Why the BBC's Celebrity Darts Competition Left Me Cold

Turns out darts isn't that fun without sinking nine pints of Carling and hearing "Chase the Sun" at ear-splitting volume every few minutes

by Jack Savidge
22 February 2016, 2:01pm

The whole raison d'etre of darts is outlandish outfits and mugging for the camera to cheesy music, so it's hard to see how a charity version could push the boat out any further. If anything, Let's Play Darts for Sport Relief – the BBC's celebrity darts competition that began last night – was a more sombre affair than regular darts, taking place in a quarter-full Lakeside country club with a small hardcore of zany fans dressed in penguin costumes, silly wigs and horse heads in attendance.

There appeared to be fewer pitchers of lager knocking around, so you can only imagine this was filmed pre-10AM on some freezing Tuesday in January, the floor manager in a fleece and scarf, breath steaming in the studio lights, trying to incite mania among the confused crowd – "OKAY! Let's go really, really, REALLY mad for this one, guys!" – as cauliflower-faced, dwarf-bothering establishment sponge Mike Tindall does some boxing moves to "Boom! Shake the Room".

Gabby Logan does a professional job of keeping her tone of voice just clinging to the precipice of bursting into hysterics during the interviews with the strange selection of B and C listers they've recruited – Tim Vine, Robbie Savage, some people from 8 Out of 10 Cats – but overall the atmosphere is drier than a pouch of silica gel.

The basic idea is: the aforementioned celebs get teamed up with some heavy hitters of the darts world and do some wacky darts player stuff, like a big OTT walk-on, before a darts match of unspeakably low intensity. For the lucky viewer, the boring legs are curtailed in the edit way beyond the level of complete incoherence, and any trace of competition is lost to keeping the mood light.

There are a few highlights: comedian Katherine Ryan throws 106 with her first three darts – a genuinely decent score at pro level – turns around and mouths "I love you" to a man going bananas in a wolf outfit.

Ultimately, though, it's just not entertaining. Famous people in fish-out-of-water situations has become a central pillar of our entertainment culture (cf. all celebrity reality shows ever, any social media content that is secretly an advert). We love seeing exalted people try, fail or succeed against the odds as it debases their untouchable micro-managed gloss.

I get the sense this bunch are trying their hardest to send themselves up for the good cause, but not all of them are even that comfortable with that. There's a further degree of fish-of-water-ness separating, say, poor old Jordan Rizzle Kicks from his comfort zone (making light, serviceable pop/rap singles) – he just isn't that charismatic.

Darts is loved for its heroically rotund competitors performing superhuman feats of precision with their stubby fingers, and concentration with their drink-dulled minds, but I'm going to stick my neck out and say as a spectacle it wouldn't be much without sinking nine pints of Carling and hearing "Chase the Sun" by Planet Funk at ear-splitting volume every few minutes.

To be fair, Greg Davies and Katherine Ryan are kind of funny, but there are flashes of real desperation in the way they feel they have bring on the big laffs – Ryan, for instance, makes a few references to Tindall about his wife, Zara Phillips, that seem to make him a wee bit uncomfortable. Davies dominates the interview sections with big booming gags about wanting to kiss the lol-vacuum that is Martin "Wolfie" Adams, but you can sense they're running on vapours, so light is the subject matter on ins for comedy. It almost serves as light relief when they introduce a hurried VT of a sighing Jason Manford interviewing an orphan in Ghana.

Which brings me to my main point: what does any of this have to do with charity? Is all the cash and effort expended in the name of this mirthless "fun" worth it to get a text number for donations on screen for a grand total of 30 seconds over the hour? (If you're wondering, I gave them £15, a price well worth paying to make this point.) Or are we just seeing an empty gesture towards "giving something back" in the only way TV knows how, with an hour of TV fluff?

I of course think we should be raising money for charity, and that entertainment can play a big role in that. I just wonder whether or not this counts as entertainment.

Let's Play Darts for Sport Relief continues BBC Two, Sunday, 9PM.

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