I cannot deny that I am a big fan of ‘reality TV’, a craze that hit our screens like a fake tan mitt hits an Essex girls’ legs (that’s vigorous and often). However, I ask myself all too often why I am slumped on a sofa, glued to either Channel 4 or ITV2, eagerly awaiting my mid-week fix of people accidentally, coincidentally, almost intentionally bumping into each other on the street. The answer to my question seems simple enough: these people are not real. Their lifestyles are so far away from my own, that it makes brilliant (and award winning) television.
Nonetheless, as hard as the producers may try, the public is beginning to see through the impossibly linked conversations and the ‘accidental’ bump-ins. One I remember distinctly is from the recent BAFTA winning Channel 4 show, Made in Chelsea. Francis Boulle, (an early 20 something diamond mining heir) proves to have impeccable timing when stopping by a women’s lingerie shop, where co-stars Millie Mackintosh (‘Smackintosh’) and Louise Thompson (the show’s token cry baby) happen to be sampling some underwear in preparation for a pyjama party (you don’t actually wear pyjamas, duh). “What are you doing here Francis? Are you perving on us?” to which he replied, “no, no, I’m just having a browse… thinking outside the box.” It was the most awkward situation to have hit recent television, even the stars of the show couldn’t help but giggle at its ridiculousness.
The current series promises us even more magical set ups, with the opening episode showcasing a party of girls frolicking in bubble-filled bath tubs, met by the over-the-top happy faces of boys jumping around like children in a candy store. The cameras followed as the party ended and reality hit, when the accountant of one of the stars turned up at his hotel to discuss his ridiculous expenditures – of course only sporting some underwear, a ‘Thrift Shop’ style fur coat and hair that screams “I’ve had a wild night and haven’t even slept yet”. It happens to the best of us, of course.
Made in Chelsea, however, is not the sole culprit. ITV2’s The Only Way Is Essex could possibly steal the number one spot for awkward, obviously created scenes. Having now aired a whopping 8 seasons, plus random specials in Marbella that lead to fitness videos with the mantra “no carbs before Marbs”, it’s becoming clear that story lines are dwindling, as are the original stars. Even the opening titles have changed to “some scenes have been created for your entertainment” (sneaky), due to backlash and criticism from not only the public, but the stars too. The show’s serial cheater Mario Falcone even tweeted that “Coronation Street is more realistic than TOWIE.” Amen Mr Falcone.
In an odd way, I do sympathise with the stars. Being branded as reality TV, they are alongside shows such as Keeping up with the Kardashians, I’m a Celebrity, Geordie Shore and even Big Brother, which are considerably more realistic than we would like to admit. Some are hailed as king/queen and can only do right by their fans, whereas others have the raw end of the deal as some of the most hated people on television, leading to an outcry on Twitter or Facebook or even worst, being verbally attacked on the streets.Their lives have had to be made more attractive and dramatic than they previously were otherwise we, the cynical and all too involved public, aren’t interested. Most characters have some sort of profession – the whole of Brentwood, Essex seems to be made up of TOWIE stars and their shops called “so and so’s boutique” or an overused French phrase that’s mostly incorrect. They also only appear in their businesses briefly, and never with any customers. Does no one ever ask how they manage to keep a shop afloat in this recession without actually selling anything ?! Beats me.
Despite all this, the shows and the shops are doing better than ever, and judging by the numerous awards they are winning and the fact that they have created their own sub-category of television, ‘reality soaps’, we will be faced with continued set up dramas that would be sorely missed on our television screens, even by those who are too ashamed to admit it.