A US reality show has come to Britain, and it’s so bizarre that it defies all normal categorisation. Branson Famous is part soap, part reality show, part musical and part satire — and it’s wonderfully terrible.
The series, which airs on truTv on Thursday 9th April, is a backstage look at the real-life Mabe family, who own one of the longest-running variety shows in Branson Missouri, a small city famed for its country and western music. The Mabes used to be the big wigs of the music scene, but now their struggle to keep their business on track is causing a fallout in the family. Oh and their variety show is called the Baldknobbers Jamboree. Catchy, eh?
The action kicks off as son Brandon, and his parents Tim and Patty are auditioning new singers in a bid to get the crowds in, but when they take on the attractive Heather, Brandon’s girlfriend and co-star, Megan is furious. She’s too sexy for the Baldknobbers, and Megan, who is permanently attached to a compact mirror, tells her so. “People have told me all my life that I’m too sexy,” replies Heather with a sad smile.
And so begins the most melodramatic reality show of all time, set entirely in dressing rooms and on stage. Unlike Taking New York or Made in Chelsea, in which characters constantly talk behind each other’s backs, the Mabes simply tell their nemeses how they feel. Often by singing to camera.
“I’m chasin’ Branson fame,” croons the one-dimensional, very dull Brandon, to which his mum replies (also to camera) “I’m savin’ my family’s name.” When Megan gets worried about sexy Heather having designs on her man, Brandon sings at us, “I ain’t no cheatin’ man,” to which Megan looks sad and sceptical.
The best musical moment comes from Brandon’s mum, Patty, after arguing with her daughter in-law: “Megan came in like a sweet rain, then she tore through my family like a hurricane. She latched on to my son, now she’s got him convinced that she is the one. All she is is pain.” It’s got a bit of the Dolly Parton poignancy, but it’s too funny to be genuinely sad.
The show is billed as a musical reality show but the ‘real’ part is debatable. Even in The Only Way is Essex, you can at least pretend that most of the emotions are real because the scenes take place in cafes, bars, homes and parks. It’s all recognisable. But it’s much harder to get a sense of spontaneity when people are arguing in front of a spot-lit theatre curtain, singing scripted lines about how angry they are. It’s truly silly TV.
But then that’s why I watched three episodes in a row with absolute glee. Branson Famous isn’t realistic or cool, it’s utterly ridiculous, melodramatic and weird. And most importantly of all, there are no awkward pauses because every time someone finishes a sentence, they break into song…
Branson Famous starts on Thursday 09 April at 9pm on truTV, freeview channel 68.