Friday, 3 December 2010

Only Way Is Essex: Reality/drama hybrid wins heart, confuses mind

My hopes for ITV2's new reality-stroke-drama-stroke-sort of UK version of The Hills, The Only Way Is Essex, were, it's fair to say, very very low.

But the simple tale of ten or so variously good looking and apparently quite wealthy twentysomethings, untroubled by things like proper jobs or bills or running out of milk, has won my heart.

The 'cast' appear to be caught unaware, as if quite by chance, by nothing less than a whole camera crew and production team, as we watch the 'characters' play out what appear to be semi-improvised scenes of low incident and minor drama revolving around messy romances and wanting to run bars and whether Sam should get something called a 'vajazzle' or not.

Tanned of limb and uncomplicated of thought, we've got wannabe topless model Amy ('What's 'closure' mean'?), or grinning goon but jack-the-lad hit-with-the-ladeeez Mark ('Thanks for doing my ironing Nanny Pat, I'm so stressed'), and Kirk ('I won't apologise for being jealous, it shows I care') to name but three of the flash Essex lot.

So many, many questions

But with the line between fiction and reality so blurred - blurred, I say! - and the audience being told at the start of the programme that 'the people are real but some of the situations have been created for your entertainment', it's hard to know exactly how much is real. How real is real?

I'm not normally bothered by such issues, but the programme's new take on an old format (in this country at least) has got me thinking more than I should. Are these people really real? Do the relationships we watch exist as we see them? And what happens when the cameras aren't there?

Does Mark still bark at his best mate Arg when he lets in a goal at five-a-side? And is the bloke who wants to manage Mark's sister's band Lola (keep up) really that toe-curlingly awful?

Perhaps we can never truly know. Actually, I know the answer to that last one: yeah he is.

I'm sure I will return to The Only Way is Essex in due course as I search for answers on the streets of Chelmsford or, more accurately, on the internet.

But if you haven't watched it yet, have a look. It's, y'know, fun.

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