Telly apocalypse-predicting sci-fi The Truman Show has one of the best and most chilling final lines in cinema history. As Truman begins to realise the truth about his soon-to-burst bubble, the director increases the amount of times we cut to the viewers, who stare gormlessly into the camera and offer their banal views on Truman’s plight. These die-hard fans ultimately (spoiler alert!) urge Truman out of his metallic cell, whooping euphorically as he makes the final steps away from his own reality show. When the madness has calmed, we cut to two security guards, avid fans of the 24-hour feed. One turns to the other and shrugs: “What else is on?”
For a film that was released before Big Brother, this final line does wonders to predict both the addictive nature of television and how easily it can be discarded. We are inhabitants of a fad culture that demands more, harder, sooner, quicker before we get bored and move onto the next most popular thing. Remember who won at the Brits last year? The Harlem Shake? Twerking? No, me neither. In an attempt to capitalise on our ‘What Else Is On?’ mindsets, more and more television shows have the USP of being ‘topical’. This is a fad that started somewhere in Elstree and has so far culminated in structured reality shows and the sleeper hit of last year, Gogglebox.
As predicted by The Truman Show, what people really want to watch is other people watching telly. There were moments in Gogglebox last year that were a meta-theatrical triumph, as television was accepted as a communal, multi-cultural, multi-emotional experience. For every snide comment about Miss Dynamix, there were moments of true poignancy, particularly in sections which dealt with current affairs and charity events. At the heart of all this, of course, were the viewers themselves, a broad slice of our great country who delighted and surprised with their honesty and idiosyncrasies. However, as with all shows that are filmed dangerously close to transmission, there is a risk of filler, and the later episodes of Gogglebox were straining under the weight of the Tapper family.
And so, before you could even find the next box set to binge on (Hannibal, by the way) Gogglebox has invited us back into the living rooms of Britain’s weirdos. Unfortunately, if the show looked leggy at the end of the last run, it had moments of wheezing to a standstill in this week’s opener (4od).
While the chosen viewers must represent a wide tranche of British life, the truth is that some of them aren’t interesting enough to be on telly. Like an armchair Cowell, I find myself tuning out when the boring ones start to talk, and offering subtle congratulation whenever the gay hairdresser says something catty. Well done, Stephen. You can go through to the next episode, and take your cheap vino with you. Lovely Stephen effectively acted as the voice of the audience in this episode, realising very quickly that he had been forced to watch arse-numbingly dull programming for our viewing ‘pleasure’. In a segment focussing on Dragon’s Den, Stephen accurately noted how the beast had lost its fire:
“When was the last time someone said to you, ‘Did you see that thing on Dragon’s Den last night?’
When indeed. When that bloke from the pension ads was on it, perhaps? Later in the show, the Channel 4 producers showed their sadistic side when they forced the Goggleboxers to sit through another show hosted by manic-eyed Evan Davis (take note, BBC) about how London is the tenth circle of Hell or something. The viewers yawned their way through it, and so did I, before wise, lovely Stephen concluded:
“Well, that bored the shit out my arse.”
Why Channel 4 thought that it would be interesting to watch people watch a show comparable to a colonic irrigation is beyond me. I can understand watching terrible telly; I can understand watching amazing telly; but surely no one gains anything from realising their lack of brain oxygen in a primetime Friday night slot?
Predictably, Gogglebox has shown all the traits of a show that is suffering from its own success. In an attempt to strike while the social media buzz is hot, the show now clocks in at an hour where it used to be 45 minutes. This is clearly an attempt to sell a few more ads on a Friday night, but it is detrimental to the end product. For a show that is stitched together a couple of days before it airs, there simply isn’t enough material to cover sixty minutes. While it was fascinating to get some views on Ukraine, this was swiftly undone with a final segment on Grease, a film that we have been talking about for 35 years. Gogglebox, a show that has prided itself on being immediate and topical, need not tell us that Danny Zuko had me a blast, nor relay Sandra Olsen’s claims that it happened so fast.
In short, Gogglebox has become yet another victim of our fad culture; attempting to produce something popular in great volume before we all forget about it about hear about the next up-and-coming drama from Tellyland. By doing this, the show will struggle to retain interest for a long period, and has evidently settled for a quick fix instead of that illusive concept in the 21st century: longevity. Gogglebox will be gobbled up by its viewers and eventually spewed out, leaving nothing but a faint taste on the tip of the tongue.
Well? What else is on?