Magazine article The Spectator

Beguiling Rubbish

Magazine article The Spectator

Beguiling Rubbish

Article excerpt


Nowadays, I hear, people talk a lot about `good bad television', which means TV that's carefully made with expensive production values, but which is actually rubbish. Beguiling and fascinating rubbish to be sure, but rubbish all the same. It's like the old joke that ends: `this is shit but frightfully well cooked.'

Footballers' Wives (ITV) is classic good bad television. It's frightfully well cooked. The show resembles Dallas and Dynasty in many ways: ludicrously rich people spend their money in every tasteless and splashy way they can think of, and spend their time having illicit sex and plotting against each other. How can it fail? My theory is that sitcoms only work if you like the characters, or at least sympathise with them. Dramas like this only succeed if you hate everyone. Of all the main characters, only one, Donna, the teenage mum desperate to get back her adopted son, is remotely likeable. The rest are odious.

So was JR. That's why we loved him. Shows like this appeal to our dark side. We like to imagine that if we earned 50,000 a week we would buy a modest Georgian manor house, and fill it with fine paintings. But how do we know we wouldn't really, deep down, want to have a ranch-style estate, half a dozen Porsches, a string of racehorses, a mosaic of ourselves in the swimming-pool floor, and be able to hop naked into the jacuzzi with nymphomaniac 17-year-olds? It is a form of pornography: the message is, come on, you know you'd love to have all this, stop pretending you wouldn't. At the same time, we're told, these people are so dysfunctional and unhappy that you can be thankful you're not like them. We do have it both ways.

Good bad television has to shock whenever it can. So Footballers' Wives has already had a willy in the shower scene (not that I'm offended, but it's still unusual in prime time), copulation in the toilet - a lot of the action, including the coke-snorting, takes place in the toilet - a Page 3 model whose breasts are set on fire, and (the same woman) a character called Chardonnay.

This is an interesting development. Possibly a series could be written in which every character is named after a wellknown grape variety. Shiraz, the sloe-eyed Persian temptress; Merlot, the dashing French businessman; and Gewurtztraminer, the Austrian body-builder who loves Shiraz but is unhappily married to the selfish Grenache. …

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