Kim Kardashian drives a London bus, Idris Elba tends to his brassicas and teenage mum Greta Thunberg pushes her baby in a pram through the streets of Southend. No, it’s not a fever dream – it’s ITV’s new sketch comedy, Deep fake neighbor warspremiering on Thursday, January 26.
A first of its kind, the show uses controversial deep forgery technology, best known for making fake news and revenge porn, to put the faces of celebrities on actors’ bodies as they navigate the daily conflicts with their neighbours.
In the first episode, Elba and Kardashian fight over access to their shared garden in Catford. Meanwhile, in Southend-on-Sea, newly arrived single mother Greta Thunberg complains to the council about outrageous Christmas decorations left all year round by her neighbors (who happen to be ‘florist’ Conor McGregor and ‘the scaffolder” Ariana Grande).
Reactions from those who took a look were mixed to say the least, with one reviewer calling it “hands down the worst television program ever made”.
Others wonder how the hell ITV gets away with putting words in the mouths of celebrities in such a (rather) realistic way. “Is it even legal?” asked for a video on YouTube channel Curiously.
A legal expert, Ron Moscona of Dorsey & Whitney, said little black book: “This kind of show definitely tests the limits. It should be made very clear that the deepfake images are not real and the show is not sponsored or endorsed by the people depicted.
He added: “It’s usually not a problem if comedy clearly pokes fun at celebrities through parody or pastiche. However, deep counterfeit technology – especially if high quality – is clearly increasing the risk of people getting the wrong end of the stick.
The creators clearly want to avoid such a possibility. The show opens with a long, albeit tongue-in-cheek disclaimer – “The powers that made us put this on in the beginning, otherwise we might not have gotten it on TV…” – and the whole thing is watermarked with a “deep fake” logo that seems designed to prevent scenes from being shown out of context online.
Could viewers really fall in love with fakes? Some of the vocal impressions are pretty sharp — “Greta” is surprisingly compelling, even when talking about her beloved son “Algae” — but others are rough around the edges.
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The deep fakes themselves are made by specialist company StudioNeural, which has done commercials and music videos before. The graphics are generally pretty good, especially when the characters are looking directly at the camera, but there are times when the technology shows it’s still in its infancy.
It’s hard to put your finger on what’s so weird about them, but some scenes to feel fake.
There are many more big names set to appear in later episodes of all six parts, in more unlikely combinations. Last month’s trailer showed Nicki Minaj and Spider-Man star Tom Holland wearing matching velor tracksuits, while Jay-Z and Olivia Colman cuddled together on the couch.
Other stars include Stormzy, Harry Kane, Chris Rock, Adele and Matthew McConaughey.
Will any of these A-listers take issue with the use of their (not so) likenesses? If so, ITV’s legal team could find themselves in uncharted waters.
And what about the actors? There’s a good moment at the end of the episode where they “shake” their CGI masks for a virtual callback, but otherwise we don’t see their real faces at all.
Katia Kvinge, who plays both Ariana and Greta, has worked in TV and voiceover before, but that must be odd for impressionist Al Foran, who according to IMDb is making his first TV appearance as Conor. McGregor, to get such a big break only to have his face obscured by a computer.
Although it’s not destined to be a classic like Spitting image or Dead ringtones, Deep fake neighbor wars worth a look just for the novelty value. Where else can you see Kim Kardashian in high visibility driving a bus?
The six episodes of Deep fake neighbor wars will be available on ITVX from Thursday, January 26.