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TV review: Gogglebox - 'It can be romantic, moving and profound'

Inside Television: High praise for Channel 4's 'Box in a box' show

You are now going to read an article in which I write about watching television programmes featuring other people watching other television programmes and then talking about the television they’ve just watched. It will be like being trapped in room of mirrors, where your own reflection repeats on and on, into infinity until you disappear into a nightmarish vortex of self-reference. But I’ll try to keep it light.

Telly about telly is the kind of obviously rubbish idea that should never have made it out of Alan Partridge’s ‘Monkey Tennis’ pitch meeting, and yet almost every TV show about people watching TV ever made hasn’t just been alright, it’s been brilliant. The Royle Family won four BAFTAs and seven British Comedy Awards, the nation still mourns Harry Hill’s TV Burp, which ended last year (but re-runs on Gold) and now there’s Gogglebox, channel 4’s immensely popular Wednesday night programme which consists of nothing more than a cross-section of modern family units (couples, kids, flatmates) sitting in front of the TV set.

Gogglebox is unfailingly funny and when the families watch a party political broadcast or Question Time, as they did this week, it offers a better reading of the nation’s political temperature than any panel of pundits. It can also be romantic, moving, even profound. In a previous episode we saw the show’s middle-aged couples contemplate their own mortality, while watching an episode of 999: What’s Your Emergency. On the screen within the screen, an elderly man said goodbye to his partner of over sixty years. On the sofa in front of the screen, Posh Bloke reached for Posh Wife’s hand, looked deep into her eyes and said tenderly, “The first time you sh*t yourself that’s it. You’ll accidentally fall out of a window.” 

At first futurologists predicted new technologies would make telly watching a more solitary activity than ever. Personal devices and TV on Demand allowed teenagers to slope off to their rooms to watch Made in Chelsea while Dad watched Ottolenghi’s Mediterranean Feast in the front room and Mum caught up on Boardwalk Empire upstairs. But now that same technology has brought us back together for a joyful, very noisy reunion. Everyone wants to watch at the same time so they can talk about it and tweet about it.

We’re content to give Mark Kermode the final say on film or let Tom Dyckhoff lecture us on architecture, but television is a subject that everyone feels confident to weigh in on. And as Gogglebox shows, the man or woman on the sofa usually has an uncanny knack of getting to the nub of the issue: On Richard Hammond: “Don’t he like driving around in cars usually with the other fat fella?”. On the BBC’s science programming: “I mean it does all go over your head this stuff, dun’it, but it is interesting.” On X Factor: “Shut up Gary Barlow.”

Tattoos & Anchors

One of the occupational hazards of being a TV news anchor, so I imagine, is the oppressive expectation to always look smart. Get a new haircut or wear a colourful tie at your own peril: an avalanche of angry letters from viewers is sure to follow. 

Is it any wonder, then, that news readers and current affairs presenters are starting to rebel and express themselves? A few weeks ago Jeremy Paxman caused an upset by growing a shaggy nu-folk beard (which he still refuses to shave) and now David Dimbleby, the 75-year-old presenter of Question Time has got himself a tattoo of a six-legged scorpion. It can’t be long before Emily Maitliss starts wearing glitter-green eye shadow to present Newsnight and Jon Snow gets a nose piercing. When it happens, don’t be alarmed; it’s just a phase they’re going through.

Catch up TV

1. Rev, Netflix

This week we found out who the next sleuth in ITV’s cosy detective slot will be. The channel have just commissioned six-part series Grantchester, an adaptation of James Runcie’s novels about crime-solving Anglican vicar Sidney Chambers. For an alternative, alternative view of the clergy see Rev, starring Olivia Coleman and Tom Hollander.

2. Dispatches: ‘North Korea: Life Inside the Secret State’, 4oD

TV travel shows allow us to experience the foreign destinations we could never afford to visit in real life. This documentary will grant you entry to a distant land that no ordinary tourist, however wealthy can access. The original 11.05pm slot means a lot of interested viewers might have missed out the first time, but it’s well worth catching on demand. These scenes of life in a totalitarian state are so extreme is can sometimes feel like you’re watching a dystopian sci-fi, but unfortunately this is no fiction.

3. Katie Hopkins vs Peaches Geldof, This Morning, YouTube

Peaches Geldof went on This Morning this week to expound The Seven Bs of baby-Bonding and inadvertently triggered The Seven Disapproving Faces of Katie Hopkins. You might not have put money on the Geldof daughter coming up tops in debate with a professional “rent-a-gob”, but by all accounts Peaches left her opponent a quivering mess of directionless indignation. Don’t feel too sorry for Hopkins, however. She’s certain to rally in time for the next media appearance.

4. X Factor USA, ITV Player

By now it’s clear that The X Factor is having one of it’s ‘off’ years. Only two of the finalists can actually sing, Scherzinger is reduced to recycling old lines and the rest of the judges just look bored. So let’s all disloyally jump ship and switch over to the US version instead. On The X Factor USA snarky Simon (accept no imitators) occupies his rightful position on the judging panel and best of all, it’s presented by A.C. Slater from Saved By The Bell.

5. True Detective trailer, HBO.com

We all know TV enjoys a higher status then ever in the entertainment biz, but the new HBO show, which Sky Atlantic will air in the UK in February might just be the swankiest small screen production ever. True Detective pairs the Texan double act of dreams Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as two policeman who are recalled to consult on the investigation of a bizarre ritual killing which they supposedly solved 17 years ago. Also, is it just me, or does Matthew McConaughey’s floppy hair and piercing meerkat-like gaze make him a dead ringer for David Tennant in this trailer?