Put it On My TV is a new occasional feature which will explore an overseas show that deserves to be shown or made in the land of the long white cloud. This week Tara Ward campaigns for Gogglebox, a British reality show where normal armchair folk talk telly. //
While enjoying a recent journey from these fair shores, I stumbled across an English TV winner called Gogglebox. This show was a revelation, especially after reading a recent NZ Herald article claiming we’re watching television differently these days. It seems the modern television experience isn’t the collective event enjoyed by our parents’ generation, when families gathered to watch the latest episode of The Dog Show (I never did learn to whistle like those farmers). Instead, today’s viewers are more likely to be watching different shows on a remote device, scattered throughout the house. Turns out that having total control over what we watch and when we watch it has made us anti-social and isolated. What a downer!
That’s why I love Gogglebox. It’s a weird concept: a reality show featuring a recurring cast of families and friends, who are filmed watching and discussing the television highlights of the past seven days. Usually when I rave about a show about people watching television – people assume I’ve been into Nan’s cooking sherry again. But I’m not the only fan. Produced by Britain’s Channel 4, the first series of Gogglebox in 2013 was an instant hit with viewers. Four seasons on, it’s won a UK National TV Award and even a BAFTA (but then, so did Made In Chelsea). It’s gone global with US, Chinese and Ukrainian versions and an Australian version to screen later this year. Even Kate Moss and Noel Gallagher featured in a (very surreal) celebrity Gogglebox, critiquing Strictly Come Dancing (“we’ve done that move in Ibiza, at Jagger’s place”).
So what’s Gogglebox’s secret? Why is a programme about people sitting in their living rooms talking telly such a winner? For starters, this feel good show confirms the idea that we’re all television critics. Who hasn’t sat on their couch shouting at the screen, telling The Block’s Quinn that she’s sitting on her paintbrush, Claire should have kept an eye out for those Redcoats in Outlander, or those crazy fools to not make Dr Banner angry in the Incredible Hulk. The pleasure of Gogglebox comes from recognising our own reactions in the Gogglebox families – whether it’s a mutual appreciation for Nigella’s, erm, cooking skills or a less than enthusiastic reaction to the new series of Downton Abbey.
The key to Gogglebox’s success is the relationships of its recurring ‘stars’. There’s a cross section of British society, including the pissed posh couple Dom and Steph (“you’re f**king off your tits, aren’t you?”); retired teachers Leon and June (“there’s no need for that language”); the Tapper Family from North London (“what does the X in X Factor stand for? Xylophone?”); Reverend Kate and husband Graham (“I know I shouldn’t, and I know it’s wrong, but I love this show”); and lifelong best friends Sandy and Sandra (“go on, make my Saturday night, babes”).
Collectively, these folk have little in common, apart from being surprisingly entertaining and a little bit crazy. Each relationship is differentiated by accent, gender, sexuality, age and gender, but Gogglebox shows how the power of television (and some very slick editing) draws this menagerie of individuals together. The Educating Yorkshire clip where Musharaf overcomes his stammer to address his graduating class is a classic television moment that unites the families in their genuinely emotional response. Even the most hardened viewer will suddenly find a little dust in their eyes.
If you’ve ever seen an episode of Masterchef, you’ll know that reality television takes you on a journey full of reflection, drama and the odd disaster. Gogglebox is no different; the reflections on the shows of the past week are as diverse as the living room couches. Who knew a screening of Mrs Doubtfire would lead the viewer along a path of intense and profound revelation, from what makes a good father (“He’s like Peter Andre. Peter Andre loves his kids”), to Robin Williams’ depression and suicide (“he’s made millions of people happy, but he couldn’t even make himself happy”), before concluding with a classic reality TV one-liner (“her tits are on fire!”).
Gogglebox won’t change the world like Campbell Live or inspire you to be a better person like Oprah or even Home and Away, and you may need to travel to another hemisphere to watch it. But it’s 45 minutes of heartwarming television that feels like you’re sharing a cuppa and a catch-up with friends, and it reminds us that TV is made to be shared and enjoyed with others. And I reckon that’s pretty good. In the words of Sandy (or is it Sandra?): “It’s all these mad people who make the show, innit?”
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the day's best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.