As a reader of what is arguably the most cerebral website going, you don’t need me to tell you that the philosophical urges of man have always been driven by the desire to travel inward, to pick apart the hidden layers of the self. “With the inherited knowledge of the greatest minds in history, and the science to unfold neurobiological secrets, what an exciting age of possibility we live in,” you think, as you eat your organic rigatoni. Then you look up and see Kate from Hertfordshire flapping around some balloons, screeching Happy Birthday, all under the influence of mind-bending psychic control in hypnosis gameshow You’re Back In The Room (Saturday, 8.20pm, ITV).
The premise is as simple as it is ingenious: it’s a gameshow where the tasks are made more complicated on account of the contestants being in a waking trance. “We are going to override their brains,” explains Phillip Schofield by way of introduction. Clearly this calls for specialists, and hypnotist Keith Barry certainly looks the part, dressed in the sartorial Venn diagram that joins stage performers, Jack the Ripper cosplayers and metal guys entering into the union of marriage. In this, the black and purple three-piece suit, Keith looks like a man who’s traded countless years of hypnosis school at the crossroads of light entertainment and does not care one bit.
Keith’s job is to first relax the hopefuls to a point of transcendence, and then “plant mental hurdles” in their soft squishy parts. These hurdles variously include making contestants believe they’re pirates, or are walking on ice, or are amorously attracted to Phillip Schofield, all of which come into play while they’re answering trivia questions or moving balls from one container to another container. This all inspires the audience to a state of near-constant laughter. Clearly, the idea of Phillip Schofield conducting primetime parlour games with people whose subconscious quite closely resembles a really horny lobotomy patient running amok on the sensory therapy ward is a bit of a winner.
With Keith unable to spend too long on camera lest he mesmerises an entire nation, it’s up to Phillip to oversee the challenges. Fans of weird, pointless stuff will be familiar with Phil’s presenting style from The Cube, which bought a unique “struggling to get an armful of shit out of an airing cupboard, but under pressure” spin to the gameshow genre.
In a programme based on mind control, though, things are different – Phil cuts a pretty creepy figure, gliding among his demented captives like a Thunderbirds villain trying to inspire indignities with a cash incentive. “For a thousand pounds, what is this?” he asks, of what could be a Plasticine burger. “Is it a burger?” the players ask. “It’s a burger!” Phillip coos. Such questions make you wonder whether the contestants really are in an altered state. Perhaps they just naturally possess the heee-larious combination of pliant suggestibility and a dark need to loosen their inhibitions. Perhaps the “falling standards blah blah ritual humiliation blah” bores have been proven right.
If so, this news wouldn’t go down well with Keith. Keith is driven by a determination to prove that hypnosis is real. “Is hypnosis real?” asks Phil. “100% yes,” confirms Keith. Thanks, Keith. There’s something about Keith, though – the eyes, the pocket watch swinging from his waistcoat – that makes me not care at all whether hypnosis is real, never mind whether it’s actually hypnosis. Keith says you can be sure his operation’s legit because contestants fail to snap out of all the stupefied prancing and gyrating when the going gets tough. At the end of the show he retreats to his hypnotist’s lair, against a backdrop of CGI neuron graphics, ticking clock projections and spooky harmonium music. For Keith, the idea that anyone would go along with a load of embarrassing old claptrap for a buck remains very much unthinkable.
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