The TV show for people who hate TV

Seven Days is a super-meta reality TV show that allows the audience to interact. And it’s shit, of course.

What’s the difference between American and British TV? American TV is, on the whole, dumbed down and an entirely superficial junk-food diet of advertising and materialism, devoid of a soul and intellectual content. British TV? The same, but with bad teeth.

An old stereotype, perhaps, but one which came to mind while watching Seven Days, the latest reality TV show on Channel 4. It follows a week in the life of several residents of London’s fashionable Notting Hill. Their jobs and their personal lives, their ups and downs, their hopes and their fears – it’s all on display.

The twist is that, unlike other reality shows that are pre-recorded or hermetically sealed off from the real world (like Big Brother), Seven Days is ‘interactive’. It is all recorded in the week before the show goes on air and the stars’ real, daily lives are screened into the nation’s sitting rooms. The participants are filmed walking past adverts for the show in the street; they can hear and read what people are saying about them; they chat to viewers online. It’s more meta than a hall of mirrors; it’s more po-mo than a play within a film about making a documentary about plays which is going to be streamed on the internet. It’s reality, but with added reality.

It’s crap, of course. Its USP is that to today’s public, reared on a diet of reality TV, social networking and CCTV, being filmed going about your daily business is no longer a USP. Privacy is dead; all the world is a stage. When one of the young ladies pops into a sex shop to buy a sexy French maid’s outfit and says to the camera ‘I hope no one sees me in here’, we’re supposed to smile at her naivety whilst simultaneously reflecting that there is no secrecy and shame to today’s youth. Everyone’s a star.

Except that said girl is actually the daughter of a celebrity chef, and she was buying the maid’s outfit to wear onstage at a fashion show that her friend was hosting. As you do.  Andrew Pettie in the Daily Telegraph has already reflected on the absurdity of trying to show normal life in a trendy and wealthy part of London where there are ‘probably more interior designers than interiors’.

The programme-makers counter that Notting Hill offers a microcosm of the social inequalities of British life, where the wealthy elite rub shoulders with the poor and dispossessed. As one supportive reviewer in the Independent argued, ‘when the mega-rich banker or rock star from the Kensington end of Notting Hill goes to get his hair cut in Portobello Road, it’s quite possible that the person wielding the scissors will be a near-neighbour, living in a council house, earning not much above the national minimum wage’. A classic piece of British TV then: shit with a social conscience.

Seven Days has perhaps been served up as a counter to the smash US hit The Hills, a docu-soap following wealthy young socialites trying to forge a fashion career and find love in Beverly Hills. The show has made stars out of the likes of Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt (no, really…).

The Hills is truly an innovative show. Not because of its faux-realistic soapy artifice, but because it hit a new level of low-brained, vapid entertainment. The show followed the ‘real’ lives of the rich and beautiful as they tried to find Mr Right amid a sea of goateed playas and playa-haters while trying to remain true to their BFFs and – crucially – to themselves. Watching paint dry would actually require more concentration and thought than sitting through an episode of The Hills.

But The Hills is unashamed and unabashed low-brow entertainment: dumb, fun escapism. Seven Days, on the other hand, isn’t supposed to be low-brow: it’s horribly and painfully arched-brow, thrown together by some cosmopolitan TV lefty who despises the type of cretin who watches The Hills. ‘We’re not putting boundaries around them, real or figuratively’, boasts Channel 4’s Simon Dickson, lest somebody think invariably middle-class and Oxbridge-educated television producers have to do anything as elitist as actual work.

Naturally, the stars of Seven Days do what everyone does when they’re made the star of anything: they act up. Here, people talk about politics and current affairs in that kind of awkward, artificial way which is reminiscent of those stock conversations you have when you’re interacting with strangers in a formal, public setting: like being at the hairdressers or talking to a postman.

One of the hairdressers in the show actually spent an incredibly long time discussing George Michael’s recent imprisonment, as a weird equivalence to a hostage being pictured holding up the day’s newspaper, and somehow avoided making the one joke that everyone makes when discussing George Michael going to prison (it involves bum sex and prison showers). Wouldn’t want a lawsuit while we’re smashing those real and figurative boundaries now, would we? At least the crowd in The Emperor’s New Clothes had some nudity to give them a cheap thrill.

That’s what watching Seven Days is like: being stuck forever at the hairdresser’s, where people are having a conversation in a language you don’t recognise, and never getting your hair cut. Perhaps this is an innovative new format, but I think I’ll stick to watching TV made by people who genuinely want to make TV, thanks.

David Bowden is spiked’s TV columnist.

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