Last Night's TV: My Wall Street, Channel 4
My Life As An Animal, BBC3
Enlightening notes on a scandal
Ah, Wall Street: the most notorious road in the world right now.
Natural habitat of Evil Bankers, spiritual home of Fred the Shred, the source of all our misery. Of course, as Channel 4's My Wall Street points out, not every Wall Street is the Wall Street. There are dozens of Main Street-style ones too, scattered around the country, each struggling to cope as the credit crunch tightens its jaws. It isn't the most subtle of vehicles, but it does the trick. For every Wall Street we visit, we meet a different family, each feeling the financial strain.
Of course, some deserve more sympathy than others. It's difficult to feel too sorry for Paul, the obsessive Star Wars fan from Grimsby. He works part-time in a pub but "spends every penny he has", while his partner, Kerry, tries desperately to scrape together enough cash to pay the bills. Incidentally, Kerry is officially the world's nicest woman. "I worry all the time. If there's a bill, I have to pay it," she observed. "But Paul doesn't. We're like chalk and cheese." Mmm. Paul and Kerry are two grand in debt, and have no way of getting out unless Paul sells his ridiculous collection of light sabres. Naturally, he's never going to do that; instead, he hurls abuse at poor Kerry and locks himself in his room. Things didn't improve much over the course of the show. Paul moved out, briefly, only to return in an even weirder form than before, wielding a petition to get KFC to deliver and shouting at Kerry through the walls. "Are you talking to me, Paul?" asked Kerry. "No, I'm talking to the fricking canary, what do you think?" Before long, Kerry checked into therapy.
Ali and Saira from Wolverhampton were a different kettle of fish entirely. Ali had been made redundant, but was desperate to avoid signing on. "There's nothing worse," he muttered. Instead, he spent all day every day hunting for a job, frantically ringing up companies and arranging interviews. In two weeks, he applied for 30 separate jobs, only to be rejected by every single one. It's the same heart-breaking routine each time. He got an interview, the whole family buzzed with excitement, Saira bustled around, straightening his tie and shining his shoes. And then: the rejection, with methods ranging from the mundane ("they never called") to the jaw-droppingly ridiculous (one firm actually conducted the whole interview by automated voice-message, and then rejected him the same way). After six weeks, he signed on, ceding breadwinner status to Saira, who was about to finish training as a teaching assistant. After her first day at work, he answered the door. "How was school, dear? I've been making dinner for you all day..."
Speaking of role reversals, I've been meaning to watch BBC3's My Life As an Animal ever since it started, and finally got around to it last night. It was, quite possibly, the weirdest television programme I've ever come across. In fact, I can't decide if it's so absurd as to be brilliant – the sort of thing George Orwell's characters might have indulged in had they had reality TV in Nineteen Eighty-Four – or whether it's just the barrel-scraping sediment at the bottom of the cheap thrills trough. The latter, probably.
The format is pretty much like any of those celebrity/reality TV shows, except that instead of hitting up the Australian jungle, or learning a quick foxtrot, these "celebrities" had to live, quite literally, like dogs. There's Ed, the most famous extreme sportsman you've never heard of, and Lucy, the model whose name you might not know but whose digitally recreated form you have almost certainly gazed upon, if, that is, you were a teenage boy sometime in the late Nineties. She was the original Lara Croft and since then, apparently, has been very busy as a "fashion model". I have my suspicions. Right away, Ed had obviously drawn the short straw. While Lucy was instructed to spend her days sniffing around with three border collies, Ed was thrown right in there with a pack of foxhounds, none of which looked particularly friendly; in fact, one still had blood smeared around his mouth from a fight. When night fell, Ed's jammed in a room with about 30 of them, all clambering over one other. "They fart all the time," he observed. Poor chap. He actually did pretty well, if you can ever commend someone on their ability to tolerate flees, flatulence and a diet of minced pork pies, and by the time the challenge is up, he looked quite sad to be leaving.
Over with the collies, though, Lucy got cold feet – literally. "My socks are wet and my wellies are too small," she sobbed. It did look pretty miserable. Her "kennel" was box-sized and made of concrete. To make matters worse, none of the dogs even liked her. "I was bullied at school," she mumbled. "This is bringing it all back." Oh, God. She lasted another 12 hours and then legged it. Honestly, I don't blame her. Being bullied by collies is too much for any one.
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