Ellen E Jones on TV: If true love is what you’re after, why not try your luck in prison?
Take Me Out, ITV; The Millionaire Matchmaker, 4MUSIC; Her Majesty’s Prison: Aylesbury, ITV; The Fried Chicken Shop: Life in a Day, channel 4
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Friday 22 February 2013
If your only option for finding your once-in-a-lifetime-forever-love was to appear on one of TV's popular dating shows, which one would you choose? (If you've already found your once-in-a-lifetime-forever-love, ask them to step out of the room a minute, and give you some space, while you give the matter serious consideration).
Are you a bubbly young lady with a strong regional accent? If so, you might fancy your chances on ITV's Take Me Out. There is no non-sequitur that host Paddy McGuinness will not happily molest into an innuendo, and no man that his 30-strong bank of Boots-ad ready contestants will not happily molest into a shadow of his former self. Except, apparently, Owen, a children's entertainer from Ascot who left without a date last episode, after failing to impress. Freud's great question about women remains unanswered, but we can rule out ventriloquist dummies.
If you're a man with "likes" that include large money piles and traditional gender roles, you'll probably make out better on The Millionaire Matchmaker, the second series of which has recently started on 4Music. LA-based, third generation matchmaker, Patti Stanger is maternal disapproval in a Cher wig and she'll whip you into marriageable shape faster than you can say, "Help! What happened to my testicles!" Once waxed, primped and primed with a knowledge of fine wines, you (a recently rich guy with zero social skills, à la this week's 45-year-old Canadian hotel executive, Bill) will be let loose in a room full of hot supermodel babes. What could possibly go wrong? Ask Bill.
Perhaps, after all, it's best to stick to a tried-and-tested forum for generating intimacy; a place where new couples have hour-upon-hour of quality time to get to know each other, and where all the men are single and emotionally vulnerable. We speak, of course, of prison.
At first look, Her Majesty's Prison: Aylesbury might not be overflowing with keepers, but 10 minutes in, two new arrivals are stamping each other's heads in, and it's clear the small-talk stage is over. The documentary makers want to know what the fighting's all about – "Saying hello to each other?" suggests a guard.
By the next commercial break, there's a crisis situation on C-wing. Three inmates have taken a fourth hostage, stripped him naked and begun to loudly announce their intention to rape him. Matters are only resolved when the cell's 40C temperature causes one of the hostage-takers to pass out. It's the kind of high drama scene any decent screenwriter would dismiss as sensational. The staff here, however, have seen it all before. One of them is even supressing a yawn.
We're used to deadpan voiceovers in trendy docs, but is it usual for all the participants to be quite so blasé? As the governor explains it, there is an optimistic philosophy underpinning Aylesbury's institutional zen: "People say they're gonna kill you, but are they actually gonna kill you?"
Well, yes, possibly, if the people in question include Caspean, a serial offender who repeatedly informs anyone who'll listen he'll commit murder one day. You'd tell him to give it a rest, except, obviously, you wouldn't want to run the risk of him murdering you. That said, if he's as knowledgeable on Argentinian Malbecs as he is on the recreational merits of anti-psychotics, he'd be great company on one of The Millionaire Matchmaker's wine-tasting dates. "I like the feeling of being twisted," he muses on his latest prescription, "but these make you feel like some mad, medicated person."
A more relatable combo-box of reality comes in the form of The Fried Chicken Shop, Channel 4's one-off fly-on-the-wall doc filmed over a week at a Clapham fast-food restaurant. All human life is here: shrieking school kids, hardworking immigrants, rudeboys with a keen sense of the absurd, a witch and even a social media strategist.
There is also regular Paul, a man with a love of gold chains to make Mr T look under-accessorised, and a natural flare for romantic gestures. As if dates at a chicken shop weren't bliss enough, he also serenades his fiancé with a free-form rap ("We are in a chicken shop/Just the two of us").
As Paul must regrettably be excluded from the running, on account of his engagement, the award for Rooster Spot's most eligible bachelor goes to Waqar, the Pakistani Jean-Paul Belmondo lookalike who works behind the counter. Waqar pays for his business management course by commuting one-and-a-half hours, to shifts that can last until 6am, for £6.95 an hour – and he still manages to be unfailingly cheerful with the customers. He is so Bambi-eyed, blameless and adorable, you begin to wonder if this chicken shop's fly-on-the-wall is actually a Disney-trained animator.
Is The Fried Chicken Shop the heavily manipulated product of a pinko TV producer with a political agenda? Or is it just that the reality of life in major British cities has more in common with Saturday night in a chicken shop than we're usually led to believe? Unless Channel 4 decides to commission a series, we may never know.
Ellen’s marmalade dropper
Switching on at Newsnight o'clock, only to be greeted by Professor Brian Cox. Had abrasive Paxo been substituted for the kindly professor? No, just the BBC on strike.
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