Ah, yes. Kevin McCloud. The posh one from Grand Designs. Advocate of fancy architecture. More likely to be seen espousing the joys of sustainable floorboards than shared sleeping quarters. Well, not this time. In Kevin McCloud: Slumming It, he headed to Dharavi, a slum in Mumbai and also, apparently, "one of the most extreme urban environments on Earth". There are no timber frames or sweeping landscape here. Just thousands upon thousands of people living on top of one another, on top of a rubbish dump (literally).
Still, it's not all bad. In some ways, Dharavi's the new posh architecture; the open plan of our times, if you like. It's recently been singled out by anthropologists as a model for ideal urban development, thanks to the residents' apparent sense of community. Prince Charles (surprise, surprise) has jumped on the bandwagon. Still, I'm sceptical. So is Kevin, who is tasked with the experience of living there for a few weeks. His wife, meanwhile, appeared to find the whole thing hilarious. "He gets ill all the time!" she giggled, joyfully.
Not to be deterred, Kevin trotted off in his nice pink shirt and snazzy backpack, arriving at Dharavi and gamely shacking up with his guide Rajesh's family. Even the sewage floating down the street – there are 4,000 cases a day of illness caused by poor sanitation – didn't appear to bother him. "Human shit is human shit, isn't it?" he said. "We would've had that in Medieval England." And it is sort of amazing; a million people living on one square mile; 500 sharing each public toilet; most sewers are open. Everything becomes adaptable, used for a multitude of purposes: the streets – abuzz in the day with food vendors and shop keepers – turn into a series of impromptu mosques when it's time for prayers, and residents do their laundry en masse, rinsing and beating each garment in the sewage-strewn river.
Surprisingly – and in spite of all his hoity-toity aspirational TV credentials – McCloud was really quite good at showing us the ups and downs of slum life, and not in an unamusing way. "There's a woman vomiting out of the window," he observed at one point. "Er! Hang on! It's our window. There's a woman vomiting out of our window."
The best bit came when he moved on to his second host family. He seemed to form a real bond with the young daughter (the only one who speaks English). Like, apparently, most children in Dharavi, she has the opportunity to attend school. She plans to go to college afterwards, and is planning on becoming an air hostess. While she's at school, every other member of the house's 20-odd inhabitants got on with their daily tasks, all pulling their individual weight (except Kevin, of course, whose offers of aid were met with guffaws: "I'm nothing but a useless piece of Western Telly Fluff," he bumbled.)
As for whether or not Prince Charles is onto something on the communal living front... I'm not sure. Sure, you may get "three generations of women" sitting together at festivals chatting, as Kevin pointed out, but is that really worth the street sewage and window vomit? I'd say probably not. Still, I'll be tuning in tonight to see if Kevin can change my mind.
Here's another thing I'm not convinced by: the BBC's new fashion drama, Material Girl. After the first five minutes, I thought I was – convinced it was hopelessly, unsalvageable, awful, that is – though by the end, I'd had a slight change of heart. Seemingly a sort of low-budget British version of Ugly Betty, it offers none of the attractions it should: no wit, no glamour, and absolutely no plausibility.
We started with a frenetic backstage scene at a fashion show. The characters were introduced to us one by one, each as subtle as a crude joke: Ali Redcliffe, the goody two-shoes designer heroine; Marco, the suave straight guy, GQ by way of Next; Davina Bailey, the posh, bitch Grande Dame (played by the fabulous Dervla Kirwan); and Alex, Ali's bow-tied gay best friend. The most peculiar of all is Mitchell, a trilby-glad omnisexual fashion journalist who says things like "les balls, c'est boring" all the while wearing a horrendously dadsy scarf.
The plot is similarly flimsy; good girl Ali loses job and bad girl Davina's, but is rescued by an investment from mysterious Marco, allowing her to set up her own label. While Davina chases superficial celebs to endorse her label, Ali goes for the underdog. Ahhhhh. Along the way, she meets a hunky boy, prompting lots of Bridget Jones-esque angst.
Really, it has very little at all to recommend it, except, that is, strong performances from all the lead roles. And, against all better judgement, I found myself sticking to it. Will I watch it again? Probably not on purpose. But if I happen to tune in by accident, I might just stay there. Guiltily.