Posts Tagged ‘reality TV’

In a nutshell: disturbing exploration of Facebook fakery

Popcorn rating: 4/5

There’s been much doubt about whether Catfish, a documentary about a Facebook relationship that proves to be not what it seems, is real or faked. Certainly the story seems too well-structured to be true at times: photographer Nev Shulman forms a Facebook relationship with Abby, a child art prodigy, and her family. His brother Ariel Schulman and friend Henry Joost decide to make a documentary about Nev, Abby and her family – and of course, when Nev begins to fall for Abby’s adult sister Megan over the phone, things only become more interesting.

Real or fake – I’m none the wiser – it’s compelling and sometimes heartbreaking viewing. Toughest are the moments where Nev meets Angela, Abby and Megan’s mother. Because oh yes, didn’t I say? Angela, a frumpy housewife nothing like her profile picture, made the whole thing up. Not only Megan and her network of wholesome all-American family and friends, but also Abby. Or rather, Abby does exist… but both her messages and her artwork are Angela’s. All of a sudden, those bold, striking paintings are just clumsy and naive.

The tense awkwardness of Catfish tips into chilling at times, particularly when Nev and Angela meet. Nev is aware that she’s a lying fantasist, but hasn’t let on. The skilled aplomb with which Angela continues the subterfuge is borderline sinister. Is it possible she honestly believes the people she’s invented are real? But just as I was wondering when the Facebook fabrications would start ‘talking’ to her and telling her to kill people, Angela finally comes clean.

And it all becomes desperately sad. It’s hard not to feel sorry for bored, unfulfilled Angela, married to the lumpen Vince and the fulltime carer for her severely disabled, incontinent, aggressive adult stepsons. It’s obvious to the point of being unwatchable that she’s irrevocably besotted with Nev and painfully aware that he’s out of her league. I also felt sorry for Vince, himself a victim of Angela’s dishonesty, and Abby, the unwitting cover for the whole deceit. Confronted with a total stranger, she’s expected without explanation to react to him like a close friend, which makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Making clever use of the familiar visuals of Facebook, Google Earth and YouTube, this is a stylish and fascinating film. Genuine or not? I’m not sure I care. It’s all about fakery anyway; one more double-bluff won’t make a difference.

Reviewer: JoSheppard


The Model Agency

Posted: March 18, 2011 by josheppard in Telly
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In a nutshell: “I’m not even being sarcastic.”
Popcorn rating: 4/5
Channel 4’s The Model Agency is a fly-on-the-wall documentary about Premiere, run by ‘creative’ Carole White and her boorish brother Chris Owen.
As the founder of a modelling agency, Carole’s business consists of judging people on their looks, which is odd for someone with a face like an empty scrotum. Perhaps she’s subconsciously aware of this – something’s riling her, anyway, because her principal hobby is jangling her chunky Chanel bangles while bullying the bookers.
What do the bookers do, exactly? After watching them for an hour I’m none the wiser. They have job titles like ‘Head of New Faces’ and they argue a lot about ‘cards’. I don’t know what ‘cards’ are for, just that while it’s OK for the female models’ cards to show them full-frontal, skeletally nude, Carole wants the boys covered up. Despite this, whenever a new boy arrives, he’s immediately asked to take off his shirt. “You might need to eat differently,” says a scout in as significant a voice as he can muster, aiming a predatory Polaroid camera at a scrawny whippersnapper.
“I haven’t eaten bread for like two weeks!” the boy assures him. “I’m not even being sarcastic.”
He doesn’t need to explain. Nobody in The Model Agency is ever sarcastic. This vapid bunch of irony-free oxygen thieves lack the depth for that.
Unaware of their own absurdity, they see nothing ridiculous about representing people with names like Sian O, Texas and Cocoa and have earnest conversations about the acceptability of breasts. Senior booker John says that D’s the limit unless you only want to be in Bravissimo catalogues. A small B would be better. “OK,” says his colleague, who has a particular model in mind. “We’ll get her in shape and see what we can get her down to. She’s 17.”
When not conspiring to starve away a teenager’s tits, John spends most of his time crying. Nathan, on the other hand, a sullen pretty-boy model, spends most of his time complaining that he’s scared of rejection and not turning up for work.
Nathan was 15 when he was scouted. “I was skateboarding,” he explains. “That’s my real profession. Well, it’s not. But it is. I mean, it can’t be. But I see it like that. I treat it like that.” He pauses. “Except obviously I mustn’t fall on my face.”
Simultaneously horrific and hilarious, it’s hard to believe The Model Agency’s not a spoof. Matt Lucas and David Walliams, take note: when there are real people on our screens like this, no amount of fat-suits and comedy voices are going to save you.
Reviewer: JoSheppard

In a nutshell: A lovely step back in time, which is over far too quickly

Popcorn rating: 4.5/5

Let’s face it early evening telly is fairly abysmal. Thankfully, that has all changed with the arrival of BBC’s frankly marvellous Royal Upstairs Downstairs. As I had suspected, the show has proven to be a delight – so much so that I look forward to this dip into England’s architectural and food heritage with something akin to the happy glow a child on being told that sorry, no school today, the teachers are all snowed in.

It is a beguilingly simple premise – two likable experts,  moustachioed Antiques Roadshow primo Tim Wonnacott and Ladettes to Ladies cookery teacher,  Rosemary Shrager take a step back in time, revisiting the houses, castles and stately homes Queen Victoria stayed in during her life. Cue lots of grand old houses surrounded by acres of lush greenery, lofty rooms bedecked in sumptuous antiquary and culinary delights made out of (dare I even say it) full fat cream and other similar stuffs.

Tim and his endearingly posh accent guide us around the upstairs, delivering an enthusiastic peek into how the residents once lived and dealt with the impending horror/privilege of a visit from Her Nibs. Rosemary sequesters herself in the downstairs where, with the help of food historian Ivan Day, she recreates some of yesteryear’s marvellous grub (ice cream moulded to the shape and colour of a pineapple, anyone?).

But – and there is always a but, isn’t there – trying to pack so much into a piddly half hour show is not only frustrating, it is downright shameful. Royal Upstairs Downstairs is quite simply too short and if Queen V were alive I am sure she would agree. We want more! Tim in particular doesn’t have enough time to adequately reveal the joys of the upstairs while sharing his extensive knowledge of past times while poor old Rosemary and Ivan cook a single dish then are left wittering on about how a ten course menu would have been served up, without having enough minutes to give us a fuller flavour of the dishes.

Royal Upstairs Downstairs is a worthy celebration of the UK’s many wonderful county piles and I hope it is only the beginning of many similar shows to come, with or without the royal angle. The lovely Ivan could even have his own show where he recreates historic feasts, which would surely be a wonderful respite from the glut of same old cookery dross currently trotting across our screens on a weekly basis (excepting of course Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers).

Reviewer: KateKearney

In a nutshell: The Apprentice meets Masterchef… without the shouting

Popcorn rating: 3.5/5

During its opening episode a few weeks back, Michel Roux’s Service provoked multiple snotty remarks on my Twitter feed. Training kids to be waiters? Oh, how terribly down-market. They should at least be twatting about in pinstripes braying about profit margins and licking the loafers of Alan Sugar for a middle-management position in a business that hasn’t been a household name since 1982. That’s aspirational, right?


The premise of the show is simple: Michel, notable not only for his Michelin-starred empire but also his unique ability to be genial and terrifying simultaneously, trains eight no-hopers to be front-of-house restaurant staff. Hence the snobbish response from the Twitterati. Because English people look down on waiters. Chefs, we admire. But a maitre d’? We’re not even sure what that is, but we’re guessing something on a par with shelf-stackers.

Which is bollocks. It’s a tough job, and a skilled one. The contestants are expected not only to work as a seamless team, but also to memorise Michelin-starred menus, recommend wines, flambé crepes and fillet fish at one’s table, and other things that would reduce a sneering middle-class Tweeter to a snivelling wreck in seconds.

The trainees have never even eaten in a decent restaurant, let alone served in one. Nikkita is a scowling 17 year-old mum with low self-esteem. Baby-faced Ashley keeps mumbling about an Asbo and thought cheese only came grated. Brooke, 18, works as a school dinner-lady. Even the two graduates in the group have never had jobs in their lives.

In the first couple of episodes, it shows. Alternately giggling stupidly or muttering ‘whatevah’ through a fog of passive-aggression, the contestants are devoid of charm. But nurtured by the unfailing enthusiasm and support of the perpetually paternal Mr Roux, confident, professional young butterflies hatch before our eyes from sullen Kevin-the-Teenager / Vicky Pollard caterpillars. They’re bright, they’re articulate and they’re proud of themselves. And they’ve never looked happier, either, which is a damn sight more than you could ever say about the dead-eyed yuppie throwbacks on The Apprentice.

The winners will be adopted – sorry, chosen – by Michel to work as a sommelier and a maitre d’ in one of his restaurants. In a way, therein lies the show’s biggest flaw. A series of contrived camera-friendly challenges (what did they actually learn by serving dinner to Diarmuid Gavin, exactly?) is not the best way to grant someone a future. All these kids deserve to go far, and I feel uneasy at the immense potential of the losers being dismissed for the sake of compulsive viewing. Given what’s at stake, couldn’t we accept that not every reality show has to be a competition?

Reviewer: Josheppard

Edwardian Farm

Posted: January 11, 2011 by josheppard in Telly
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In a nutshell: All the rural charm of a Thomas Hardy novel without the tedious social drama

Rating: 5/5

I won’t lie to you: Edwardian Farm isn’t one to watch if you want fast-paced action. Even by the standards of documentaries, it’s slow. Alex Langlands, Peter Ginn and Ruth Goodman occasionally have a bit of a rush to get some ploughing done before it rains, but if you’re hoping to see anyone surviving a night on Dartmoor by climbing inside a dead sheep, you’ll be disappointed. As Ruth sagely remarks: “If you get over-excited, you don’t make very good cheese.”

What you will see, however, are lovely, intelligent, cheerful people doing fascinating things in beautiful surroundings – with such obvious enjoyment that I defy anyone not to be disarmed by their enthusiasm.

Historians Ruth, Alex and Peter spent a year living as Edwardian farmers to make this programme, and it shows. It’s not just the period costume and the Edwardian diet of cheap cuts of mutton and ale in sturdy bottles. They care. They really, really care. The men fret that their amateur shearing technique might traumatise the sheep. Ruth reacts to successfully clotting cream as if she’d turned base metals into gold. It’s infectious, this caring business. Watch Alex delivering his first lamb at midnight by the dim light of an oil-lamp, and you’ll see what I mean.

The presenters may be not be slick but they’re naturals when it comes to bringing the past alive. I even found myself sharing Peter’s childlike delight at finding a very old door and some bracken. If GCSE history teachers were this good, we could breed a nation of Simon Schamas.

Each episode’s work is dictated by the season, and there’s something comforting about being reminded that even though we can buy strawberries in January these days, there’s still an age-old natural rhythm rolling on. It seems right, somehow. Oh, and vaguely pagan. Alex’s face certainly lit up when he found a row of standing stones.

In a world where reality TV now seems to mean a witless 20-something presenter crowing over a celebrity gagging on a live wallaby foetus, Edwardian Farm is a tranquil oasis of calm that warms the cockles of this particular city girl’s heart. OK, so there’s not much drama, not much conflict. Sometimes, Ruth’s a bit bossy, but so would you be if you’d just washed 50 bug-ridden fleeces in a river.

Anyway, she’s mostly off potting shrimps and making lace, and Alex and Peter are so guilelessly charming that they more than make up for it. Need any help with the harvest, boys?

Reviewer: josheppard