Grace Dent on Television: The Hoarder Next Door, Channel 4
Nigel is encouraged to tidy in a frock. It doesn't solve much, but we get to have a gawp
Just as Channel 4's de-clutter series, Get Your House in Order, ended, their new one, The Hoarder Next Door, began, quickly followed by BBC1's Britain's Biggest Hoarders.
Same shows, different titles. Thoroughly watchable rubbish on so many levels. Right now, it appears that the sexiest, most TV-friendly mental shortcoming is "hoarding". Are you a hoarder? Do you love a bit of tat? Are you reading this column perched atop a pile of antique NME mags in a room full of horse brass and stockpiled Pampers? Have mountains of tinned cling peaches, dead computers and boxes of reduced-to-clear "Great Times, Great Yarmouth" lavender pomanders overtaken your life? Is it getting a bit whiffy in there? Is Febreeze not quite cutting it? Were the rats a problem, but then you grew to love your rat buddies, but now your cats and your rats squabble nightly as you doze, stood up, in two squared metres of space in a dank, chock-full- o'crap fire-hazard you call a bedroom? Relax. The power of television can heal you.
Some people doubt the value of this type of "redemption telly" but, well, "haterz gotta hate," as they say. Channel 4, particularly, has a strong track record of curing mental afflictions simply via the gift of "filming the poor broken sods". Remember all those women Gok Wan convinced to parade, knockers-out, around the Arndale Centre with their bodies bouncing bashfully to "Lola's Theme" by Shapeshifters? Yes, every single one of those women was cleansed of body insecurities merely from the warm acceptance of bemused shoppers staring with one hand in a bag of Greggs Steak Bakes. Indeed, Gok's weekly coups were the biggest televised "sort your shit out" triumph since Dr Gillian McKeith laid out a load of Bird's Trifle and Cadbury's Fingers on a trestle table and shouted at a compulsive binge-eater: "Och, YOU! Look at your POO. Look at that trifle. Here, have some Acai berries and a skipping rope. All better now."
And let's not forget those Supersize vs Superskinny folk, who leave behind a lifetime of food-related psychosis by appearing just in underwear, all jutting collar-bones and five-inch-deep navel cavities and being cajoled to hug. "There can be miracles, when you belieeeve." That's how the song goes. Maria and Whitney wouldn't have told us all that it wasn't a completely salient point.
"But Grace," you're saying, possibly, "aren't cognitive impairments like hoarding, anorexia and body dysmorphia usually very complex, ingrained affairs which require careful help? Can a visit from a TV crew help?" This is plainly daft. In fact, during my darkest hours I've mused often, "what I need now are a load of strangers from the media industry in my house". Namely: I need one frazzled TV director who isn't sure what the TV channel controller wants from the show and is too scared to ask, so in the meantime is filming willy-nilly. I need one assistant producer who is "sensitive to the issue at hand" who until last Tuesday was in Argentina mixing gunge for Total Wipeout. I need one completely androgynous teenage runner with 30cm of underpants showing, a slimy cameraman in a beanie hat, and one sound guy who'll spend all his time staring at the sky frowning about noisy planes and trying to shove a microphone up my skirt.
Week one of The Hoarder Next Door introduced us to Nigel, a 55-year-old Liverpool man living in an out-of-control refuse tip roughly crammed into a terraced house. Every corridor, room, shelf and cubbyhole in Nigel's home was filled with items one would file under "Misc. Crap: throw in massive skip NOW". Nigel also owned a collection of dresses and wigs, and admitted he felt he could cope with the mess better while dressed as a woman. Duly, Nigel was encouraged to shove on a frock and do a bit of circumspect "tidying", which didn't solve much, but we got to have a gawp.
Then, Hoarders Next Door professional insta-therapist Stelios Kiosses appeared, looking burnished and marvellous in an ankle-length camel coat with Simon Cowell astro-hair, saying: 'This ees a very see-rious situation. I waant you to put a photo of your dead boyfriend in a frame and look at eet." After six weeks of Stelios making really no impact at all, a bunch of Nigel's formidable Scouse female relatives appeared, nagged him for a while, rang a skip-hire firm and began chucking bag after bag of treasured garbage into the street. This was the tough love in action in an episode that also featured PA Jennie. In this week's episode, out-of-work actress Tricia fought similar dusty demons. "I can't chuck out that anorak! It belonged to my friend who died! Well, you get attached don't you?" she wept, stood in a room full of rat-dropping-covered rags that even Joanna Lumley couldn't "shwop". Magical Stelios appeared again, talking a lot but saying very little. By this point I was hankering for the "hoying it all in massive skip" part, but instead we had to see her crying and pointing herself out on a dusty VHS tape of Coronation Street. Tricia's pain came from a burning desire to be famous again and back on television, which was a fantastic coincidence as for the hour we watched her sobbing, she absolutely was.
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