When Gogglebox first aired on Channel 4 back in 2013 few could have predicted its popularity – watching people watching TV seemed like the ultimate meta reality show, a cynical play on how far the box has infiltrated itself into our everyday lives, and the show could have been a mean-spirited exploitation on both the subjects and the viewers at home. However it has become one of the most watched programmes on its home station, thanks in no small part to the families and friends who come together to comment on the selection of shows and films they’re given, from retired teachers Leon and June to the two grown up sons and their father who represent the Saddiqui family to Steph and Dom, the upper-crust oft-sozzled couple who have gained celebrity status in their own right. There was recent Twitter reaction at the addition of new family members to two of the families; an otherwise unknown sister from the Martin family who is usually at university popped up and confused everyone due to her resemblance to sister Alex, and Ava, the little sister of fan favourite Scarlet Moffat has appeared a few times in the latest series, her surprisingly cultivated wit threatening to overshadow her big sister. The appearance of Ava was perhaps to ease viewers into the new series of Gogglesprogs, which replaced its predecessor on the line up last Friday. Gogglesprogs began life as a Christmas special in 2015 and had a positive enough audience reaction to be greenlit for a full series. It’s exactly the same format as its sister show – groups of friends and families sit down to pass comment on a carefully chosen selection of programmes, only this time they’re children. The kids were given access to The Mad World of Donald Trump (“he has a black heart” was one savvy youngster’s reaction), they cheered and jeered in support and derision of contestants on a Gladiators type show called Ninja Warriors, they showed compassion and understanding to a handsome man on The Undateables who was living with “Asparagus” (that’s Aspergers to you and me). Just like their adult counterparts the children bickered and agreed with each other, and made astute, considered and often hilarious observations. It’s on a slightly different level, but there’s a lot to be said for being able to sit down with the whole family for an hour’s wholesome, funny, cute entertainment.
Gogglesprogs is an example of when a TV spin-off is done well, the same I’m afraid can not be said for First Dates Abroad. First Dates is another Channel 4 show that surprised everyone with the amount of heart it held, and was successfully transported across the pond to RTE2 and First Dates Ireland earlier this year. It turns out that the personalities involved have to be chosen with great care; Fred the maitre ‘d in the UK version is the epitome of charm, and his Czech counterpart in Ireland is similarly blessed. The same is true for the enthusiastic and genuine waiting and bar staff. I barely made it to the first commercial break of First Dates Abroad, which takes place in Sydney, Australia. There is no charisma to be gleamed from the front of house employee, the bar staff seem to be incidental and the contestants themselves? Well the less said about them the better. I will say that I have never come across a more toe-curlingly cringey attempt at flirtation over a cocktail by a man cut from the same cloth as the suave Italian puppet on the Dolmio ads and a woman sporting a red dyed fright-perm in all my life. And I hope never to again. Avoid.
If there was ever a blast from the past to be attempted with your finger placed firmly on the ‘next channel’ button it was Eurotrash, broadcast again on Chanel 4 (where else?) for the first time since 2007. It was a special, one-off Brexit episode which aimed to showcase the ‘alarming cultural delights enjoyed by our European cousins’, which it did with its typical barmy, busty fashion. Presented by Antoine de Gaunes and Jean Paul Gaultier (yes the high-fashion designer) it absolutely lived up to its original inception as the most bizarre, racy, comedy eyebrow raising show on late night TV. I remember it being shown after So Graham Norton (another show that you would watch with the volume down as low as you could manage, and with one ear listening intently for any parental interruptions), and while it showed its fair share of weird European raunch it did so with a Brummie voiceover which made it more cult-classic and less creepy crud. Although it wasn’t good and clean, it was fun and the one off special did bring about a few immature titters. But will it likely change anyone’s minds on which way to vote this coming Thursday? Probably not.
- Aoife B. Burke
- First published in The Tuam Herald 22 06 16