Occasionally I plan ahead. Flicking through the TV guide searching for shows that catch my attention and I’ll consider reviewing. But sometimes posting review after review after review isn’t enough – A standardized article with a paragraph explaining the premise, a paragraph describing the main character, a paragraph weighing up the pros and cons of the show, a conclusion. Yawn.
This is the simplest reason why I decided to watch The Undateables on Channel 4. I’ve had my cake of “greatly produced” BBC dramas and I want to review TV for what I actually think it has become. A toxic cesspit of shit.
However this is sticky ground I step on, attempting to doff my James O’Brien hat and enter the demonstrable world of debate. So let’s start this really simply for all the simpletons (me included) out there.
Undateables – giving people with disabilities a voice and allowing them the chance to express themselves as “normal” human beings.
Undateables – taking advantage of the most vulnerable in society for a cheap laugh.
To its credit, the show is produced with a very neutral tone. No bells and whistles. No Strictly glam. Only a narrator accompanies the viewer. However unlike Coach Trip or Come Dine With Me, where the narration is there to provide ridicule and feeble witticisms on the events being shown, the narrating of the Undateables is impartial. All it does is explain exactly what’s happening.
One thing that can tip the balance of Undateables to suggest it’s taking advantage – it’s a big thing – and it doesn’t so much tip as annihilate, is the soundtrack. The most emotive tool a producer or director has in his hands is music. The happy go lucky flute melodies of the Undateables sees that balance seesaw from a stable informative show, to rock bottom entertainment.
But why else would you consider producing the Undateables? We can all agree viewing figures are still number one on a TV exec’s priority list. Or does someone want to tell me the boss of the box is putting out shows like Undateables for ‘awareness’, and the consideration of the demographic in society that live with these conditions. A demographic I fully understand is growing and needs consideration, but not a demographic big enough to think they’re going to smash viewing records on a Monday night at 9pm.
For that, the hermaphrodite TV exec needs the general public. You and me. A little down the weekend’s finished, the working week’s begun, and all we want is something to perk us up a bit. Something that’ll make us laugh.
I didn’t laugh. Not at the music, the condescending title, the awkward pauses deliberately caught on film, and certainly not at the “undateables”. Gentle, kind, harmless people. They’re as undateable as you and I with our undateable habits. Picking our noses, chewing with our mouths open, double dipping, and spontaneously breaking out into serenades of Foo Fighter’s songs.
It might be surprising to find a TV reviewer describing what he reviews as a cesspit of shit. However the wider world would be even more of a cesspit if reviewers weren’t allowed to say what they thought, no matter what those thoughts are. I mean, it’s only TV. And I’ll still be watching the most pivotal cultural phenomenon in human history- that giant flatscreen hanging on your wall.
There’s loads of shit to watch, and loads of shit to review. Feral Families, Embarrassing Bodies, nearly everything commissioned on BBC Three, and the mother of all mocksters Jeremy Kyle. All of them at it. Treading this dangerous line that runs round the edge of nastiness. Thinking they’re being clever hijacking the term “socially responsible” when actually they’re being incredibly condescending, insensitive and stupid.
I’m starting to sound like Vanessa Feltz covering for Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2. Maybe I’ve touched on something. Maybe I’m being over the top. Maybe I’m being insensitive and cruel myself. It’s just a theory. One of millions. And one I hope the TV execs are taking into account when they decide what programmes to commission.
Undateables is available on Channel 4 Catch Up.