IoS TV review: Kookyville, Channel 4, Sunday Peep Show, Channel 4, Sunday Fresh Meat, Channel 4, Tuesday

'Kookyville' is 'constructed reality comedy' – and yes, it is as terrible as it sounds

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The Independent Culture

As a rule, I wouldn't advocate writing television reviews for cathartic ends – there are magazine columns for that. But when a show causes your hands to involuntarily clamp your face in a Munch-like scream of a Sunday evening, it seems careless not to work back through your experiences. And so, while there was some good, honest programme-making in the schedules last week – may I recommend catching up with Alex Gibney's documentary Park Avenue: Money Power and the American Dream on iPlayer – I must purge myself of Kookyville before returning to the sphere of the critically temperate.

"Welcome to a sketch show with a difference …" purred Fenella Fielding, deployed in the Tom Baker/ Little Britain role of ironic posho narrator. "These people are not actors or comedians and there's no script … they're just real funny people."

And if you thought that some combo of comedians, acting, scripts or forethought was almost fundamental to the sketch-show format, then you obviously lack the basic contempt for human beings of the Kookyville commissioners. This, you see, was nothing less than the first example of "constructed reality comedy", in no way the kind of idea that would be farted out by an Apprentice contestant should they ever be asked to tackle TV production.

As with your basic constructed reality show, the idea was that a bunch of purportedly non-fictional people go about their purportedly non-fictional lives while excreting stilted dialogue in obviously staged set-ups. Only here, in a presumed attempt to justify that comedy billing, the dialogue came with the added stench of sub-Frankie Boyle obnoxiousness.

Not every scene was unwatchable. The one involving two Essex girls' protracted intellectual struggle at a farm was merely a failed audition piece for The Only Way is Essex, while Bradford entrepreneur Afzal safely plumped for being re-christened Ricky Meh-vais with his unofficial tribute to David Brent. More attention-grabbing, sadly, was swearword-happy pensioner Ronnie who, likely concerned about the mellow view of her generation being peddled by BBC1's Last Tango in Halifax, mimed a diarrhoea episode in her local Chinese. Before volunteering to chew Simon Cowell's balls.

So vanilla, you say? Well, then, I give you the mother-daughter pair Suzanne and Annierose, seen gawping and gasping at a dwarf before contemplating the horror of one trying to suckle Annierose's breasts. And – my favourite – the hotelier couple who joked about trying to throw a Thalidomide victim through a window, which also allowed for that old impressionist's standard routine, wholly ignored by Rory Bremner et al, the "ickle-wickle Thalidomide victim voice".

The programme was fair in one respect; the joke, such as it was, was on everyone: the short and disabled; the "real" comics, representing all those funny, uncouth sorts outside metropolitan media circles; the godforsaken viewer; and, of course, the beleaguered Channel 4, increasingly prone to trolling audiences for attention. In that respect, Kookyville succeeded, whipping up a social media gale and instant reviews along the lines of "Put this atrocity out of its misery". But the obvious point, inside the Twittersphere and out, is that exercising your right to provoke mindlessly will eventually result only in mass unfollows.

Then again, the existence of Kookyville may have just been a ploy to flatter the preceding Peep Show: a bona fide comedy returning, remarkably, for an eighth series. And though this tale of two emotionally stunted flatmates isn't quite as snortworthy as it once was, it's gained a kind of pathos in its middle age, bound up with its lead duo's near-pathological inability to change. A state of affairs encapsulated beautifully in this week's opener when David Mitchell's anal Mark reacted to the death of love rival Gerard. "Life, spinning past, every second, every single fleeting moment until we're gone," he mused. "I'm taking a look at my phone tariff."

But if Peep Show has settled into a groove, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong's other hit, Fresh Meat, has come of age with the end of its second run. First time round, the student sitcom was chipper but clunky fare. But, just as its fresher gang have grown up, so the whole thing has become sharper, wiser, and more lovable. Now here's hoping it doesn't mirror the classic uni trajectory too closely and succumb to a third year of soft drinks and solipsism.