The Greatest Show Never Made Review 2023 Tv Show Series Cast Crew Online
That 2002 was 21 years ago is obviously wrong in all but the most factual terms. The endlessly stylish and compelling documentary The Greatest Show Never Made hurls us back to that impossibly distant time yesterday when reality TV was the newest, most exciting thing and a man posing as a TV producer (or was he?) was able to attract hundreds of would-be contestants to audition for the latest entrant to the field, which would require them to give up their lives for a year. The chosen few duly handed in their notices at work, broke their leases, informed family and friends they were leaving and set off – with the passports they had been told to bring – on their new adventure. The only problem was that the show (which would require them to try to make a million pounds together over the course of the year) didn’t exist outside the producer Nikita Russian’s head.
Yes, his name was Nikita Russian. You might think that should have tipped them off. But 2002 was a more innocent time. No, really, it was. I remember. We were all sweet idiots. It was better.
Anyway. The Greatest Show Never Made is a millefeuille, between whose layers are squeezed cartoonish re-enactments of pivotal moments or plot twists, shot in a children’s ITV-meets-Wes Anderson style that keeps the viewer nicely off-kilter; the ideal mood in which to meet this strange story. One layer comprises archive footage from real shows of the time – the inaugural Big Brother, X Factor and so on. Another consists of recollections of some of the contestants now – their hopes of escape from dull jobs, a foot in the door to a career in entertainment, the allure of a kind of fame that until that moment had only been granted to a gilded few. Another layer shows the footage filmed back then, mostly by one of the contestants themselves, which includes footage of the handsome, charismatic Nik. Sometimes we see the contestants now watch the footage from then, shaking their heads at their naivety and willingness to keep faith in the project until the pile of proof threatened to topple over and bury them. Another layer is the testimony from Nik’s boyhood friend Michael, who helped him get the project off the ground but left when it became clear that his plans were barely rising above the level of fantasy, and who remembers Nik – or Keith as he was really called – as a happy, creative boy until something sent him off the rails in his teens.
Most fascinatingly, we hear from Nik himself, now known as N Quentin Wolf (the only thing we can really know for sure about him is that he has a terrible way with choosing names), who insists that it was never a scam, that he wanted to harness the energy being expended in shows that ultimately did nothing and enable people to build skills, a business and a fortune together instead. It sounds on paper like nonsense, and maybe it is. But Wolf – still handsome, still ineffably charismatic, even in this older, quieter form – has a gravitas and a sorrowful air that makes it sound like the truth. But that, of course, was always his gift. He takes some responsibility and admits some remorse for all that happened, but seems unable to go the full distance. Which may always have been his problem.
The Greatest Show Never Made is a three-part series that begins in lighthearted fashion, promising a convoluted but simple tale of victims and villains to boggle at, and much of the first episode delivers. But before the end of that opening hour the show has already begun deepening into a thoughtful and unexpectedly moving account of the human desire for connection, for fulfilment, for meaning and the vulnerability that brings. It interrogates the idea of “following your dreams” and fills that long-emptied phrase with meaning. The victims – as they undoubtedly were – exacted some revenge on Nik at the time and are able to reflect on their bizarre experience and their younger selves largely in tranquillity now. And Nik’s status as a thoroughgoing villain has been by the end severely complicated. The whole documentary is suffused with several rare things; gentleness, consideration and maybe even forgiveness. It is, altogether, rather wonderful.