The Masked Singer, review: Gaudy, trashy and silly – but what an irresistible Christmas treat

Ellis-Bextor didn't fool anyone as an alien - except for the panel - ITV
From the kitchen disco to the kitschy quiz show. A little embarrassing for a professional pop star, Sophie Ellis-Bextor was the first celebrity to be eliminated from The Masked Singer (ITV). Forget the dance floor - that was murder on the shiny studio floor.
Ellis-Bextor, disguised as an alien with a metallic dreadlock, certainly couldn't fool many viewers. Social media lit up thanks to her rather too recognizable voice and some obvious clues with correct guesses - despite the fact that they should be tougher for this second series.
The tape with the crime scene in its introductory video was a reference to Ellis-Bextor's 2001 hit Murder On The Dancefloor. A mention of "winning a battle" related to her cameo in the Game Of Thrones episode "Army Of The Dead". It was very unfortunate that this lockdown heroine - whose weekly Instagram livestreams got our spirits up this spring - should be knocked out so early. But somehow 2020 was also terrible.
Yes, the surreal crooning competition was back with a bang. Literally because it contained a 7 foot tall anthropomorphic sausage that spawned a bluesy ballad of Rag'n'Bone Man behind a frozen grin.
No, this wasn't a feverish dream after giving in to the festive style tone. It was the return of the format that boasted of being "the biggest new entertainment show of 2020" (honestly not difficult). After a year of wearing masks for completely different reasons, it was also accidentally timely.
This series was filmed in September, with the identities of the participants being kept top secret. Aside from the mask gag, other signs of the pandemic were plexiglass umbrellas between the judges and the studio audience, sitting in socially distant bubbles with less extravagant face coverings.
In every way, however, it was normal business: a gaudy rococo karaoke competition, the aim of which was to find out which singing celebrities were lurking beneath those huge cheesy costumes between the endless commercial breaks.
There was a change in the jury, with the irritatingly screaming American comic Ken Jeong - brought over to repeat his role in the US version, but by our quaint little celebrities (Teddy Sheringham! Alan Johnson MP! Bianca from EastEnders !) Completely amazed. replaced by BAFTA winner Mo Gilligan. He was a warm, funny presence, but hardly got a word during this loud prelude, apart from the fact that it was "just weird" and "really crazy".
Gilligan joined Jonathan Ross, Davina McCall and Rita Ora. Professionally wearisome Ora boasted of being the best surveyor last time, but her presence was a little embarrassing for ITV as this series Covidiot broke lockdown not once but twice last month. The main job of Ora was to be ridiculed by Ross and to tell every singer, "I have no idea who you are." Yes, Rita, that is the point.
In Jeong's absence, Ross proved the panel's scene stealer, largely thanks to his wild scattergun guesswork. I don't know which singing contest Meghan Markle, Noel Edmonds, Brenda Blethyn, Kevin McCloud, Edwina Currie, and The Cheeky Girls are in, but I'll definitely get involved when it comes out.
Davina McCall and Rita Ora were on the panel - ITV
Preppy host Joel Dommett was back to lead the high profile guessing game. Partly to a patterned tuxedo, a painful pun, and a drawn-out dramatic reveal, Dommett struck just the right balance between taking it seriously and raising an eyebrow at how ridiculous it was.
A new group of 12 celebrities compete against each other and here we saw the first half dozen - Alien, Robin, Badger, Swan, Dragon, Sausage - arrive in darkened SUVs, flanked by apathetic security guards. This was "television's best-kept secret" after all.
The artfully camouflaged sextet then fought for survival in individual battles. The boastfully confident Robin looked away from the more balanced alien. The cute, comedic dragon hit the unusually large black and red swan (this one could really break your arm with its wing). Wurst had a surprisingly strong voice and only hit the equally impressive badger.
Dragon, one of the prominent candidates - ITV
That left Alien, Swan, and Badger as the bottom three. Alien was duly voted out and removed her blue mask to reveal Ellis Bextor's embarrassed grin. She immediately repeated her song, Dua Lipas Don't Start Now, when the panel hit them on the forehead, appalled that they hadn't identified her. If only they had been able to scroll through their phones. Twitter would have told them within seconds.
With a captive audience, this was a planned return for a franchise where regular talent shows look like a pedestrian in comparison. His delightfully caricatured costumes gave a cozy evening on Boxing Day a touch of daytime shine.
The trashy compelling idea imported from South Korea by ITV remains an irresistible piece of entertainment that is lighter than light. Much like Christmas itself, this was a welcome escape from the outside world.
In this article
Sophie Ellis-Bextor

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