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The X-Factor returns: That’s not entertainment

There oughta be a law barring 13-year-old girls from singing Nina Simone songs. No, seriously. That law would please me a lot. And a lot of you too, I'm guessing.

A few minutes into the presentation reel for the new season of The X-Factor (Wednesday, Thursday, Fox, CTV, 8 p.m.), along comes this mere child in shorts and what appears to be her dad's vest, who opens her mouth and proceeds to spend several minutes murdering Feeling Good, from Simone's classic album I Put A Spell On You. Her voice goes hither and thither. It's a circus trick. The judges and her family are in some kind of ecstasy listening to this vocal assassination. Me, I think the kid should be in borstal for ransacking the song.

Yes, the big crock that is The X-Factor is back. Last season, the two biggest crocks were on Fox – the farcical dinosaur-spectacular Terra Nova and The X-Factor. Only the latter survived. Which seems odd. Does anybody have any memory of anything that happened on The X-Factor last year? See.

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The X-Factor was promoted and promised as a bigger, more exciting version of American Idol. Big, big production, auditions in giant venues with an audience, and much footage of backstage tears, fears and meltdowns. Yeah, whatever. Simon Cowell talked it up as landmark television, citing its success in Britain.

Right now, The X-Factor is in a major ratings decline in Britain and, simultaneously, the tabloid press is reporting that Cowell had "a breakdown" while making this new U.S. version: "Stricken Simon had to be put on a strict detox regime to give him the strength to battle his 'demons.'" Again: What. Ever.

It's a fact that The X-Factor on Fox is still a crock. To draw attention this year, Britney Spears has been brought in as a judge, at enormous expense. One imagines that Pepsi, which has its logo in almost every scene of The X-Factor, is on the hook for that. In what has been presented during a preview, Spears's performance is notable for three things.

First, she is seen telling a tiny kid, "Since I was your size, I knew I was going to be a sing-ger," Yes, she actually pronounces it "sing-ger." Not as monumentally off-putting as the 13-year-old doing Nina Simone, but still.

Second, and this is a big part of the ceaseless promotion for the show, Spears is revealed to be a little bit mean in her assessment of contestants. Sometimes she sits there, in a red dress that cut down to, like, her navel, wearing black, librarian-style spectacles, and pronounces that some performance was inadequate.

Third, Spears also seems to have issues with the contestants "staring" at her, especially when she's talking to them.

Cowell smirks throughout this, it being just what he needs to create some buzz about the show. When he isn't smirking, he's all stern with judge Demi Lovato, who, it seems, is generally too nice to the contestants, especially cute young men.

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Here we go – more train-wreck TV. The presentation reel promises romance, arrests, meltdowns, drag queens and a small army of the deluded.

In the context of the singing-show wars now under way, The Voice is The X-Factor's big enemy. The NBC show took off like a rocket and the central gimmick of the judges hearing only the voices of the contestants seems to have clicked with aficionados of the genre. So, on Wednesday, NBC is doing a screw-you to The X-Factor by airing an extra episode, up against the first hour of the Fox competitor.

Cowell has had this to say about that: "I think it's mean-spirited, and I hope and I pray that it backfires on them, because this is one of the best shows we've ever made. And I am pissed off about it, because I think there's kind of a gentleman's agreement."

Now, that is actually more entertaining than anything on The X-Factor. There also oughta be a law about Simon Cowell's righteous indignation.

Also airing tonight

Bullet in the Face (SuperChannel, 11 p.m.) is not to everyone's taste, mainly because it appears to be a work by and for the insane. The official gist is this: "The six-part, half-hour comedic action thriller produced by Montreal's Muse Entertainment and Just For Laughs Television combines hilarity, thrills and non-stop action in a viciously funny series unlike anything viewers have seen before." Indeedy. Set in some comic-book netherworld of punk criminals, main punk criminal Gunter (Max Williams) awakes from a bullet-in-the face injury to find that he has been given the face of a cop and must now work for the police. Or something. He talks in a manic German accent and drools over punk-chick-criminal Martine (Kate Kelton). Stuff happens. None of it makes a blind bit of sense unless, I imagine, you are stoned out of your mind.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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