At some point over the last twenty years there’s been a seismic shift in programming that is ostensibly about ‘health’ issues. The notion of exercise on the television is now charmingly passé – Mr Motivator has been consigned to the bin of nostalgia (actually Wikipedia tells me he’s still on GMTV, but that’s a moot point). The thing about exercise programmes is that they politely skirt around the issue, i.e. you’re out of shape, sort it out. The emphasis, despite the puritanical objective, was on fun; hence the calypso music and the groups of friends all working out together. This all seems a little bit naff in the light of the contemporary mode of exercise: sanctimonious and punitive trips to the gym – always alone. And, of course, the camera has turned away from the master, and now points at the student – and it seems the latter wasn’t really paying attention to the former. We all know this already. A.A. Gill once wrote that there is little more unpleasing to the eye then the people of Britain during summer. Horrible lumps of grey flesh emanate from our ill fitting clothing, horrible cheap and nasty flip-flops are sported by boorish louts and hippies alike, sweat cascades from every orifice (the deodorant – it does nothing!) as cheeks redden and eyes become inflamed from pollen (yes, I’m finding it a little warmer than I like, pipe down). But anyway, the camera loves obesity. Obviously, it’s easily seen, and in the grand scheme of things it’s not that serious. But most importantly it allows most of us to get on our high horse. It’s remarkably easy to sneer at those who have eaten too much, particularly as they tend to be from the lower echelons of society and often can come across as a bit simple (chubby voice – you know the one – tends to make people sound bit thicker than they are in reality). I must admit, I have a bit of a soft spot for Supersize vs. Superskinny, disgusting Gillian McKeith excepted, as it does seem to have a noble aim. The idea of a diet swap actually does bring to light how ridiculous both massive under and overeating are. Also the bit where they put a week’s food in tubes is excellent gasp porn, and for some reason never fails to make me hungry.
Anyway, Big meets Bigger (BBC3 – where else?) is what inspired this diatribe. It does pretty much what it says on the tin – take some chubsters, then take them to meet some bigger ones to see what’s going to happen to them if they carry on ‘binge drinking’/eating too much pie. And where oh where would find such examples (for the first episode at least) *cue the sound of an eagle’s cry, fading into the Star Spangled Banner*. And holy crap do they make them biiiiig – the biggest has that Jabba the Hutt face melting into chest thing happening. Shock tactics are clearly this programme’s well intentioned MO. This is dangerous territory, and sadly the gamble doesn’t pay off. The end result is somewhat akin to a freak show. Indeed, I spend almost the duration pointing and gasping at the feeding frenzy and the sheer bulk. Despite the tenderness on screen, it was cruelty that inevitably informed my vision. But then I felt bad. Although at some point personal responsiblity must come into play, deeply rooted social causes seemed to be most at fault – as the pigs’ ears in the stew indicated. To use these folk as an example to these relatively privileged Brits (one certainly more so than the other) seems disingenuous. This was confirmed with the section where we see how they were getting on a few months down the line. Admittedly one had taken to running, but the other clearly didn’t give a crap. A clear ‘us and them’ dichotomy had been established, confirmed by the ‘we’ll never be like that’ attitude both girls telegraphed. This of course removed the onus from themselves, and transferred it on to these poor helpless fat yanks. All in all, more of a spectacle than an edifying experience.
The beeb seem slightly fixated at the minute with getting another crowd pleasing sitcom out there. I was no fan of Mongrels, but I’ve heard, on the grape’s vine, that some people are buying the propaganda and sucking that shit up. More fool them. We’ve also had Rev on BBC2. This priest/vicar/whatever effort sits almost perfectly between the Vicar of Dibley and Father Ted, featuring the twee community spirit corny guff from the former, and the properly funny dark humour of the latter. It’s a hard one to call, as the general tone of the thing tends towards the brutality of Dawn French’s vehicle, which means in retrospect I wouldn’t want to admit to liking it. However the performances are genuinely quite good, and therefore when you’re actually looking at it, it’s pretty decent shit. Curiously, it’s been consigned to a graveyard-esque slot. It doesn’t feel like it has the makings of a cult hit, which would justify such a slot, but it does deserve to be seen, so maybe this is a bit of a scheduling own goal.
The other attempt was a pilot of a programme called Reunited, which is from the makers of Six Feet Under and Life Begins. Having never seen either of these I can’t say whether this is a good thing or not, but it certainly had a nice whiff of a proper budget about it. The waters it swims in are infested with sharks. Real nasty horrible sharks. Late 20s/Early 30s (age, not decades), relationship issues, various frictions between close friends, too many sexual relationships in too small of a group, the ‘quirky one’, one actor who’s quite famous (Ed Bryne in this case) – how awful does that run the risk of being? Weirdly enough, it was actually pretty good. The characters are compelling and believable, and the drama was intriguing. Most importantly, the humour felt natural and unforced (really well done flashbacks as well, imagine that). It wasn’t perfect by any means. The opening scene was a heavy handed attempt at surrealism, which wasn’t in itself a bad thing, but sat badly with the rest of it. Also there were too many bar scenes utilising horrible diegetic music to set the mood (fuck off Duffy) – cheap and horrible. But these criticisms aside, I hope this becomes a series. Credible sitcoms about the transition to becoming a proper adult are in short supply, but with its combination of poignant nostalgia and humour delicately derived from life, Reunited feels like it could be important. Please prove me right…