Have You Been Watching…Whisker Wars?

"Aargh, someone get these ferrets off my face. They've taken my chin clean off"

By Tom Revell.

Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit is one of the most hotly anticipated big screen releases of 2012. If you can’t wait until December to get your fill of wall-to-wall beard action, ITV4’s Whisker Wars is the perfect warm up.

Rather than a band of bearded dwarves led by an equally bearded wizard, Whisker Wars introduces us to Beard Team USA, a group of competitive beard growers led by Phil Olsen – the chairman of the beard. This is the story of America taking on current beard dominators Germany in the world championships.

You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll itch.

Each episode focuses on a different competition, from the Nationals in Oregon to the World Championship in Norway. There’s no shortage of hairy moments along the way, but if you’re looking for close shaves this isn’t the programme for you.

And get used to the puns – in the Whisker Wars universe everything feels like a hair joke, even when it’s not.

Because this is like a separate universe. You spend the first ten minutes in shock, awed by these grizzly sportsmen, many of whom look as though they’ve strapped roadkill to their chin and let it settle. But then you become accustomed to this new reality in which everyone looks like a member of ZZ Top – and suddenly the weirdos are the shaved and the beardos the behaved.

So once the shock wears off, how does it sustain your interest over seven episodes? For starters you’ve got the recurring characters around which the drama centres. Twice World Beard Champion Jack Passion refers to himself as the ‘Mohammed Ali of beards’ and also the ‘Tiger Woods of competitive bearding’ – nicknames apparently mustered at random by an online generator.

His innocence suggests his enormous red face apron has been growing longer than he has.

Jack’s commercial success provokes a fair amount of jealousy and resentment in some of his rivals, in uncomfortable scenes that sour the otherwise fun mood. These men have serious beard envy and they reveal their pettiness by heckling Jack at competitions and being all snide in his presence.

If you thought a great big bushy beard filtered out bitchiness, think again.

You also wonder why he subjects himself to that when he’s already a World Champion. These men aren’t just rivals – they’re old rivals. Why carry on with it? The only way is down. World’s Strongest Man creates a similar feeling of bleakness, when you see last year’s winner struggle with to hurl that final truck over that last lamp post. It’s that uneasy sense that there’s nothing after the muscle, no life beyond the beard.

So while it’s sometimes hard to root for any of the competitors, Whisker Wars keeps things fresh by throwing in variations of the general big beard theme. Four episodes in, we’ve seen beards in hats, beards in saunas, beards that can hold four beer cans – there’s even been a beard marriage proposal. I’m still hoping that by the end of the series it will fulfil my vision of a beard that’s also a cat basket.

Even if beards aren’t your thing, I suggest you give this programme a watch. They might just grow on you.

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Whisker Wars is on ITV4 on Mondays at 8.30pm. You can catch up on ITV Player here

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About Hilary Wardle
Hilary is a freelance journalist and copywriter who writes for a wide range of websites, magazines and newspapers, including Buzzfeed, MSN, The Poke, Chortle, the Guardian and the Independent. She specialises in arts and entertainment, comedy, video games and viral content. Contact her at Hilary3@gmail.com.

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