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TV UK, 11 August

Lost: an antidote to obsessive compulsive reality TV.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Culture

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The House of Obsessive Compulsives (Channel 4) sounded like a spoof reality TV show and in a sense that’s what it was. The three-part series, which ended on Monday, took the basic idea of reality TV, to put together a carefully selected combination of people in an alien environment and see what happens, and added the guaranteed quirk-factor of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). What a hoot!

There was the ‘classic’ handwasher, a woman with a pathological fear of glitter, and perhaps best of all, a man who feels compelled to confess to crimes he has not committed, and thus spends his life obsessively checking that he isn’t leaving incriminating notes around. The comic element was impossible to ignore. At the same time, though, the programme involved bona fide psychiatrists from King’s College London, who were interested in developing the ‘format’ as a serious therapy for the disorder. Based on the apparent success of the experiment, they are trying to get the NHS to fund further projects, without TV cameras this time.

It was the first time that any of the three participants had met other OCD sufferers before, and the spirit of solidarity that developed seemed to help, while the Big Brother-style ‘tasks’ each housemate was set gave them a sense of achievement within safe parameters. Good luck to them, and to the psychiatrists. Perhaps the question should not be why a reality TV format should be used to treat mental disorders, but why this sort of obviously therapeutic community should be the defining TV form of our times.

The latest big thing from the USA, Lost (Channel 4, Wednesdays at 10pm), will perhaps make some people think of the reality show Survivor, but it is defiantly fictional. In last night’s feature-length opener, a plane crashed on a tropical island, and the survivors struggled to come to terms with what had happened and to get their bearings. What was immediately striking, apart from the fact that everyone is absurdly good-looking, is that they all have secrets. In contrast to the assorted losers (and desperately ill people) who apply to be on reality TV, these are all people with interesting lives and often dark pasts.

So far we have an apparently heroic and well-adjusted doctor who may have a drinking problem, a beautiful and mysterious escaped prisoner (female, if the beautiful doesn’t carry that), a former Iraqi Republican Guardsman, a couple of inscrutable Koreans…. This could take some time, so let me just add a polar bear and leave it at that for now. Also in contrast to reality TV, there is something going on on this island. Lost is a mystery, which attracted massive speculation and rumour in the USA and is sure to do the same in the UK.

I will resist the temptation to hit the web in search of answers, as I’m guessing the real pleasure is in just letting things unfold. In fiction, as in real life, things tend to get more interesting over time. The same certainly doesn’t go for Big Brother, which is still trundling along, also on Channel 4, but I do wish all the housemates a full and speedy recovery.

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