UNREAL: the cast of the only Way is Essex.
In winter, we indulge. we have an extra helping of dessert and pour chocolate sauce on it. we stay in bed an extra half hour, avoiding a run in the rain. we watch trashy television on cold nights. now is the season of comfort food and comfort viewing.
These are the shows that we know are bad while we’re watching and we know we’ll feel worse when they’re over but we can’t tear our eyes away.
America has channels devoted to these shows. on a recent trip to Los Angeles I caught Miss Advised, where three women who are “dating experts” in their careers are, ironically, unlucky in love.
and then there are shows so terrible they are cancelled after one episode. Like Who’s Your Daddy?, where an adopted woman had to pick her biological father out of a possible 25 men. if she got it right, she would win $100,000. if she got it wrong, the “imposter” dad she chose would get the loot.
and then there are those that are simply irresistable in their awfulness.
THE ONLY WAY IS ESSEX
What: “Constructed reality” series about a group of 20-somethings living in the English county of Essex, just north of London. In the early 1990s, “Essex girls” gained a reputation for being stupid, shallow and of loose morals thanks to a circulating string of jokes. the reputation stuck, but the people of Essex were not dejected – instead they seemed to evolve into a new sub-species of human being for whom looking good was the only prerequisite. the only Way is Essex, aka TOWIE, premiered in Britain in 2010. It became a hit as soon as it launched and is now on its sixth season. Its “cast” – Lauren, mark, Sam, Arj, Amy et al – are now huge stars in Britain, and not a day goes by without at least one of them featuring on the Daily Mail’s website.
Why we hate it: We’re just not sure if these people are for real. and if they are, how much time do they spend maintaining their looks? All that fake tan, fake eyelashes, fake nails, fake boobs, fake hair must cost them a fortune and take hours of upkeep. how do they afford it? No-one ever seems to do any work. and why are they all so stupid? are there no schools in Essex? and why can’t they say ‘th” instead of “fa”? Grrr!
Why we love it: The sheer fascination with the banal lives of these vapid fools.
Returns to UKTV late August.
What: Dubbed “medical pornography” on its Wikipedia page, this British show features people suffering horrible, unusual and downright disgusting medical complaints – things they have been so ashamed of they haven’t even seen a doctor. they go to the Embarrassing Bodies clinic and see Dr Dawn, Dr Christian or another of the clinic’s specialists and get their problem treated, changing their lives and their self- esteem in the process.
Why we hate it: These people have lived with their embarrassing ailment for years. They’ve been so embarrassed about it they have hidden it from their families, their friends, their loved ones. They’ve been too ashamed to see a doctor. so what’s the only logical explanation? Go on an internationally broadcast television show and have said embarrassing ailment discussed in graphic detail in front of cameras for millions of strangers to watch and laugh at. Makes absolutely no sense at all.
Why we love it: No matter how bad we think we have it, these people show it could be a lot worse.
Screening on TV2.
COME DINE WITH ME
What: A group of strangers take turns hosting a dinner party. they are expected to provide the entertainment, drinks and an edible three-course meal. After each evening, their guests give them a score based on whether they enjoyed themselves or not, and the winner gets a cash prize. It’s always a mixed bag, with awkward conversation, arguments and the odd guest who gets a bit silly. plus who could forget the episode where one contestant ordered her food, table and chairs from the restaurant across the road?
Why we hate it: It’s a gateway drug. It’s bad enough that the omnibus takes up two-and-a-half hours of a Saturday morning, but before you know it you’ll be watching House Guest – the same concept but here contestants pack their PJs to judge not only the cuisine but their experience staying overnight – and Coach Trip, where strangers ride around on a bus together and eliminate each other, couple by couple.
Why we love it: The worse the food and guests are, the better the episode. and we’re all thinking what that snarky narrator Dave Lamb is saying.
Screening on TV one and Food TV.
TEN YEARS YOUNGER
What: Women – whether ravaged by time or a lifelong diet of pies and pints – are put into the hands of Vicky Hambleton-Jones for a total body, hair, teeth and wardrobe overhaul.
Why we hate it: The plastic surgery scenes alone should carry a health warning, though most offensive to the eye are the clothes in which Hambleton-Jones dresses these fashion-challenged souls. Meanwhile, the way these women are paraded in public to have their age assessed by strangers is just plain mean – but if it’s the only way to get tens of thousands of dollars worth of self- improvements done for free, maybe it is a small price to pay.
Why we love it: Ten Years Younger offers the chance to give your own neuroses a healthy workout and put your relationship to the test at the same time. For example: “Honey, I’m not that wrinkly/fat/ saggy, etc, am I?” if the answer is anything less than “No, of course not, dear” it’s game on. Of course, it’s also impossible not to tear up at times over how life-changing these transformations are. It’s goosebumps all-round.
Screening on the Living Channel.
Petra Bagust, Breakfast host: I watched every episode of NZ’s next Top Model and not just because Colin [Mathura-Jeffree] is fabulous or my husband [cameraman Hamish Wilson] worked on it or to see the outrageous styling of the shoots, but because I get sucked into the psychology of it, the impact on contestants, how they are coping and the tension between which girls are good for television and which are good at modelling.
Nadine Chalmers Ross, Breakfast host: Reality television is my not-so-secret guilty pleasure when I come home after a long day of studying reports about impending economic meltdowns! Ice loves Coco is outrageously trashy but there’s something beautiful about how genuine their love is. I don’t know if my big Fat Gypsy Wedding technically counts as reality television – even though it’s probably the most “real” of them all – but I love that one so much that I had a gypsy- wedding themed housewarming, complete with the pink, glitzy, trashy over-the-top outfits.
Guy Williams, the Jono Show: I still maintain that season two of New Zealand’s next Top Model was one of the greatest programmes New Zealand has ever produced. I was with (eventual winner) Danielle every step of the way as she was transformed from a rough diamond to a less rough diamond and owner of a Ford Fiesta.
Jeremy Corbett, 7 Days: Is Project Runway a reality show? That’s the one Megan will be watching and I’ll be working away on something else. Suddenly I’m amazed to find that I am actually a high fashion expert. After I have scoffed at the impracticality of the outfits I will be offering my opinions on the finer points of haute couture. I never knew that I knew so much.
What’s your guilty pleasure reality TV show?
– © Fairfax NZ News
Reality TV shows we hate to love