Samantha Armytage's <i>Bringing Sexy Back</i> crew.

Samantha Armytage's Bringing Sexy Back crew.

COMMENT

Do television stars under contract to a network have any choice in the shows they appear on? I’ve been wondering about that ever since watching the first episode of Bringing Sexy Back, a reality makeover show fronted by Sunrise co-host Samantha Armytage. The new Channel Seven series promises “jaw-dropping transformations”, but it may be the perception of Armytage’s career and not a contestant’s body that undergoes the most radical change.

Bringing Sexy Back? Really? Even a Daddo brother would have thought twice about hosting that. 

Debuting at 7.30pm on Tuesday night, Bringing Sexy Back – thanks for that, Justin Timberlake – has decent intentions and poor execution. It’s the kind of show that Larry Emdur’s incredible teeth are normally dispatched to host, but there’s Armytage enthusiastically announcing “welcome to the Sexy Truck”, which really is a truck and not a vintage panel-van on loan from Puberty Blues.

Redeeming qualities: Bringing Sexy Back's strong point is its cast, who are earnest about losing weight and getting healthier.

Redeeming qualities: Bringing Sexy Back's strong point is its cast, who are earnest about losing weight and getting healthier.

There are two ways to host a somewhat questionable television show: with a knowing smile that allows the talking head to play along but also play up, or totally straight so that it’s clear that you’ve bought in to this nonsense. Armytage has opted for the latter. “This is Sam Armytage in the Sexy Truck,” she announced early on, introducing herself via CB to a truck-driving subject, and it was all downhill from there.

Hearing Armytage use her best newsreader voice – composed, authoritative – to deliver lines such as “he applied to bring his sexy back” was at first disconcerting, and then – the fifth or sixth time – just ludicrous. Having risen through the news and reporting rank at Seven and gained an anchor slot opposite David Koch on Sunrise, the network’s 6am flagship, Armytage has noticeably misstepped in the name of building her profile. There’s a reason Brian Naylor never hosted a show called Shake It Up in the Sack.

The concept of the show is that Australians who are struggling with weight and associated health issues are put through a television-friendly makeover, complete with a trainer working them out and refashioning their diet, a repeated discussion of their flaws, and finally a visit from a stylist. You know the format: The Biggest Loser with a dash of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

The flaws were apparent from the very first line. “I look at these pictures,” says a future participant, gazing mournfully at her previous swimsuit body along with the viewing audience, “and I see myself and I go, ‘I was hot’, I was.” Under the guise of feelgood sympathy, the show ruthlessly equates personal satisfaction and the attaining of your goals with a perfect body image – it’s all for the silhouette, nothing to do with the soul. Yet hotness is not a representation of healthiness.

Excellent casting made the debut episode vaguely viable. Ned from rural Victoria had put on 70 kilos in two years, reaching a body fat figure of 44 per cent and losing his dream job driving roadtrains in Western Australia, and his enthusiasm and desire to do more for his girlfriend, Becky, who he wanted to propose to, was genuine. His tears, caught on camera, were honest, as was his satisfaction when a grueling hike ended (at sunset, atop a mountain).

Ned’s situation, partially rectified by losing 46 kilos to weigh in at 125, raised some valuable wider issues, most of which the show glossed over in favour of Armytage earnestly asking Becky, “you must be pleased that Ned has decided to bring sexy back?” The endless repetition of “sexy” and connecting it to body image has to be counter-productive for those who struggle with their weight, and it’s just plain odd that it dominates a show in a family-friendly timeslot.

Watching this made me wonder whether Armytage is just tone deaf in terms of what she’s broadcasting if there’s no teleprompter involved. Watching her on Sunrise last week it was apparent that the show’s relentless drive to be your best friend had her cracking jokes that didn’t quite connect; you can tell because with three people sitting alongside Armytage at least one normally can’t hide their puzzled bemusement.

It’s hard to tell on that show, with its ruthless half-hour format repeated six times a day. Perhaps there’s only so many segments about a monkey taking a selfie you can tee up before your outlook skewers. But Bringing Sexy Back? Really? Even a Daddo brother would have thought twice about hosting that.