Last Night's TV - Home Is Where The Heart Is, ITV1; The Country House Revealed, BBC2
Won over by a few home truths
Wednesday 11 May 2011
We should really have seen this coming. After all, we've had celebrities sleeping rough (Famous, Rich and Homeless). And we've had celebrities being mentors (Jamie's Dream School). What next from the genre-blending machine tasked with churning out such ideas, tightly packed nuggets of reality TV tagged with the neat little label: "Worthy"?
Home Is Where the Heart Is, obviously. It's almost too good to be true: "The new three-part series in which four celebrity households open their homes and invite homeless people to stay with them." Part postmodern joke, part Z-list parody, it's an idea so perfectly improbable that a sharp tumble towards tasteless seems inevitable.
And yet, somehow, it worked. Sort of. "This isn't a magazine shoot," announced the narrator, helpfully. "It's a great privilege," clarified Anneka Rice. She was one of celebrities (and also, it turned out, rather lovely). The others were "iconic chef" Aldo Zilli, couple Colin and Justin, who have something to do with design, and Alex James, who, as we all know, makes rather a lot of cheese (and used to play bass for Blur). Each was allocated a homeless person who would come and stay with them for two weeks. What they did together was largely up to them. "I have room, I could do with another pair of hands," said Alex, self-consciously asserting himself as the Tough but Fair member of the group. "Don't send me a mentor [sic]. I have enough mentors here already."
And so it was that Jim, the alcoholic Glaswegian, arrived at Colin and Justin's Georgian townhouse to be met with bubble baths and four-posters. "I'm worried I'm a bit stinky," he confided. Bobby, who trained as a chef in the Army before he developed a cocaine problem, was dispatched to Zilli's. Anneka got Bridget, who spent her childhood looking after her siblings when their alcoholic mother walked out, and Alex James was allocated Danny, a former brickie and – it transpired – an early-onset schizophrenic. Their relationship didn't get off to the best of starts. Dan overslept on his first day at the farm, an error for which Alex had little tolerance. After all, he explained, when he first moved there "(his) best friend was in the Priory". I don't think he was being ironic.
Along the way, Ed Tytherleigh from the homeless charity Spear hovered in the background murmuring about Lasting Solutions and Helping People Get Their Lives on Track. Colin and Justin were, perhaps, going a little too easy on Jim: their unlimited beer and daytime helicopter flights were tempered by a trip, on Ed's recommendation, to the doctor, to get him to cut down the drinking. Anneka – with her new-agey "community of friends and lodgers" – seemed to get the balance pretty much spot on: alternating voluntary shifts at a local care centre with art classes at home. But it was chez James that Ed was needed most. Midway through filming, Danny remarked to one of the crew that he'd heard voices telling him to harm himself. A (possible) diagnosis of schizophrenia followed, as did a high-drama – though not, under the circumstances, entirely unreasonable – bollocking from Alex, who seemed to think the whole scenario was set up.
For all the car-crash naffness of the concept, Home Is Where the Heart Is did, as I've said, sort of work. It was watchable, yes – even had it been awful, the voyeurism of the celeb factor all but guaranteed that – but it was also, unexpectedly, insightful. The thing, I think, was that we got to know our homeless wards a little. Watching some millionaire adapt to life on the street – or, indeed, in a slum in Kenya – is one thing, but watching the reverse is quite another. Homelessness dehumanises like few other conditions. It's just too difficult to imagine the man sitting outside the Tube as someone who, in other circumstances, would be walking around, doing his evening shopping, going home, watching TV. Last night, we were, if not much else, forced to do just that. When Zilli spat out the mackerel Bobby made him, it was impossible to feel for the young chef. When Jim teared up during his helicopter ride with Colin, only a hard heart would deem it a luxury.
It would take a similarly unyielding organ not to take to Dan Cruickshank. At least a little. He's always so enthusiastic. So golly-gosh-goodness-me. You can imagine what he was like at South Wraxall Manor, stop number one in The Country House Revealed. The point was to look around those houses that aren't open to the public. Examine the details, and look at the history. Which, when you think of our enthusiasm for all things stately home, sounds like a good idea.
There's a problem, though. It was almost impossible to follow. For one thing, everyone who'd ever lived at Wraxall seemed to be called Henry. Or Walter. And if they weren't called Henry or Walter, then it was Robert. Being related, they all shared a surname (unless we were talking about the kings or assorted cousins who, helpfully, were all called Henry too. Or Sir Walter Raleigh, who made a cameo in the form of a tobacco-smoking ghost). So we jumped hundreds of years and were still hearing about Henry Long and what an awful man he is. Still interesting, as a kind of broad, abstract tapestry of posh people. What we needed were a few feckless owners with a shortage of cash. Where's Ruth Watson when you want her?
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