19 January, 2010

What the Papers Say: "Material Girl"


Sam Wollaston, The Guardian

"Right, that's the froth dealt with. Now to the espresso underneath. With a glass of Veuve Clicquot and a line of coke on the side. Because
Material Girl (BBC1), an important new drama set in the world of fashion, takes on the ­altogether more profound question: what to wear? OK, it's silly and deeply shallow. It's also gorgeous, fizzy, bitchy, self-indulgent, obviously bad for you but dangerously addictive. Careful, Material Girl could become a habit.

Dervla Kirwan makes a splendid queen bitch evil designer with no talent but an impressive Rolodex. Being ­Human's lovely Lenora Crichlow is again lovely as Ali, the talented young designer, who's tottering in five-inch heels along the thin line between the real world and fashion nonsense. Only the hunk is wrong – too puppyish and doey-eyed to be a hunk, I think. And since when did motorcycle couriers ride Harley-Davidsons?

It's part of the Babylon franchise, based on the writing of Imogen ­Edwards-Jones. This is better than ­Hotel Babylon though – simply more fun. As usual, IE-J wrote her book with "Anonymous", an insider from the world in which it's set. Unfortunately, although I understand chaos theory perfectly, I know very little about ­fashion, so can't ­comment on its veracity. But I know a woman who understands fashion well, my own insider – let's just call her Guardian fashion editor Jess Cartner-Morley.

The daft, post-show, backstage ­"Darling, you are a fashion goddess" conversations between the celebrity and the designer are spot on, says JC-M. Plus the brash, very London supermodel, and the slimy Eurotrash ­business partner in the turtle neck – right again, those people are real.

Obviously a lot of old fashion cliches are dragged out, some of which JC-M could have done without, such as the scene in the shoe shop where Ali sells her soul for a nice pair of shoes: Jess is so over that scene, she's seen it about 5,000 times, come aaaawn. And where it's just plain wrong, she says, is when the baddie journalist demands sexual favours of a GIRL – very unlikely. The men in fashion really are gay. Oh, and she likes it. So I was right about that."

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Tim Teeman, The Times

"Flights of fancy were also evident in the glossy BBC drama
Material Girl, an hour that felt a bit like a day of blistering sunshine and horrendous hailstorm: funny then not funny; sharp, then suddenly, lamentably pedestrian. The story of a plucky young fashion designer and her evil former boss had all the Cinderella elements of Ugly Betty, the show it most obviously resembled. However, whereas the latter glorifies in its absurdity, its camp cartoonishness, Material Girl allowed Dervla Kirwan as Davina to dress up as Cruella de Vil, and snarl and scowl icily, but then the tone receded and became all workmanlike and clunky. British, in other words.

Lenora Crichlow as Ali, who had left the evil Davina to set up on her own, slugged beer from a bottle (to show she was a regular gal), she didn’t want some fancy-schmancy star to wear her dress to the Baftas (yeah right!). Her boyfriend is just a regular guy courier who rides a motorbike and who puts her, chaste and untouched, to bed after she gets hideously drunk. What a prince.

Material Girl isn’t as bad as some critics say, but it’s not as fun as it could be. It’s not really new to identify fashion as vapid and fashion people as empty, self-serving egotists. (Oh and for all the men to be bitchy, camp gays: there are not enough of them on TV, thanks!) There’s a great moment in The Devil Wears Prada where Meryl Streep tells Anne Hathaway she can pretend to be all superior about this empty world, but what about the blue jumper she’s wearing ... which Streep then deconstructs piercingly. Material Girl could be very funny, if it had a sharper, more knowing respect for the world it sets out to satirise."

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Rihannon Harries, The Independent

"If Glee grabs its stereotypes and gives them a big, bone-crushing bear hug, Material Girl, the BBC's new fashion-world drama, lacks the courage even to shake hands with the stock characters it promised to deal with.

The first episode found young designer Ali putting the finishing touches to what was supposed to be a fabulous high-end collection backstage at a Paris fashion show. Sadly, it looked more like the latest Ann Summers range had exploded all over the catwalk and the credibility of the show spiralled downwards from there on.

The problem with the costumes (The Apprentice has better-dressed casts) is one of many. Worse is the uneven tone – Dervla Kirwan, who went high camp with her arch bitch performance, clearly didn't get the memo that told the rest of the cast they should play it straight to the point where they seemed to be boring themselves.

The whole thing is accessorised with some crudely sketched moral dilemmas ("Is fashion more important than being a good person?"), lots of clunky name-dropping and a female Iraq veteran with Hollyoaks body whose post-traumatic stress appeared to be solved by a skimpy orange dress.

The fashion industry may be many things, lots of them worthy of a send-up, but it is rarely dull and never worthy so it's baffling that Material Girl managed to be both. An independent report published earlier this week suggests that the Beeb should spend less time and money chasing 16- to 35-year-olds and focus on quality broadcasting. If confirmation were needed, this series is it."

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Phil Hogan, The Observer

"I'm guessing there'll be some crossover appeal between Glee and Material Girl, BBC1's new early-evening drama set in the preposterous world of fashion. Lenora Crichlow as hot young frock designer Ali looked more like someone who might work at Next, but perhaps she's meant to represent wholesome values amid the preening, cut-throat, candyfloss-haired twits she's up against. There was romance and excitement among the sewing machines, but for me she beds in more comfortably as Annie the ditsy ghost in BBC3's Being Human..."

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Maysa Rawi, Daily Mail

It was supposed to Britain's answer to Ugly Betty, but new fashion drama Material Girl failed to deliver when it premiered last night on the BBC.

Despite a reported £6m budget, underwhelming styling and lacklustre wardrobe choices left viewers cold - with one critic describing main character Ali Redcliffe as sporting 'a selection of hideous clothes that look as though they once clad the extras down Albert Square.'

Material Girl, which follows a wannabe designer as she struggles to make it to the top, sees the opening sequence introduce characters backstage at a fashion show.

But outfits were more Wag than Wang and the script did little to redeem the show.

The London Evening Standard's Laura Craik said: 'Material Girl is one of those jaw-droppingly, dreadful pieces of television that barely deserves to be buried on ITV4 at midnight.

'Designer Ali Redcliffe, does a lot of running through the streets of Brick Lane, dressed in a selection of hideous clothes that look as though they once clad the extras down Albert Square.'

Craik said: 'Despite gratuitous references to Balenciaga, Chanel and Steven Meisel, it’s clear the writers of Material Girl know as much about the fashion industry as Giorgio Armani knows about darts, although — surprise! — they do seem to have picked up that all fashion people are shallow, evil and thick.'

Although the familiar Hollywood tale of the new girl attempting to claw her way to the top of the fashion industry without compromising her morals has been successfully rehashed in shows like Ugly Betty and Oscar-winning film Devil Wears Prada, Material Girl was not categorised in the same vein.

The Independent's Alice-Azania Jarvis said: 'Seemingly a sort of low-budget British version of Ugly Betty, it offers none of the attractions it should: no wit, no glamour, and absolutely no plausibility.'

Performances were hailed as strong however and Material Girl could possibly turn into guilty pleasure viewing, similar to BBC's Secret Diary of a Call Girl, starring Billie Piper.

Jarvis said: 'Really, it has very little at all to recommend it, except, that is, strong performances from all the lead roles.

'And, against all better judgement, I found myself sticking to it. Will I watch it again? Probably not on purpose. But if I happen to tune in by accident, I might just stay there. Guiltily.'

Set in trendy London's Brick Lane, Ali (played by Sugar Rush's Leonora Crichlow) spends her time battling an evil ex-boss, a sexy business partner and snobby fashionistas to get her break in work and love.

Star Leonora says: 'The fashion world can be very fickle, but Material Girl focuses on the fun element, the creative element.'

'I can't say that I move and shake in the world of fashion, so it's wonderful to get to do something completely different.

With the recent explosion in fashion-related entertainment, from Vogue documentary The September Issue to reality TV shows Project Runway and Britain's Next Top Model, the message is clear: fashion is hot.

But perhaps Material Girl is not.

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Overnights: 3 million/12%

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BBC Press Pack

Viewer's Page

Catch up with iPlayer

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'Material Girl', Thursdays on BBC1 at 8:00pm for 6 weeks

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