Reality TV shows are taking jobs from actors, writers, designers, etc. – it’s a view you hear expressed fairly regularly by people who work as actors, writers, designers, etc. And while it’s hard to argue against this, and we have a great deal of sympathy for those trying to get scripted shows to air in a tough climate, or trying to earn money through their creative endeavors, the popularity of reality shows suggests that many of the scripted shows that do make it to air may not be to the public’s taste. How else to explain the good ratings, the award wins and enduring popularity of these shows?
[SIDEBAR. Okay, there’s one fairly obvious explanation: reality’s dirt cheap and scripted costs a fortune in comparison. Yet, even that argument doesn’t make sense: we can name plenty of scripted shows that have had series after series, and we can also name a number of reality shows that fail to rate and get the chop. So, let’s leave that one aside for the moment.]
Gogglebox Australia, which ended a couple of weeks ago, is returning for a fourth series later this year. Four series. That’s three more series than other recent-ish shows about TV – TV Burp and The Joy of Sets – both of which were scripted and fronted by professional, experienced funny people. And yet a show which is basically ordinary folk gabbing on while they watch TV gets a Logie and the scripted shows get the can. That doesn’t seem right, even when you take into account that TV Burp and The Joy of Sets weren’t exactly amazing TV.
For one thing, Gogglebox Australia isn’t that funny and is actually quite dull. Take the final episode of series three: when the various couples, pairs, and families had to watch something ridiculous and easy-to-take-the-piss-out-of, like cringe-fest dating show Kiss Bang Love, or bizarre dressage spectacular The Queen’s 90th Birthday Celebration. Watching their commentaries, it was like being part of all those great nights you’ve had with family or friends, laughing at a stupid TV show. But when the Gogglebox-ers had to react to The Feed’s Baby Boomers vs Gen Y debate, or Waleed Aly’s editorial on The Project about milk prices, it was like being on Twitter during a dull episode of Q&A. Or when you’re listening to school kids give their opinions on some political issue, and you realise they’re just passing off the views of their parents as their own because they’ve never really thought about it. (And neither have their parents, for that matter.)
What makes good and/or funny TV criticism is when the critic has something funny or interesting to say. Something that hasn’t occurred to you before, or something that’s been put into words which perfectly sum up what you’d been thinking. Or to put it another way, the critic was really engaging with whatever they’d been watching, and had been able to articulate precisely why a show did or didn’t work.
Do the people on Gogglebox do any of these things? Not really. In fact, they’re pretty much on-par with the majority of the callers to talkback radio, in that they consistently fail to critique what they’re discussing effectively. So, why are they so popular? Well, sadly, it’s the fact that those on Gogglebox Australia don’t know much or think much about what they’re watching that makes their views of interest to viewers en masse. Most people don’t think deeply about TV, nor do they want to, so a program that requires more than a passing knowledge of the subject is a turn off (The Joy of Sets). As is one that requires a shared sense of humour with those who’ve written it (TV Burp and The Joy of Sets).
In this country, it’s generally accepted that tall poppies are bad. If you’re someone who knows enough about a subject to make gags about it, you’re a tall poppy. Which means that people who know very little, and aren’t particularly funny, are exactly the sort of people you want to see in your home. No wonder Gogglebox Australia is admired and adored throughout the land.