“Have you seen Gogglebox?” You ask your friends. “No, what is it?” And then you brace yourself, because now you have to explain the concept that invariably makes people think that the world is ending and you have to deal with the emotional fallout.
Because Channel 4’s Gogglebox is a TV show featuring people watching TV. It is families, couples, housemates, friends, sitting on their sofas and watching the big shows and televisual events of the week. They shout, bitch, cry and laugh at everything from The News to Sex Box. The show is now into its second series, and we encounter some of the same sofa-bound stars as in the first series. The painfully posh married couple who just get gradually more pissed as the night goes on, their Aladdin’s cave of booze just popping into shot behind them; the gay couple with an almost stereotypical level of venomous wit. The ‘cast’ is cleverly constructed. They’ve struck the balance dead on; the people you see are just normal enough to seem familiar, while being interesting enough to watch for 30 minutes. What you get is an odd experience whereby the public watching the shows are infinitely more interesting than the programmes themselves. Their observations not only bring the pomp of the media crashing down, they reveal a comforting humanity which is rarely apparent wherever the concept of the British public is concerned.
Yet while the show is entertaining, the makers’ claim that it is an anthropological study into the way we watch television jars somewhat with what you actually see on the screen. While the first series had a naivety and a freshness which uncovered something about the television watching population, there is just something cynical about the show now. The more tame families are gone, replaced by bigger, louder alternatives. Those who survived are now aware of the role they are expected to play, their comments are a little more knowing, typecast. We’re less fly-on-the-wall now, more worm-stuck-in-the-front-row, as the performance of reality becomes ever more palpable. It still makes for very interesting television, yet the image of how it will be two or three series down the line, looms large. As the families sit and ridicule the circus of the X Factor, there’s a slight nagging that it won’t be long before we’re through the looking-glass and people commenting and poking fun at reality TV is the new reality TV. For now it’s worth a look, though after watching other people slob on a sofa for half an hour, the urge to get up and have a little jog about is only just repressible.