Grace Dent on TV: Gogglebox, Channel 4
It's TV that brings the nation together, and this show is a glorious celebration of that
In Britain, according to Caroline Aherne's narration on C4's Gogglebox – the show that watches us watching TV – 20 million of us sit down to watch our televisions every evening. This is a pleasing statistic for people like me who adore telly and the sense of unity and warmth it can bring. I have wondered long and hard what the other 40 million of us can possibly be up to and can only imagine that they are planning ways to corner me at parties, displaying Paxman-esque flared nostrils of disgust while sighing: “Oh, I don't actually own a television. Well, I do, but it's covered in dust with no plug. In fact during October I'll be glueing seashells to a large reclaimed Bell's Whisky bottle to make an ethically kind lampstand.”
These people are not my people. My people are people just like Gogglebox's two female friends Sandy and Sandra from Brixton, who spend their downtime on a sofa enjoying TV twaddle like Sex Box, The X Factor or Through the Keyhole, while ordering take-away chicken shish with extra garlic sauce. Or, in Sandra's case, drinking orange squash from an old Pot Noodle cup while wondering aloud whether the man with the tattoo-strewn face from My Tattoo Addiction might be good in bed as every time he turned his head, mid-sex-thrust, it would feel like a different bloke. I wish I could press a red button on my screen at any time and find them sitting there in their kaftans giving thoughts on Godfrey Bloom, Keith Lemon and that Daisy Chain band from X Factor who were loyal, best friends forever until Gary offered the prettiest, thinnest one a solo shot at fame.
Yes, my people are people like Gogglebox's lovable, pithy bon vivants Steph and Dom – husband and wife – plus their worshipped dachshund Gigi – who enjoy nights of co-bitching on a sofa in Sandwich. “Kevin McCloud, do you think he knows he's an arse?” wonders Steph, knocking back one of Dom's potent Long Island iced teas. I'd also fit in very well on the end of hairdressers Steve and Chris's sofa in Brighton, as they cackle their way through the X Factor audition stages.
There's something rather joyous and soothing about Gogglebox. It reminds me a touch of series one Big Brother when participants were in the main reserved, unaffected and compellingly natural. Gogglebox allows for long sofa silences, for very important sentences which fade away to confused mumbling, for lingering cameras on gormless ajar gobs. Yes, this is just a show where people on telly watch other people on telly, but it's also a pleasing documentation of the modern British “family” unit and how we actually chatter and how common reactions to TV plots unite us. We were all bored and embarrassed by Sex Box and had previously imagined we would see inside the box or might at least hear a modicum of squelching. But no, we just got dishevelled hair and sweaty faces and people telling Mariella Frostrup that sex really is better after 17 years as you can cut out the faffing about and know what works, y'know a bit like starting an old temperamental boiler you can't be bothered to replace.
A better advert for romantic longevity is Gogglebox's OAP couple Joan and Leon from Liverpool, who watch TV every night in matching recliners. Leon took Joan out on their first date in 1955 and still thinks she's highly fanciable. “That Susanna Reid is always flashing her legs off,” Leon tutted as they watched Strictly Come Dancing. “If I had legs like that I'd show them off,” sighed Joan. “Your legs are better than that,” Leon pointed out.
We could not be wholly certain that Leon wasn't buttering Joan up for a WeightWatchers biscuit as she currently has her husband on a strict calorie-controlled diet. “I lost a stone!” he tells her again. “They rang a little bell!”
The pair sit down to watch Jamie Oliver cooking his Money Saving Meals. Jamie is eking out a less fancy cut of lamb with plenty of cheap and cheerful roast veg and lots of gravy. “Mmmmmghhghhhgh,” sighs Leon, slavering a little. Joan tuts, almost inaudibly, rolling her eyes. “I've only had me Ryvita and me salad today!” says Leon. I could watch a whole half hour of these two just quietly, affectionately, pass-agg teasing each other with almost 50 years of back material.
I could watch Gogglebox every night, but I pray it stays the same: occasional, cherished, understated and filled with wholly normal people, not grotesque Geordie Shore types, and without any nod towards the show being a competition or a journey or having any real point at all. It's just people talking back to the telly and sometimes talking to each other, just like 20 million of us do every evening. It's not much of a format, but it's currently one of the greatest ones on British TV.
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