I suppose these were meant to represent three different types of mother- son relationships; but they were more interestingly regarded as three different approaches to being filmed. Deborah and Derek were "ordinary people", seemingly natural and easy in front of the cameras. Marion and Daniel were "old troupers", obligingly staging the trip to the disco for the benefit of the film-crew. Ranna and Simeon performed a kind of Oedipal version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Ranna saw television as a weapon, a means of inflicting public embarrassment in the privacy of her own home - the programme's most amusing scene had her offering to scratch Simeon's back the way he liked it, fondling his arm while he squirmed and snapped at the unwanted intimacy. It seemed like an effective tactic, but if you really want to use TV as a weapon, then dropping one on somebody's foot doesn't get people staring at you in bus queues the next day.
In Robert Hughes's book, Culture of Complaint - a nippy assault on modern America - he recoils at the horrors of the confessional talk-show ("Transvestites Who Live with Their Mothers", "People Who Eat Their Feet" - apparently this was a real topic tackled by Oprah). He quotes James Robert Parish, a Californian journalist who has made a study of the genre and who fears that the "blurt-talks" will move from the studio to the home: "The next step will be, `Can we have our cameras there when you invite your daughter over to discuss why you threw her out?'."
Confessional chat-shows have never had the same impact on British television as they have in America, and watching The Vanessa Show (BBC1) or Trisha (ITV) it is clear that, next to the Americans, we are still amateurs in the art of public prying. People in Britain are, by and large, uncomfortable exposing themselves in front of 100 strangers, and chat-show hosts are uncomfortable asking them to do it. But, in the privacy of their own homes, people are happy to rip off everything for the camera, even suggesting new poses and exotic props to liven up the picture.
Parish is wrong to think of the home confessional as the next stage of development after the studio confessional, but surely he's right to think that it is closely related. "Mummy's Boys" would have been a natural topic for Vanessa, while yesterday morning's subject on Leeza (C5), "Mothers on Death Row", would slip effortlessly into the Cutting Edge format.
But isn't it interesting that Parish assumes that going into people's homes is even more degrading, more voyeuristic than choreographing confrontations in the studio? Meanwhile, over here, makers of documentaries like "Mummy's Boy" have managed to cling to the belief that they are doing something worthwhile and respectable. When they take the cameras into people's houses, they are showing the extraordinariness of ordinary life, exploring questions of individual morality and whether society has a right to pass judgement, that sort of thing. To compare them with a loud, blonde bird in a pink suit shrieking at her studio audience - well, that would be downright insulting.
And to a large extent, critics endorse this delusion: docu-soaps and fly-on-the-walls may get jeered at and complained about, but at least they get reviewed, while Vanessa and the rest of the daytime mob are ignored. The truth is, though, that the only insights to be gained from "real-life" documentaries concern how far people are prepared to go in front of a camera.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Game of Thrones season 5: Emilia Clarke praises characters who 'accept their femininity'
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Glastonbury 2015 tickets: How to make sure you’re successful in Sunday's re-sale
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate