Grace Dent on TV: People Like Us

The only thing missing is a Benedict Cumberbatch cameo. But could he take a shift in the Wishy Washy?

I fell slightly in love with People Like Us, an upbeat fly-on-the-wall show about the decidedly poor Harpurhey estate in Manchester, from the moment I met Karen from the Wishy Washy laundrette. Brassy, slightly belligerent, warm and wise, Karen contradicts the tedious formulaic television thinkpieces churned out each time a producer makes something like People Like Us, which first appeared during the Scottish Bafta-award-winning documentary series The Scheme.

The phrase “poverty porn” is waved about with a lot of hand-wringing waffle about how, essentially, we should never film the working classes and if we do, must never enjoy the footage; in fact, we should spend the time more fruitfully in a haircloth shirt, poking ourselves in the eye. Because if the footage is truthful and gritty – in fact exactly like what I see everyday with my own eyes – then it's stigmatising and apparently inaccurate. Or if it's warm and full of heart, like People Like Us, then it's patronising the “salt of the earth” types. And if it pulls away from the heaviest issues – food banks, alcoholism, social-service swoops –then it's dull and sanitised, but when it sharp-focuses on harsh events, well, ta-dah, it's “poverty porn”. Actually let's not bother at all. Let's have another series of C4's Notting Hill. Or Made in Chelsea. Or one of those shows where two white middle-class men go on a wine-tasting course in Cape Cod.

Flying in the face of this introspection, I rather love that the characters in People Like Us sit about watching Jeremy Kyle, being wholly judgemental about both Kyle's case studies and also the sort of people who watch Jeremy Kyle. “I only watch the morning episode,” one man says proudly. “There's folk round this area who sit and wait for the repeat on ITV2 at lunchtime, then they watch it again.”

Karen from the Wishy Washy is a study in formidability. She sits in her lint- and fabric-conditioner-scented kingdom surveying CCTV footage of a local OAP who sometimes pops in the laundrette to hoist down her elastic waisted trousers and wee in the waste bin. “She actually wipes herself! I think it was a wee, Paul emptied the bin and he said it were heavy,” Karen grimaces. A spate of thefts have made Karen adamant about not decorating the place, “Look, they're even taking me Bono from U2!” she says, pointing at footage of a man packing a bin-liner with underpants, socks and some framed pictures off the wall.

Elsewhere, on Harpurhey market, rotund 19-year-old ladies' magnet Jamie is having problems with his harem of women, many of them older than his mother. I'm terrified to look too closely at Jamie lest I too become transfixed with lust. “I want YOU to be my man,” instructs a fearsome stallholder, her loose-change belt seductively nipping a waspish waist in her padded anorak. “I've told my man it's off, and I want you.” Jamie looks slightly ashen. “Uh-huh,” he grunts, clearly struggling to recall what he's promised this woman last week while wearing lager-goggles. Jamie runs a second-hand DVD stall, when he's not breaking hearts.

He has promised his affections to several women. They appear in his mam's living room waving engagement rings, which Jamie likes to dispense when he's drunk, jabbering about futures together that will end abruptly two weeks on Friday with a discovery of infidelity behind the boozer and a row over who gets the Staffy. “What did you think the first time you saw your fiancée?” asks the cameraman. “Big boobs,” says Jamie, honestly, reaching and giving the girl's chest a wobble.

I laughed continuously during People Like Us. It's warm and more-ish. It's not “sympathetic”. No one asked for your sympathy. I rooted heavily for Karen's daughter, glamorous teen Amber, and her plans to escape to London to study drama. When Amber won a place at drama school in Camden my heart was in my mouth imagining her appearance at Euston platform five, alone, no family, no spare cash, relying largely on bolsh and an ability to wing it. This was a beautiful example of the difficulties of modern social mobility. To achieve a tiny percentage of what many of Amber's drama-school counterparts will take for granted, she will work several times harder, sacrificing and risking much more – even the Virgin train ticket to London to see the college would wipe out the average Harpurhey household budget – only to endure Benedict Cumberbatch and his ilk whining that no-one understands the upper-class actor's plight.

Actually, Cumberbatch in Harpurhey is one reality documentary I'd love to watch. Make him do a few shifts in the Wishy Washy, checking the bin for urine and underneath the big dryers pulling out all the lint with a big rake like Karen's boyfriend has to do each week. “It's probably mostly pubes and bum fluff,” Karen says cackling. At the time of writing, Karen's Bono portrait was still missing.

Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform