Archives for posts with tag: reality tv

I must confess to being a bit stuck what to write this week. There’s nothing new I have started watching and, therefore, nothing new I want to say. It has been a real struggle finding something. Yes, there are new shows popping up all the time, but time is limited and as much as I love TV, I want a life outside of it as well.

Then it hit me. Something that has been gnawing at my brain for a while now. A change in my feelings towards a show. And now is the time to express it.

So here is my declaration: I’ve fallen out of love with Gogglebox. I can’t put my finger on when, but I watch it now out of habit rather than love.

What I do know is why. The biggest reason is that it has lost its naivety and charm. Take some of the intros. Whenever someone pulls out of a bag that they claim they have bought that week to try, I have started wondering if they really have, or if a producer has given it to them. I hate being a cynic, but I feel the participants have become performing seals rather than being one of us. I remember one former fan describing the cast as a group of people desperate to fight their way to the buffet at the National Television Awards, and it seems a very apt description.

The problem is when you have breakout stars. Scarlett Moffet transcended from bit part cast member to a star in her own right. And now so many of them want to repeat the arc. But you can’t review TV as an ordinary punter if you go behind the curtain. Yet the best ones often do. Steph & Dom are missed more than anyone else, bar Leon, who sadly passed away.

I also find myself increasingly infuriated at some of the puerile and ignorant comments. Take the news story on the Extinction Rebellion protest. There was universal mocking across the cast about the actions of the protesters and snide comments. Not one person recognised the issue that the protesters were actually trying to raise.

There are still some bright spots. Pete and Sophie are current favourites, and the Siddiqui and Malone families remain good value. Occasionally the show can still surprise, and any politician worth their salt should watch some of the conversations around Brexit: general tone being they don’t care if it happens or not, just stop talking about it.

It was a fun show while it lasted and had moments of pure genius. But now I feel it should be put out to pasture as it were. Let some new formats come through. Channel 4 is meant to be home of the bold and different, and Gogglebox just isn’t that any more.

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It’s rare I write one of these reviews where a show has hit all the boxes. There is normally a character that doesn’t work, or the tone doesn’t fit. Sometimes it’s just a sense of a good idea being not quite there. But when it does all come together, it is compulsive viewing.

Race Across the World is joining rare pantheon of programmes that ticks every box. The premise is simple. Five couple race from London to Singapore in the fastest time without taking a single flight. All transport must be land or sea based, and they only have the budget of the standard air fare to Singapore. They must hit pre-determined check points along the way, and can only top up their budget by doing a day’s work on their travels. Oh, and there’s no smartphones or access to technology.

The most immediate reason I love this show is that it features lots of maps. I love a map. I get nerdishly excited at seeing people’s progress being charted. I have had an obsession with atlases since childhood. I think that’s why I lack the wanderlust that others have – I feel I have read enough about the world, I don’t need to see it.

Another thing that won me over to the show is that it avoided the most obvious pitfall of making this all about the ‘journey’ of the contestants, as in the emotions. Yes, we have backstories – a husband and son who have lost touch, a retired couple who want to embrace the final act of their life with as much gusto as possible – but it never overwhelms the sense of competition.

Not only that, but there is never a sense of hunting for fame. Nobody taking part is doing so to land some kind of deal. It is about the thrill of adventure. You get the feeling that, within a day or two of being done, the contestants will all return to their normal lives, albeit with a lot more stories to tell.

The last selling point is that it is fascinating watching the different psychologies at play. One couple decide to use the kindness of strangers to succeed. Another takes advantage of work opportunities to fund the quickest, priciest way out. All reach breaking points. All couple bar one have either bickered or ripped up a map in frustration. It is telling the first to be eliminated where the first to get snippy with each other.

I already want a second series. Hell, despite my misgivings about my ability to hack it, I want to take part. For all of its modesty, it is actually the best show out there. Less is more has won the day.

If you watch something over and over again, no matter how much you enjoy it, you inevitably start asking questions. In the case of drama or comedy, it could be plot holes or plausibility. Why has a character done x? How could event y have happened? What about thing z? This is perhaps why the best shows only last a few series, because the writers know that in order to reduce these questions they are working in a tighter framework.

Reality TV has a similar problem. Big Brother lost its spark as it drifted ever further away from being about normal people. Likewise, The Apprentice has perhaps lot its way a little as it has become ever clearer that there are people on it who use it as a passport to fame instead of furthering their business.

Because there is always one. They tend to leave about week seven or eight, when it is no longer plausible for Lord Sugar to keep them in, as they have shown they are incapable of running a business. Last year it was semi-professional ‘lad’ Andrew, who used his 15 minutes of fame to go on Celebrity Big Brother and date a C-lister. My money this year is on Kurran, a wannabe actor who can’t act but is a fan of grandiose statements about his genius.

Another problem with The Apprentice is some of the tasks feel deliberately designed to put candidates under ridiculous pressure which I’m not convinced reflects how business is done. For example, would somebody working in the advertising industry be expected to turn around a logo, advert and devise a presentation for an airline in 48 hours? Highly doubt it and you certainly wouldn’t be expecting with no knowledge of said industries to complete that workload.

Of course, there is the argument that this is all about seeing how people react to pressure. But seeing as many of the candidates are running their own businesses, you could argue they know all about pressure already. Lord Sugar could just as easily film them doing their normal jobs for 10 weeks rather than having them jump from gardening one minute to selling on TV shopping channels the next.

But then that wouldn’t be good TV would it? We want to see people flail and fail, having tetchy arguments about the price of plant pots along the way. And many of the eventual winners are actually successful post-show with their businesses. The right person does seem to win even if it takes a while to get there.

How much longer can the show last? Who knows. Once they have run out of ideas for tasks maybe, or Lord Sugar descends into senility perhaps. For now, we just need to sit back and take it all with a pinch of salt.

Another difficult week to find anything to talk about, so I thought I would write about one of the most infuriating episodes of TV I have ever watched. I mean, we all have yell at the TV moments, but this was one where I had to more than once walk away into a different room because it was getting to me.

I am referring to last week’s episode of The Crystal Maze. It will go down in notoriety for being the first ever episode where the team ended with zero crystals. They got themselves locked in three times. One contestant managed to be so appallingly bad, they got locked in twice.

The die was cast early on when they bungled through the opening riddle by shouting random numbers. Then, in their very first proper task, the team captain got locked in. There seemed to be a repeating pattern throughout the show of not understanding what the task required until it was too late. At least one of the lock-ins were down to not being able to understand simple instructions or listen to advice. Several other tasks resulted in a zero result for the same reasons.

I admit that there is the pressure on you at the time. People are watching and your brain will go to mush. But even with far more extra help then the average team receives (Richard Ayoade virtually gave the answers in some games) they were still shockingly bad. Nobody seemed to know what a synonym was. How? It is on the school curriculum to learn such things!

This reminds me of when Brian Belo was on Big Brother and didn’t know who Shakespeare was. I found that hard to believe – you can’t move for Shakespearean references and influence in this country.

And the worst of it is, we seem to actually find it endearing. Belo won Big Brother for being ‘nice’ but I wonder if his niceness would have been so evident if he had been smarter. Likewise, the team on The Crystal Maze were applauded for standing by each other. Whilst this is a lovely virtue, it is almost like saying ‘well done’ to someone showing a basic human trait we should all have anyway.

There is nothing wrong with kindness or loyalty – God knows some of the people at the top could do with learning these qualities – but we are creating a dichotomy between those of average intelligence or below are the good guys and anybody with smarts is at best morally questionable. We seem to be fearing rewarding intelligence and shrewdness. A team that had won all 10 challenges or a contestant on reality TV who is proud of their education faces a drubbing far worse than those at the opposite extreme.

Basically, we need to celebrate the nice and the smart. We also need to stop tearing down those who dare to exhibit smartness for the slightest infraction. It will make us better off in the long run.

Honest declaration: I don’t like First Dates Hotel. To me it feels like a spin-off of a bankable hit that has been done to save coming up with an alternative idea for that timeslot without having to extend the original series. Of course, that is presumably the whole point.

Yet it is so flawed in so many ways. Let’s begin with the minor details. The TOWIE style chats round the pool are manufactured and insincere. The whole point of the show is to be real and sincere – these are everyday people embarking on a date, not playing out some constructed reality TV show.

Then there’s the bizarre set up of us then following the more successful couples on a second date the next day where they take part in a random local activity. This is pure filler so the show can have less couples and therefore save on the budget. Sorry for breaking out the cynicism here but it’s true. Nobody wants to see date two. If we did, we would be clamouring for the show Second Dates.

The worst flaw though is the storyline that dominated episode one and two, where the show really tripped over into some form of Made in Chelsea territory. The love triangle between Jada, Charlie and Kaylee was unusually exploitative for a programme that is normally genteel and about restoring faith in humanity.

For the uninitiated, Kaylee was set up on a date with Kieran (a bit-part player in this pseudo soap opera) but beforehand had a flirty chat with Charlie. Both fell for each other, and, as a result, poor Kieran had a damp squib of a date with Kaylee despite ticking many of her boxes.

Now the only barrier to true love was Charlie’s date with Jada. The editors seemed to have it in for Jada. She was portrayed as blunt to the point of rudeness, shallow and domineering. Yes, she was allowed to have a call with her glamourous nanna to humanise her, but that was the only conceit to niceness she was offered, compared to the almost angelic Kaylee.

And then the unthinkable happened. Charlie fell for Jada and picked her. Kaylee, unaware she had been vanquished, put on her best war paint and battle armour and strolled into the bar to find Charlie buying his new love a strawberry daiquiri. The tears that followed were uncomfortable to watch.

This is not what we tune in for – yes we expect dates to go wrong. But to see such a crushing moment played out was horrifying. People who want this kind of drama have enough other shows to lap up. Let those of us who want to see the best in humanity have our kind, soft, cuddly programme back.

As autumn tightens its grip, it is time for the televising of The Annual Wankers’ Conference, I mean, The Apprentice. 18 so-called great entrepreneurial minds descend onto London to flap about for 12 weeks, all in the hope that an angry pensioner deems that they have jumped through enough hoops to invest in their business plan.

Whilst it makes great TV, in a practical sense it is all a bit daft. For a start, whilst we hope that these genuinely are 18 great ideas, we all know that even by the time we get down to the interview stage with the final five, only two at best actually work. You do come away from watching it fearing for the British economy if this is where our future lies.

But let’s not worry about that. Instead, we will bask in the glory of one of the greatest episodes of all times. The task was to design a room in a luxury hotel. Team Graphene (the girls) went for golf, while Team Vitality (the boys) plumped for Best of British Tourism. Both proved to be gloriously bad. The girls had a feature wall paper that seemed to resemble something closer to the inside of a spaceship off a cheap sci-fi show, and the boys decided to vomit colour and child-like drawings over the place.

Of course, what we really makes it are the applicants. The girls’ team included Elizabeth, who wielded a tape measure with such manic force she resembled a pass-agg version of Edna from The Incredibles. This was coupled with a tendency to interfere with everyone else’s work rather than do her own, angrily staring at her sub-team leader when reprimanded for doing so.

Meanwhile, on Vitality, maths genius Jeff refused to do any of the figures, insisting his history of break dancing meant he was destined to be a designer. We even got to see a little demonstration. If anyone has seen the American Dad episode where Steve tries to become a backing dancer, then you are in the right ball park. Meanwhile, the buying team went on a spending spree and, with Jeff busy proving he was the next Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen, got the figures wrong.

Neither project manager was much cop. Bushra issued instructions but didn’t do any work, although considering what she did produce, that is probably a good thing. Ross tried his best, but spent the entire episode having to react to the problems caused by others. The girls won purely because their minimalist room had less wrong with it, although this was arguably because there was less in it to be wrong.

One of the most joyful moments of the episode was in the boardroom. Under fire for his performance, Ross committed the cardinal sin of telling Lord Sugar to shut up. To be fair he did it politely, but this is a no-no. Yet I actually agree with him – he was giving a fairly straight forward and eloquent answer yet was facing unnecessary hostility. Lord Sugar plays on the image of being the tough tycoon, but he would benefit from actually listening rather than steaming on at times.

So, do we have any decent candidates? Well, Michaela seems quite grounded. There are a few on both teams who have been fairly quiet that as numbers dwindle could step forward. Twelve weeks could knock some of them into shape enough. We best hope so. Because so far, I have little faith in most of them.

One of the more bizarre consequences of Brexit is the plan for a one-off special of noughties reality TV show Wife Swap. For anyone unfamiliar with concept, a woman would swap family lives with another with a different lifestyle. It was nearly always a case of some middle-class yummy mummy swapping with a significantly less posh type. What was initially a case of exploring issues around parenting and how the other half lives became just an arena for judgement, albeit an explosive one.

Channel 5 have taken a march on this yet-to-be-aired comeback by commissioning Rich House, Poor House. The big difference is that rather than just one member, it is the entire family who lives a different life. It is also more local – the first episode saw two families just 50 miles apart, but tens of thousands of pounds different in wealth. The Williams of Weston-super-Mare are in the bottom 10% in the UK, with just £170 of spare cash a week. The other family (sorry, blank on the name here) live in one of the poshest parts of Bristol and have £1,700 spare a week.

I went into this very cynical. I expected the poor family to be unambitious and lazy terrors and the rich family to be saintly but spoilt. Whilst the latter was to a degree true, I could not have been more wrong about the Williams’. Firstly, dad Anthony works a full-time job. Neither parent smokes or drinks because they can’t afford to. They celebrate their children’s achievements at school. Whilst they did splurge the cash they got, they did so in an understandable way. A new necklace for mum, for example. One of the most heart-warming scenes was seeing Anthony buy his son new football boots so he could play the sport again after growing out of his old ones last year.

There was also some interesting insights. Firstly, even though the rich family spend three times as much on their shopping, they hardly found themselves starving living on a reduced budget. They just had to shop smarter. The dad, seeing how difficult it was to make the money stretched, turned odd-job man round the house, fixing the Williams’ broken bathroom door and getting rid of the sofa out the front garden.

One of the most interesting revelations was about the rich family’s dad. Now a semi-retired software engineer, he started out at comprehensive school as his poor counterpart, but managed to climb the social ladder. It is a shame that the programme didn’t shed more light on this – was it sheer hard work? Or did he just have the fortune to walk into the right interview room at the right time?

The one other drawback is, unlike Wife Swap, there was no time for the families to swap notes. In fact, there was little time for reflection at all, the only moment being when ‘poor mum’ confirmed she hadn’t been that much happier with the money – things may have been easier but she couldn’t truthfully say they were better.

I hope the rest of the series is in the same positive vein. There are too many programmes where we simply gawp at those poorer and richer than us, and to actually feel we are meeting genuinely nice people who are just living different lives gives me a glow.