Prince Andrew: The Musical review: embarrassing Channel 4 production is a late contender for worst TV of 2022

Prince Andrew: The Musical struggles to fill its hour long runtime, demonstrating that even when Channel 4 has edge it doesn’t always have substance

First, some context. Prince Andrew: The Musical was commissioned as part of Channel 4’s fortieth anniversary celebrations, the nominal jewel in the crown of a season of programming that promised to take risks and push boundaries. Other fixtures of the ‘Truth or Dare’ season included Jimmy Carr Destroys Art, which saw a live studio audience vote on whether the comedian should take a hammer to paintings by figures like Hitler and Picasso, and documentaries like My Massive ****. The idea, essentially, was to avoid the hagiographic and self-congratulatory excesses of anniversary celebrations, and instead look to the future by demonstrating that Channel 4 still has edge.

The tastelessness of Prince Andrew: The Musical is more or less the point, then. It’s a deliberately provocative, deliberately posturing piece of television, not just hoping for shocked headlines but plainly desperate for them. It’s meant to be attention grabbing, it’s meant to court controversy, it’s hoping to get a response out of people – even if it has to make jokes about sexual assault victims to do it. Is it worth it? No, obviously not, and the whole thing has a cheap and tacky feel to it throughout. Let’s establish that much early: it’s not just tasteless, it’s also terrible.

Beyond that, though, it’s striking how conceptually thin Prince Andrew: The Musical is. The idea starts and very quickly ends with those four words, clearly struggling to fill an hour (interstitial moments with Joe Wilkinson as a context-setting newsvendor, filmed against a greenscreen background, give the impression of a last-minute drop in included specifically to bulk up the runtime). It’s the sort of thing that might sustain a brief sketch – or maybe a vertical video, filmed on an iPhone, posted to twitter, but never getting quite enough retweets to even charitably call it viral – but doesn’t have anywhere near enough material for a full hour.

Prince Andrew: The Musical opens with the now infamous Newsnight interview – literally, actually, as clips of the real Emily Maitlis speaking to the-then Duke of York play out on screen under narration meant to represent Andrew’s inner monologue. “Everyone knows the simple equation,” mumbles Kieran Hodgson, “war plus guns equals no sweat for a while.” If nothing else, Prince Andrew: The Musical feels like a compelling argument that Maitlis and the Newsnight team should have cut those lines from the interview at the time – damning though they might’ve seemed, they’ve been memed so endlessly (by people who should know better) that the whole thing just seems like a joke. Why else is Channel 4 giving out promotional sweat reactive t-shirts to advertise this show?

Emma Sidi as Emily Maitlis and Kieran Hodgson as Prince Andrew, performing a musical rendition of the Newsnight interview in Prince Andrew: The Musical (Credit: Channel 4)

A musical two-hander between Andrew (Hodgson) and Maitlis (Emma Sidi) kicks things off, each believing they “nailed it” and came out of the interview looking better than the other. It is nominally sort of a clever bit of songwriting, if you’re inclined to cede any ground and offer any faint praise, but then on the other hand it also has lines like “my accusers are all losers” and rhymes “pizza Fiorentina” with “soliciting a minor”, so let’s call it a wash. Again, the tastelessness is clearly the point – promotional interviews from Hodgson and the producers claiming sensitivity are either outright lies or Andrew-level self-delusion – but it remains stunning how accusations of sexual assault are being reduced down to light entertainment fare like this.

After that opening, though, Prince Andrew: The Musical largely skirts around the accusations levelled at its lead, opting instead to act as more of a biopic. With seven original songs, it charts Andrew’s military service in the Falklands war ("England Expects"), his relationship with and eventual divorce from Sarah Ferguson (“My Profiterole” and “Will You Be My Ex-Wife?”), and a tumultuous relationship with his brother Charles (“Obey”). Again, there’s a sense that this is all very thin on the ground, trying to hang entire songs on long-forgotten anecdotes and minor scandals, the work of creatives having to try and dress up ideas they’d otherwise abandon just to try and meet runtime.

The special comes closest to doing something interesting in its final song, “You’re Always Gonna Need an Andrew”, which argues that the royal family will always protect Andrew because he’ll always offer a convenient scapegoat – the pantomime villain, in effect, and a convenient distraction from the behaviour of other royals. (“You brought an abuser onto palace grounds,” says Charles, pulling up a picture of Charles and Jimmy Saville rather than one of Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein.) There’s a shade of an actual idea here, a flash of genuine sharpness that could’ve justified the whole affair – the first thing you could call meaningfully satirical, rather than tired jokes about sweat set to music. It falters quickly, though, with the special quick to exculpate Charles and draw an equivalence between Andrew’s “distracting scandals” and “Meghan Markle’s tears”.

The most damning thing about Prince Andrew: The Musical is that there’s no real perspective, no real sense of direction – what’s the criticism? What does it actually think is bad about Andrew – that he’s a bit arrogant, entitled in a comical way, that he made a fool of himself in an interview... or that he’s alleged to have sexually assaulted people? If Channel 4 wanted to show it could still grab headlines, well, fair enough, job done – but it would’ve done well to try and show some substance beneath the edge too.

Prince Andrew: The Musical airs on Channel 4 at 9pm on Thursday 29 December.

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