Robbie Williams Review 2023 Tv Show Series Cast Crew Online
Robbie Williams isn’t wearing any trousers. Sitting cross-legged on his bed in his LA mansion, the pop star is watching his past self on a dusty laptop: a stream of behind-the-scenes archive footage that moves from the fan-frenzy of Take That to the wildly popular super-tours of his solo era to his painful departure from the heart of the zeitgeist. Why he needs to do this in his pants is unclear. Is it meant to be a metaphor for the intimate, no-holds-barred nature of this documentary series? A nod to the fact that this is Robbie: frank and unfiltered? Or maybe it’s just a sign that Williams is a natural-born exhibitionist (as if we needed another one).
Whatever the reason, the undies can’t help but underline the onanistic vibe. It is mostly Williams in the footage, the only other main character being his on-off songwriting partner Guy Chambers (who filmed most of it). And save a brief appearance from his wife, Ayda Field, there are no other talking heads either. This is Williams on Williams: a claustrophobic, navel-gazing, four-hour-long monologue delivered by Robbie past and present, outlining the depression, anxiety and addiction that accompanied his uber-stardom and has seemingly characterised his entire life.
Well, perhaps not his entire life. The documentary, which is directed by Joe Pearlman (Lewis Capaldi: How I’m feeling Now), launches into action with Take That – “The most popular British group since the Beatles!” says Cilla Black, during the initial flash of fun retro TV footage – providing no information about Williams’s childhood. Pre-Ayda, his romantic life is also mired in ambiguity: there is a lot of footage of a 2000 holiday with Geri Halliwell but it is never clear whether they are actually an item.
Instead, we get an unvarnished ride through Williams’s whiplash-inducing career. He leaves Take That furious at golden boy Gary Barlow, then goes on a year-long bender (“I was just in Groucho doing a lot of coke”). His solo comeback, in partnership with Chambers, falters initially before going stratospheric. Then he’s in superstar territory for a solid decade, before developing crippling anxiety. He stops performing, relapses hard, meets Ayda, gets clean, reunites with Take That, has kids and finally reprises his career as a still enormously successful performer.
It’s impossible not to compare Robbie Williams with the other Netflix documentary about a British icon released a few weeks ago. Born just over a year apart, Williams and David Beckham were both working-class English lads who struggled at school before becoming teenage stars and then, here at least, colossally, traumatically famous, pursued with malicious glee by a dangerously unchecked tabloid media. In their overlapping heydays, these men were the culture. In their crystallisations of late-90s Britishness, they remain powerful vectors of millennial nostalgia.
But the differences are far starker. Beckham is taciturn to the extreme; Williams is a gurning motormouth with a blisteringly quick wit (did he miss his true calling as a comedian? Discuss). Beckham is driven by an elemental love of his sport; Williams never seems to derive much joy from his music. The documentaries themselves are also worlds apart. Beckham is a PR-massaged portrait of the footballer’s legendary status and a rollickingly entertaining trip down memory lane for the nation, featuring a glut of big-name interviewees and amusing archive footage. Robbie Williams is the opposite: an oppressive, masochistic binge of past lows that shies away from its subject’s professional triumphs (this millennial will always love Rock DJ, all right?).
That might be because celebration is at odds with this on-screen misery memoir. Williams is clearly in a bad way; his on-stage panic attacks are horrific to watch. He doesn’t like his own material, craving indie cool instead of pop ubiquity (“I wanna write Karma Police, I’m writing Karma Chameleon”) and his general unhappiness often presents as belligerence, moodiness and an inclination to direct that razor-sharp tongue of his at his colleagues – and, more amusingly, the press (Journalist: “What would you be if you weren’t a musician?” Williams, utterly deadpan: “A pig farmer.”).
There is no escape route: the film suggests it was the shock of Take That’s success that triggered Williams’s trauma, but the only way back for him (and the only way to get back at Barlow, he tells his 10-year-old daughter) was even more fame and attention – and judging by the existence of this series, it still is. He also blames the intense pressure of being a solo performer on his second breakdown, but finds it impossible to share the spotlight, first with Barlow, then Chambers, whom he ditches in 2002.
It is grim viewing, yet the tone falters when we reach the release of Williams’s 2006 single Rudebox. It was derided by the press and you can see Williams remains genuinely floored by the criticism. Yet he is so hyperbolically serious about this ridiculously inane cod-rap song that the whole debacle comes across as inadvertently comic. It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry.
Most likely, you will do neither. Fame’s psychological ill-effects are patently not funny, and Robbie Williams is more evidence that celebrity is an affliction and an addiction, which in turn leaves the series feeling like an opportunity to rubberneck at disaster. At the same time, Williams is so hard to empathise with. It turns out it’s surprisingly tricky to emotionally connect with someone when all you see is them – as this myopic documentary has proven to its own detriment.