order to whittle down the auditionees so that the Boot Camp stage isn’t quite so laborious. And this would be the case, had the judges not let people through in the first stage that could barely cut it in a small room, let alone in an arena. Let’s be honest, one guy was a Justin Bieber tribute act – was that not a bit of a clue?

There were some obvious finalists here though. Obvious in the sense that the show wasted no time in searing their backstories onto our brains so that the next time we hear them sing we’ll immediately think, ‘Oh, this is the girl who has a difficult relationship with her mum/the prison officer mother who has low self-confidence/the 16-year-old who got separated from her audition partner in the first stage, forgot her words in the second stage, but nevertheless blew everyone away with her impressive but shouty Whitney Houston cover‘. Oh, X Factor…

Sob stories have always been a feature of the show, but they weren’t what attracted viewers. Instead, it was the colourful, endearing, deluded and often downright nutty auditionees that kept people coming back. The return to the room auditions is, granted, a massive improvement, but most of the auditions were either rushed, forced or predictable. Maybe the likes of Ant and Seb and Steven the Rapper just don’t audition any more. If that’s the case then I can’t see previous audiences returning either.

The Only Way Is Essex, ITV2

Listen, don’t knock Towie. On the surface, it may seem like a dozen air-headed orange people with too much money, gossiping in cafes in the day and rowing with each other in clubs at night. But in actual fact, it’s really a dozen air-headed orange people with too much money, gossiping in cafes in the day and rowing with each other in clubs at night, whilst offering valuable viewpoints on important current affairs stories. In this, the first episode of the new series, we were given insight into how some members of the Towie crew were coping with recent revelations about the true content of various beef-based products.

‘Last night I was eating shepherd’s pie,’ confessed Chloe. ‘And I was a bit like “ok, i’ll just eat the mash” but then I couldn’t help it so I ate the beef so I probably ate horse,’ she giggled. Shepherd‘s pie, Chlo? Something tells me you’re probably ok…

Chloe wasn’t the only one getting her animals mixed up, though. Lauren P struggled to remember what to call a baby horse. What is it again, Lauren? Ah, yes. A fowl. Of course. This was in reference to the imminent arrival of Mick’s baby horse. Well, obviously not Mick’s baby. That would be weird. Nope, one of his prized horses is expecting, and Lauren was musing on whether he would hold a baby shower when it finally emerged. A fowl shower, as she put it. I now have images in my head of a flock of birds raining down on guests as they assemble in a field, their six inch stilettos sinking slowly into the turf, while their extensions are picked at by a thousand peckish starlings. Now that would be worth watching.

But I digress. Back to horsemeat. Gemma wasn’t taking any chances. She’d decided to go vegetarian. ‘Shut up!’ exclaimed Bobby. But really he knew already – he could tell by her aura. It was really positive. In fact, quite a lot of our Essex friends were turning over a new leaf. Little Chris was hitting the gym: ‘This is a rebrand of Little Chris,’ he told Ricky. ‘I’m trying to make Little Chris, Big Chris.’ Hmmm. Not sure the gym will help. Stilts maybe? And Arg, too, was looking to change. He was ordering smoked salmon and scrambled egg, by itself. He was exercising. According to Diags, his arms were slimmer. ‘I do feel the new Arg is back, ‘ he declared proudly. Interesting turn of phrase. Not really sure how that works. Have we seen the new Arg before? Has the new Arg mastered time travel?

So new year, new lifestyle was one big theme. The other was babies, and not just of the equine variety. Bobby was feeling broody ‘I want a baby’ he declared. Or, to be more precise, a ‘gayby’. And he’d seen a pushchair on Bond Street that matched his black and silver bag. Perfect. Gemma was there to offer a voice of reason. ‘It’s not a fashion accessory,’ she said, reasonably. ‘It’s a massive thing in your life’. Sam and Billie were having the same discussion, except this time it was about a dog. In Sam’s view, dogs are worse than babies ‘because you can’t put a nappy on them’. Billie, too, was against the idea: ‘even if you put, like, dog perfume on them, they still smell.’ I’ve just googled dog perfume. It actually exists. Who knew? (Also, I just googled dog perfume. What has my life come to…?)

Mario also wants a baby, but Lucy thinks it’s too soon. She’ll need some persuading. The trouble is, Mario seems to think the best way to persuade Lucy to want a baby too is to party on down with identical blonde bombshell twins in a club in Manchester. Ooops. We leave Lucy sobbing in her dressing gown in Sam’s kitchen as the credits start to roll. Oh, Towie, I have missed you.

Splash!, ITV1

The Olympics were all about Legacy. How many times did we hear that word leading up to, and indeed during, the Games in the summer? It was all about the Legacy. Legacy was every Olympic organiser’s favourite word. London 2012 could create a ‘long and lasting Legacy’ said Sebastian Coe, emphasising the Long-Lastingness of Legacy with a spot of alliteration. But the Legacy of what? What is Legacy? We all just assumed it was another political buzzword, and we were dubious about how much of a Legacy the Olympics would actually have after all the hysteria died down.

UNTIL NOW. For here it is, folks. Here is the Legacy we’ve all been waiting for.  ITV has cracked the Legacy conundrum. Forget funding for sport. Who needs it? What we all really need is 15 celebrities throwing themselves off diving boards of varying heights on a Saturday night. I get it now, Seb. Thanks.

Yep, this was Splash!, the latest entertainment offering from ITV, in which 15 celebrities-in-the-loosest-sense-of-the-word were coached by Olympian Tom Daley, before being required to perform one dive on live television, in front of a panel of judges. These judges were obviously chosen according to the usual Saturday Night Entertainment Show Judge Formula.

Former diver Leon Taylor – who apparently won some medals in some Olympics once, but is more likely to be recognised as that diving commentator at London 2012 who got a bit too excited every time a participant looked as if they were going to crack their head open on the 10m platform/be severely winded by bellyflopping on a failed springboard dive – assumed the role of Serious and Critical Judge. He put on his best Simon Cowell impression for the role, picking the celebrities up on their dodgy techniques and doling out low scores. Whilst not technically a judge, Daley was there to fill the Young, Tanned and Easy On The Eye position, previously inhabited by the likes of Cheryl Cole and Nicole Scherzinger. And the Team GB diving coach, Andy Banks, was Older Judge Who Is Unlikely To Offend (see: Len Goodman).

So far, so predictable. At least they all knew a lot about diving. But of course, there was also the obligatory Sorry, Why Are You Here? position, previously inhabited by such experts-in-not-really-any-field as Sharon Osborne and Piers Morgan. ‘Hmmm,’ mused ITV. ‘Who can we get who probably doesn’t know much about diving but will provide some light relief from all this serious technique talk, and who is also a woman because the panel at the moment is looking fairly male?’ Well, Jo Brand, naturally. (Oh but actually she’s totally qualified to be here because apparently she did some diving once, when she was younger. Ah, great! This means I can judge Strictly because I did ballet when I was three!) ‘I’m so pleased I’m on the panel and not in my cossie,’ said Jo. ‘So are we,’ said my dad.

Splash! began with a professional diving routine in which people did a bit of a dance on the 10m platform, then threw themselves off, one after the other. If I thought this was a bit cringey, then I was wholly unprepared for the James Bond-themed routine during the voting, which ended with Daley in black tie, sipping a martini and flanked by girls in slinky dresses. But Daley’s first appearance was, naturally, on the edge of the 10m board, poised to dive. It was like the Olympics all over again: a big audience yelling his name, cameras filming his every move, his coach down on the ground, tens of millions of people watching him on televis… oh. Yeah. Maybe not that much like the Olympics.

One by one the celebrities took to various platforms, but not before they’d done a weird strip-tease and a slow-mo strut up to their board of choice. Their decision depended on a) how scared of heights/water they were and b) what injury they had sustained during training. Most of them had suffered one of the aforementioned predicaments. Poor Jake Canuso (from Benidorm, apparently – no, me neither) had experienced both. He told us of how he almost drowned in the ‘Tunami in Thailand’. Tunami? What’s a Tunami? (Is that the same Tunami that features in that new film The Impoible, about the Tunami in Indoneia, starring Naomi Watt?) Then he scraped his nose on the bottom of the pool, and needed a plaster. According to the doctor, the plaster could come off AT ANY TIME, making his live dive EXTRA perilous. And he could only dive ONCE with said plaster. Would it survive his second dive in the Splash-Off? This was edge-of-your-seat stuff.

It was emotional too. Comic actress Helen Lederer overcame her fear of heights to dive from the 3m board. ‘I’m in tears,’ said a dry-eyed Leon, thinking he was on The X Factor again. Tom was at the poolside ready to greet each relieved contestant, all teeth and tan, and dressed as though he’d just walked off the set of One Direction’s ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ video. To be fair to him,  he did a good job throughout, although I think the less said about James Bond the better…

In the end Omid Djalili’s 10m swan dive saw him soar like a ‘majestic turkey’ into the semi-final. Which, let’s be honest, I probably won’t be watching. Splash! was entertaining for one night (not, I suspect, for the reasons ITV had hoped), but on the whole it could have done with a lot less cringing and a lot more diving. And besides, if episode two has more plaster-related sagas in store, I don’t think I can take the tension…