That’s My Jam review – Mo Gilligan’s singing show is just … awkward

This aimless celebrity singalong is a litany of failed attempts to be interesting. From its low-calibre guests to the forced grins during its low-key musical numbers, it’s utterly unremarkable

Saturday night entertainment shows: like Christmas crackers, mulled wine or England in the latter stages of international football tournaments, they promise to bring cheer and almost always cause bitter disappointment. Yet we have collectively decided that we have to keep trying. Every few months, a TV studio has its floor buffed to a sheen and we’re told: this is the one. This one will be fun, not a cheesy ordeal. Here we go again, then, with That’s My Jam (BBC One).

Mo Gilligan is your host, on a stage with a live band. Is it a talent show? No, because the participants joining him before a hollering live audience are celebrities, split into two teams of two and given a series of musical challenges for which points are arbitrarily awarded by the presenter … A-ha, so it’s a panel game, with mic stands instead of chairs and desks.

A quick indicator of how viable this sort of format might be is the calibre of celeb snared for episode one. On Gilligan’s right are rent-a-guest stalwarts Alesha Dixon and Michelle Visage – OK so far. On his left … nothing against Kevin McHale and Jenna Ushkovitz, who used to be in Glee and now present a podcast where they recap old episodes of Glee, but they can’t have been the first names on the talent booker’s list.

Still, we press on with round one, entitled Wheel of Musical Impressions. It has its own on-screen graphic and jingle, reflecting the show’s origins: That’s My Jam is a remake of a US series hosted by Jimmy Fallon, which collected together the musical segments from The Tonight Show. On a talkshow, singing games are a trivial extra. When they constitute the whole programme, however, more is at stake. So we need a strong opener.

Kevin is up first. The big-screen video wheel spins, handing him the task of singing Rocket Man by Elton John … but in the voice of Kermit the Frog! Immediately the cynical viewer wonders if the producers know McHale does a knockout Kermit impersonation and have rigged the wheel accordingly, but his performance soon lays those thoughts to rest. His Kermit is more like a distressed android.

How about round two, Magic Mic, where Michelle sings I Want It That Way by the Backstreet Boys but has to keep changing microphone, and some of them make her voice sound weird? “That was so good! That was amazing!” says Mo when she has got through it, but it is not amazing. It is exactly as entertaining as her sucking on a helium balloon would have been.

It’s not that a show like this can’t possibly generate good telly: on the face of it, we are not far away from Lip Sync Battle, which produced one of the greatest TV moments of the century when Tom Holland danced to Umbrella by Rihanna. But that was a rehearsed bit; That’s My Jam is making it up as it goes along and hoping to strike gold. On a normal panel show, the aimlessness doesn’t matter because it’s all just a route to witty badinage. This is merely a vehicle for low-key, finger-clickin’ singalongs, performed with forced grins. The closest we get to something worth clipping and sharing is when the wheel spins again (Mo: “Come on, wheel!”) and Alesha, a terrific all-rounder who is a bit wasted as a Britain’s Got Talent judge, does a genuinely brilliant version of Shut Up by Stormzy in the style of a Disney princess.

Everything else is just awkward, from Jenna performing Yellow by Coldplay in a disco style, to Kevin inexplicably singing a diva-soul belter with lyrics about putting the bins out. It’s a litany of failed attempts to do something as interesting as the One Song to the Tune of Another round from I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.

The finale, named Slay It, Don’t Spray It, puts the four celebs in glass booths, where they must sing karaoke versions of popular hits, until the words on the screen are removed and they have to remember the next line on their own. If they mess up, they get sprayed with water! If they nail it, the other team gets sprayed with water! Soon, Kevin and Jenna have to some extent been sprayed with water. “Can we see a slow-motion replay?” says Mo, who announced at the top of the hour that he was about to present “TV’s biggest, baddest music gameshow ever” and is damned if he is going to let on for a second that this might not have happened. “We really need to see this!”

We don’t need to see it – we could see how unremarkable it was in real time. We don’t need to see any of That’s My Jam again.


Jack Seale

The GuardianTramp

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