TV UK, 9 June
Spirituality Shopper: can a makeover show provide meaning?
There’s an episode of Seinfeld in which George falls for a woman who’ll only date fellow members of the Latvian Orthodox church. He visits a Latvian Orthodox priest to arrange to convert, and when asked what appeals to him about the faith, he settles on its only visible distinction: the hats.
A similarly cursory approach to religion is taken in Spirituality Shopper (Channel 4, Mondays at 8pm). This sounds like a spoof of makeover programmes, so it’s remarkable that it is done without a trace of irony. In the opening programme, a listless twentysomething singleton was encouraged by the famously Christian triple jumper Jonathan Edwards to ‘try out’ practices from four different religions in order to fill the gap in her life. The premise, repeated after every ad break, was that though she had a good job in advertising, and a smart London flat (actually a poky-looking place down south), she felt something was missing spiritually. She needed a spiritual makeover.
Reduced to try-outable practices, all the religions sampled were comically banal. Buddhism, that’s about relaxing. Christianity (introduced with no recognition that most British viewers, and indeed the subject herself, might have a rough idea) is about giving things up, hair straighteners in this case. Sufi Islam, whirling (as in whirling dervishes, though the word was avoided until one of the whirlers used it). Judaism, dinner. Maybe next week we’ll get Latvian Orthodox hats.
At a time when religion is allegedly making a global comeback, from Islam and Pentecostalism in the underdeveloped world to Evangelical ‘fundamentalism’ in the USA there might be something to be said for an investigation of whether religion can be a source of meaning in a disenchanted world. And of course there might be something to be said for a spoof exposing how that disenchanted world expresses itself in inane makeover shows. But there is not much to be said for Spirituality Shopper.
A better examination of spiritual emptiness is to be found in the new season of Nip/Tuck (also Channel 4, late on Wednesday nights). The drama about the travails of a couple of young, successful Miami plastic surgeons is slick and loaded with sex, but it is also deeply ambivalent about the world it portrays, illustrating why it is that American politics is dominated by talk of ‘values’. Money and flash cars, nice as they are, are not enough: in this week’s episode Christian persuaded Sean that he had to start using Botox himself now that he was hitting 40. He is, after all, selling youth, whether he likes it or not. He doesn’t.
At the same time, it is hard not to be impressed by the technology. Watching the graphic depiction of facial reconstruction on a woman who had been shot in the face was more awe-inspiring than ugh-inspiring. It’s amazing what they can do these days, as they say. But then the woman had been shot in a botched suicide pact with a friend: neither could face the prospect of hitting 30. Values, anyone?
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