Deep Fake Neighbour Wars review – the puerile joy of Idris Elba fighting Kim Kardashian over a wheelbarrow

Catford, south-east London. Idris Elba – handyman, barman, mobile phone repairer, chef, delivery driver and DJ – is having a run-in with new neighbour Kim Kardashian over the communal garden. It’s Idris’s pride and joy, where he tends his brassicas and makes perfume out of rose petals and water that he sells on Etsy. First, he finds towels hanging off his pergola. Two days later, a paddling pool. Then one of those rotary washing lines with a squeak “that went right through me”, says Idris with a shudder. As for bus driver Kim, having a garden to call her own is “a huge blessing” and she refuses to stop sunbathing in it. Let the neighbour wars begin!

This is a reality TV spoof with a difference: the first deepfake comedy to grace our screens. So not only do you see a person who sounds and acts exactly like Kardashian griping about the garden hose, wheelbarrow and Flymo Elba has placed on her path to block access to the garden (“Once, I had to jump eight things,” she wails. “Do I look like a hurdlist?”), she looks exactly like her, too. Welcome to Deep Fake Neighbour Wars (ITVX), where thanks to some ethically questionable and up-to-the-minute AI technology I don’t fully understand, we can now indulge in such puerile pleasures as watching Harry Kane have his patio tile cracked by Stormzy. Or Olivia Colman and monosyllabic hubby Jay-Z arguing with Tom Hiddleston (an estate agent, obvs) over his renaming of their cat Giovani. Or Usain Bolt and new wife Phoebe Waller-Bridge-Bolt nicking neighbour Rihanna’s pants. Or Greta Thunberg losing it on the local Facebook community page over a year-round Christmas garden display by Conor McGregor and Ariana Grande. Ha ha … but is it OK? Only, perhaps, because it’s so silly.

Deep Fake Neighbour Wars is the brainchild of Spencer Jones and Barney Francis. Described as “the world’s first long form narrative show that uses deepfake technology”, it turns the country’s leading impressionists into A-list celebrities. At the start of each episode is a disclaimer about the celebs being played by actors and their faces all being deepfakes. At the end, their real faces emerge during the credits.

I haven’t seen the show that Deep Fake Neighbour Wars is lampooning – New Zealand’s long-running Neighbours at War – but having consumed as much Channel 4 and 5 reality TV over the decades as the next British person, I know the format in my bones. The soft female voiceover forever cueing up the next chapter of some petty dispute with a line such as: “That was when everything started to change.” The tinny beats as the camera pans over Southend-on-Sea before homing in on the neighbours outside their houses, arms crossed, looking miffed. The pointless black-and-white reconstructions of key dramatic moments. Deep Fake Neighbour Wars may be skilled at using AI-generated images to make its impressionists look exactly like Nicki Minaj and Tom Holland, but it’s equally good at replicating the banal faux-shock of this type of reality TV.

Some impressions, deepfake or not, are more convincing than others, which goes to show human skill still prevails and we’re not a mouse click away from being phased out by machines fronted by Mark Zuckerberg’s face. Waller-Bridge, for example, is way too posh. Matthew McConaughey looks a bit off, which actually makes him more convincing. Lorraine Kelly as Andy Murray’s tattooist mum is a bit much, but also makes perfect British comedy sense. Adele as a shopping channel enthusiast losing it over neighbour Jake Paul’s racing pigeons defecating on her new electronic awning is classic. I love how she keeps apologising for her language, when all she has done is say “cack”. Whether it’s Spitting Image, Rory Bremner, Dead Ringers or the latest in deepfake tech, it’s in the minor details that impressions really come to life.

Should it be doing more? Instead of revealing something about our insidious celebrity culture, or deepfaking leaders to extract some political satire, Deep Fake Neighbour Wars goes for the laughs generated by putting enormously famous celebrities in humdrum situations. Keeping things silly sidesteps the ethical pitfalls, and it’s true that there is something inherently funny about Kardashian yearning to drive the A28 trunk road, south-east of London, because it’s “so scenic”. Yet it says something about the depoliticisation prevailing today that this is where the world’s first deepfake comedy chooses to go. It’s a bizarre show for bizarre times.