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
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee