This week’s discussion: The Only Way Is Essex, Season 18, Eps. 1-3. Watch it on Hulu.
Next week’s discussion: Finding Bigfoot, Season 11, Eps. 1-5. Watch it on Animal Planet. (cable sub required past first episode) Purchase on Amazon Video.
This week your intrepid hosts take a (somewhat unplanned) trip across the pond to take in the ‘scripted reality’ drama The Only Way Is Essex. After venting about our hatred of this show, we analyze the pacing of the show and how its one-track focus on petty relationship squabbles might have left a sour taste in our mouths. We then explore the definition of reality TV on a broader level and decide whether the concept of ‘scripted reality’ fits. Finally, we look at how this show treats British stereotypes and grapple with our cultural unfamiliarity before ending with a discussion on why this show has been so popular despite the fact that it did not connect with us personally.
Show Notes and Links
1:03 / Introducing this week’s show
1:53 / The high concept of the show (Flub 1: Essex is in Southeast, not Southwest England)
2:25 / A quick peek behind the scenes of 42 Minutes of Reality
3:52 / The locale of the first two episodes: resort town of Mallorca; Mike mentions Season 4 of Jersey Shore
4:45 / Back to the high concept
5:33 / Quoting The Guardian’s TV Critic
6:11 / We hated this show
7:55 / The ‘Waiting for Godot’ of reality TV
8:35 / We summarize the only non-relationship parts we remembered from the first 3 episodes of Season 18
9:40 / Mike thinks there are too many people on this show, compares it unfavorably to Jersey Shore
10:11 / The Wikipedia page for Season 18
10:23 / JS talks about the rapid and formulaic editing structure
12:16 / Mike talks about ‘padding’ – concept borrowed from MST3K
13:40 / ‘Plot’ summary of the first 2 episodes – such as it was
15:26 / JS notes only one holdover from first season – but archetypal continuity
16:29 / Mike thought the sound mixing was awful
17:00 / We both needed closed captioning
17:25 / Mike did like the ‘montage’ style intros of some of the episodes
18:23 / JS finds a synthesis of our views on the pace
19:18 / We briefly discuss the virtues of swears v. bleeps
20:12 / We get into definitional issues – this is an edge case
20:45 / ‘Scripted reality’
21:24 / Mike thinks the term ‘reality TV’ is ironic, because it isn’t truly real, but how far is too far?
22:08 / Comparing the structure to Curb Your Enthusiasm – is this a ‘bad soap opera’ with no script?
22:44 / Mike compares to Cheaters, which is even more fake, but actually entertaining
23:13 / A pro wrestling analogy
23:29 / Are the producers next leveling us?
23:39 / The camerawork is quite good – perhaps TOO good…
24:40 / Comparing camerawork to Jersey Shore
25:18 / Goes against the most clearly artificial reality TV conventions – living in same house and the confessional booth – which paradoxically made it seem less real; Mike mentions the granddaddy of modern US reality TV, The Real World
26:47 / JS talks about Arg and Lydia’s break-up scene and some suspicious audio
28:47 / The abortion that was TOWIE Live
29:40 / JS thinks the barometer leans towards ‘not-real’
30:10 / Some of the people in this have been on other reality TV programs
30:52 / Even with all these caveats, is this still reality TV?
31:25 / JS gives a hard ‘no’
32:37 / Mike thought it was the horseshoes of reality TV – close enough
33:57 / JS believes that there should be something authentic, even if there is some manipulation behind the scenes
35:46 / This show lacked that authenticity
36:28 / Mike thinks there is possibly some authenticity ‘beyond the camera’, but mostly thinks this because the show is so boring and obviously faked stuff is more exciting
37:13 / JS would have bought it more if there was more variety in the subject matter
38:05 / Mike says there is a bit more variety beyond the third episode, which might be influencing his opinion
38:35 / Maybe not real in the literal sense, but ‘based on a true story’
38:52 / How did these people all get off work at the same time to go on holiday?
39:42 / The people on this show seemed to be living in an invisible bubble. Where are all the other people in Essex? (Flub 2: Essex has 1.5 million people but not millions – the point still stands)
40:50 / Moving on to popular stereotypes of Essex
41:09 / Different from America’s Most Smartest Model, but both share a worldview that plays on stereotypes
41:46 / Controversy and pushback from Essex residents
42:15 / Mike thinks ‘breaking down stereotypes’ works for Sundance documentaries, but not successful reality TV
42:52 / Mike busts out his Wikipedia research and has JS play a guessing game
43:07 / ‘Essex girl’ stereotype
44:52 / ‘Essex man’ stereotype
46:44 / Mike’s Theory of the Week – are these stereotypes connected?
47:33 / JS wonders if there is a ‘nouveau riche’ component to Essex stereotypes – even in Season 1, these people seem to have no jobs, but lots of disposable income
50:14 / Mike mentions that there were a few people who seemed to own businesses
51:33 / Piggybacking on the last episode’s discussion – why has this gone on so long?
52:28 / A clarification on ‘seasons’ in the UK (?) context
53:08 / A doomsday scenario
53:36 / TOWIE in the context of the genre of ‘soap opera’
55:09 / JS drops some soap opera knowledge
56:31 / Mike noticed a pattern in the Hulu ads – is there a gender component to the target demo?
57:17 / JS thinks the main component is age (and class?)
59:10 / Mike wonders if the banality of the show is the key to its popular appeal
1:03:05 / JS observes that with age, you are more likely to encounter weightier issues in life
1:04:46 / Mike wonders if some portion of the audience has problems, but watches for escapist reasons – part of the appeal is that there is a lot of drama, but nothing serious behind it
1:06:06 / It often seemed that there were more interesting things going on off-camera than on camera
1:07:24 / Announcing next week’s show
1:09:00 / We are on iTunes and have an email address: 42minutesofreality AT gmail DOT com