Made in Chelsea should be made to go away
Inspired by The Only Way Is Essex, but with none of its charm, E4’s new posho docusoap fails to entertain.
Oh dear, E4’s been trying to make an important sociological point through the medium of reality television again this week. I do wish you’d give it a rest, E4. Take a long walk. Go out with friends. Buy yourself something pretty. Forget about the time when all the girls wanted to be with you, and all the gays wanted to be you. Stop crying over those pictures of George Galloway in a leotard, or Jade Goody in happier and more alive times. Big Brother has gone. Accept it. Move on. It’s getting embarrassing. Pull yourself together.
Yes, the channel which can’t seem to break wind without reflecting on what farting says about modern Britain has a brand new reality show, unveiled to much parping and tootling this week. It’s called Made in Chelsea, yah? It’s like The Only Way Is Essex without the chavs, yah? It’s like a love-it-or-hate-it meditation on class and privilege in twenty-first century Con-Dem coalition cuts Britain, yah? And that’s not even dialogue: that was just the pitching session.
Made in Chelsea offers a rare glimpse into the private lives of young Sloanes in, er, Chelsea. Ever wondered what that prick from Foxtons does when he slips off the suit and slides into whatever godawful casual wear posh people put on because they’re too rich to care? Does the prospect of seeing a girl called Flopsy or Dropsy or whatever realise both her ambition of making it in handicrafts and hooking up with Mr Righty-Ho fill you with hope for your own dreams? Have you ever heard some bastard called Sebastian yell ‘Look at me!’ and thought, ‘Yes, that seems like a great idea’? If so, you might like the show.
Of course, you are meant to hate the people in it. Any show which features a boy named Ollie fretting that his hair is ‘no longer exceptional’ and whose female bombshell is an aspiring singer-songwriter called Caggie is going for a four-lettered emotional response, and it doesn’t start with an ‘l’. Like ITV2’s surprise hit The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE for short), this is one of those heavily-scripted docusoaps carefully designed to push all the right buttons of trash, guilty-pleasure television. Gasp at their vulgar displays of wealth! Titter at how innocent and unworldly the rich are! Secretly desire their lifestyles while telling yourself you don’t need a no-good boyfriend and are perfectly happy eating chocolate in your pyjamas!
But oh nah, oh nah, oh nah: it doesn’t seem like it’s going to work out. Reviews have been, well, mixed. Viewing figures have been disappointing. Even watching it with my trash-worshipping housemates, I was the only one left standing by the final credits, sobbing softly into my Walnut Whip. The problem with posh people on the whole is that they’re not very good at being interesting, probably because they spend their whole lives being told they are. Like job-hunting John Beaver in Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, they spend their time sat by the telephone, waiting to be rung up. The stars of TOWIE are not only used to picking up that telephone, but they’ll even show you their bejewelled vaginas while they’re at it. You don’t have to work in TV production to know that’s a much more fun accompaniment to a grab-bag of Chocolate Buttons on a Tuesday night.
Notably, Made in Chelsea lacks the warmth of TOWIE, towards both the stars and viewers. Ostensibly, TOWIE is meant to be a freakshow of garish bad taste, plastic surgery and vulgar consumerism. But at the centre is a story of working-class families done good, and splashing the cash on having fun. By the time you’ve gotten through dippy Arg buying the wrong kind of pig for his girlfriend (she wanted a micro-pig which is, er, a different kettle of fish), tubby fun-loving Gemma getting knocked back by silver fox Mick and East End battleaxe Nanny Pat having a chinwag with camp-as-chips Harry, you realise there’s no ‘reality’ to speak of: it’s Only Fools and Horses on vodka and Red Bull. Made In Chelsea feels like being stuck at a spoilt brat’s birthday party: and the problem is, it’s everyone’s birthday and the bar is dry.
The real problem, you suspect, is that the kind of hip TV-types who commission reality shows for Channel 4 and its offshoots actually genuinely believe that TV is somehow sullied if it involves making stuff up. Rather than genuinely engage with the masses by producing well-made TV – which they probably don’t think people should actually be watching, unless it’s a HBO box-set or something campaigning or raising awareness around something – they’d really rather put them and a camera on-screen and let everyone make their own minds up. Except, of course, since plenty of normal people generally want to watch a bit of telly rather than sit and talk to other normal people this can be quite disengaging.
Over in the grubbily dispiriting commercial world of ITV they may know they’re not likely to win any BAFTAS, but they are prepared to show you a good time and spin you a good story to boot. If posh people are good for anything, it’s for all the stuff they don’t seem to do anymore: building giant buildings, railways and the like. Sipping cocktails and worrying about exceptional hair may be a reasonable way of living your life, but I’m not sure I want to sit around watching other people whinging while they do it. Made In Chelsea could probably do with a little more vajazzle, but it could also just do with disappearing altogether.
David Bowden is spiked’s TV columnist.
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