Monday, 6 November 2017
Last Night's Tele: Sheridan, ITV
An old fashioned variety showcase for Sheridan Smith, the Doncaster girl who has come a long way from her days as the star of BBC3 sitcom Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps. Having wowed the nation with her straight acting roles in must-see dramas such as Mrs Biggs, Cilla, The C-Word and The Moorside, Smith became a West End star when she took the lead role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. A singer since she was a child, it was only natural that an album deal would come beckoning and this one off special was certainly designed to showcase this latest venture from the national treasure.
The elephant in the room of course is that runaway success has come at a price. Last year was a particularly turbulent time for Smith thanks to the death of her much loved musician father from cancer. A hiatus from Funny Girl occurred, as did a spell in rehab. This special could arguably have been the opportunity to show that she has come back stronger and better, but I'm not convinced. Twitter, being the domain of complete and utter bastards, delighted in ridiculing Sheridan's appearance. It's true that she has gained weight (a natural physical reaction to anti-depressants that she may very well have been taking at the time the special was recorded) and it is equally true that she has committed to a lot of tattoos recently and that the make-up and costume department possibly didn't serve her well in the show, but the reaction online made for grim insensitive reading and given that we're talking about someone who is openly admitting to vulnerability after tragic circumstances, it seemed especially cruel.
And yet, I must tactfully suggest that there was something undeniably uncomfortable about Sheridan here. The interviews between the songs (from a deeply complimentary, gentle Alexander Armstrong) revealed that Sheridan had turned down several offers to make a record previously to the disappointment of her father. Now that he has passed, she confessed it felt the right time to do so and to dedicate the album to him. It's an understandable reaction to the loss she has suffered, but I couldn't escape the sense that this project may just be too much, too soon. Perhaps the clearest answer to this concern is in Sheridan's music; a striking, stripped-down version of And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going sees Smith openly weeping as she performs - it's not an act, it's coming from a very real place.
As for the show itself, your enjoyment depends not so much on whether you're a Sheridan Smith fan but on whether you can stomach the kind of show that essentially sees its star sing a medley of musical numbers, classic ballads and chart hits. It's a cheesy affair, the kind of 'extravaganza' that was very much at home in the '70s and '80s. I do wonder if a more An Audience With... format would have suited Sheridan better and I did find it strange that Armstrong's skip through Sheridan's TV career didn't touch upon the show that effectively made her a household name: Two Pints. I know it was a marmite show and that it is probably very out of favour now, but to completely ignore it just seemed wrong.
The highlight of the special has to be the moment when Sheridan, during filming for Cilla, had a night off and brought her friends back to her hotel room for a drunken game of Blind Date complete with the prop department 'Cilla' teeth!