Boyz Unlimited (Channel 4, 1999)
In the late-90s, manufactured boy bands seemed to be commonplace on the singles chart. I must admit that I’ve never really been that interested in any of them, but then they weren’t actually aimed at me. But for every one of them that had some success, plenty of them failed. I remember a boy band performed at my school once. I have forgotten what they were called, but they definitely didn’t have any hits. This show is essentially a spoof documentary about how a boy band are put together and marketed.
One notable thing about the show looking back is that it was written and produced by Richard Osman (Matt Lucas and David Walliams are also credited as co-creators of the show, although I don’t think their contribution went much beyond that). Now this was long before he became the co-host of Pointless, at this time he was still working behind the scenes in TV, and he was also the divisor of BBC2 comedy panel game If I Ruled The World. Richard knows a thing or two about what goes on in the music business as his brother Mat is a member of Suede.
Nigel Gacey is a Cockney who is always on the lookout for a get rich quick scheme, so he decides to become a music mogul and put a boy band together. They are Gareth (overweight but kept in the band because he is the only one with any songwriting ability, not that they use any of his songs), Jason, Nicky, and Scott (who is told to change his name from Giles). Also notable is that Gareth is played by a young James Corden, who has gone on to much more TV success.
Boyz Unlimited is presented in a “fly-on-the-wall” style (it’s difficult to know what was more commonplace at the time, boy bands, or this style of documentary), and to add an extra touch of authenticity, the narrator was Jo Whiley, who was also a presenter on BBC Radio 1 at this time. As the episodes progress we witness things like the auditions for the band, getting a record deal, making the videos, and releasing the songs. They hope their dreams will come true, but they soon realise that it’s a rotten business.
They are told that they will make cover versions of hits including “DISCO” and “I Say A Little Prayer”. They also cover “A Little Bit More”, which coincidentally (I presume) was a chart-topper for boy band 911 around this time, in a bland as you like style, which is an indication that there really are some things that it’s difficult to parody. They are also involved in various scandals, including Nicky having an affair with the headmistress from his school.
They also face trouble from their biggest rivals Boyz Limited, who are having huge hits, whilst theirs can’t even be found on CD in Virgin Megastore, and they are also embarrassed in appearances on live Saturday Morning TV shows. Nigel continues to hope that there will be a chemistry between his discoveries and they will be the next Bad Boys Inc., but his patience is often tested by their antics.
There was only one series of Boyz Unlimited, and I’m fairly sure that there was never a DVD release. Boy bands could be considered to be something of a easy target, but it shows how much cynicism there was about this kind of thing happening, and this was long before the likes of Pop Idol and The X Factor came along. Maybe they should’ve done a cover of “Don’t Stop Believin'”.