My dear mother, at 92, loves Martin Clunes – and what’s not to like? ‘Doc Martin’ is beloved in my household and millions of others globally. He’s aced curmudgeon, has Clunes. In his Cornish sea-fronted village he’s surrounded by lovable dolts and irritating patients. The blood-fearing doctor is in a constant state of exasperation at the world he’s found himself in. It’s pure escapism – he transports us to another place; we can get away from our worries by being entertained by him and his foibles.
Now whereas this fitted perfectly in with the ABC at an accessible, for all, time-slot of joyously uninterrupted viewing, the actor’s latest offering, ‘Manhunt’ has gone to the dark side. It’s gone to ad-drenched, free-to-air commercial television. It was set to follow the reality behemoth ‘My Kitchen Rules’. My mother was looking forward to seeing the English thesp in a different role.
And she tried to watch it, she really did. She was soon defeated. Of course it started later than it’s slated starting point at 9pm, as reality shows seem to have the right to go on as long as they wish. Evidently not keeping to published times is a ploy to somehow prevent one from changing channels – most would give up and go to another platform, but my mother hasn’t that luxury. Nor has she the mechanism to store it for later and fast forward through the interminable ad breaks slicing and dicing the show into five minute sections. My dear mother gave up as tiredness overcame her. No doubt a family member will gift her a DVD of the series, knowing her tastes, at a later date. There are shows we all recommend to her, but many are on far too late for her as reality series these days take centre stage. They are comparitively cheap to make and if the jackpot is hit with the public, they’re a rating and therefore an advertising bonanza. But for my mother she, rightly or wrongly, calls them ‘reality rubbish’, not worth her time. So she’ll bury her nose in a book or slot in a DVD. Pity.
‘Reality rubbish’ has taken over the television landscape. It’s easy to knock it and people like Tim Elliott who watch the genre. His opinion piece revolved around ‘Married At First Sight’ and it leads the pack, popularity wise, at the moment. On paper it seems ludicrous and for that alone it would have never featured as part of my viewing – never. But here’s the rub. Sometimes you’re captive; not in control. Now I can say I’ve never watched ‘Master Chef’, ‘MKR’ or ‘The Block’, the other huge raters, but I have MAFS and several of the other ‘finding true love’ variety, ‘The Bachelorette’ and ‘First Dates’ – all in somebody else’s loungeroom.
And I soon discovered each of them, despite fully realising I was being manipulated by their contrived natures, to be eminently compelling.
In the wee hours a few nights ago the radio had on a British human relations expert speaking to the topic of MAFS’ hold on the Australian viewing public. She had worked on several UK shows of that ilk. When asked if it was really true love the contestants were after, she laughed and went on to explain it was mainly about a way to get richer than they were; to have their fifteen minutes of fame and/or notoriety. Of course, as we all know, a few have succeeded. Most, though, disappear back into obscurity. She, the expert, was illuminating on all the boxes they have to tick before they make it on to the set – mostly to do with body shape, appearance and how to behave, or misbehave. She said it is forbidden to rig the outcome, but there’s nothing to stop contestants being strongly advised.
Now I must admit I was fascinated during the hour I spent recently with ‘Married at First Sight’. The wonderful couple I was with explained to me, in detail, as we went, how the show operated. There did seem to be a couple of pairings who were seemingly besotted with each other. One such featured a fellow who claimed he came to the show as a virgin and had that weight quickly lifted off him soon after their confected vows by the damsel he was matched with. Regular MAFS watchers will know how quickly their togetherness dissipated. But at the time it seemed so sweet and genuine. Knowing myself, I could quite easily have become caught up in it all. That was shattered, though, at the end by a couple whose relationship had turned rancid. Each clearly despised the other. So when, at the end of the show, they were given the choice to stay or go it should have been obvious what was to occur. Both clearly had to depart, but if one wanted to stay, it forced the other to do stay ‘married’ under the show’s rules. Guess what – one required just that bit more infamy. I couldn’t leap that hurdle, so I didn’t persevere with this vehicle in my own abode.
Again ‘The Bachelorette’ was similar. I had great company for a few episodes of the ‘17 series too. And it was quite easy to lose yourself in it, that is, till she (Sophie Monk) chose the exact type of man she’d been telling us had, to date, ruined her life. Again many of you dear readers will know how that went for her. Blind Freddy could see the mistake she was yet again making .
For me the best of the shows was ‘First Dates’. Contrived too, of course, it did seem to have more heart; the contestants, well, more real. If it resumes I could get hooked.
So you never know. I might easily become a Tim Elliott too. In the world we live these shows give an escape, despite their motivations and manipulations. And that’s no small thing. No different to ‘Doc Martin’ in fact.