Last Night's TV: Seven Dwarves/Channel 4

Wilfred/BBC3

 

When Channel 4 announced that it was dropping Big Brother two years ago the Channel's head said that filling the hole it left in the schedules would involve "the most fundamental creative overhaul in our history". So, what are they treating us to in the week that Channel Five throws open the doors to the Big Brother house for the first time? One of the "event dramas" they promised?

Well, no actually. We're getting the Little People House instead, or Seven Dwarves – an observational series that follows the lives of seven panto performers all living in the same house for a Christmas season. And, like that optical illusion in which a hideous crone turns into a demure young woman and then back again, last night's episode flickered oddly in front of your eyes. "Seven little people with big personalities", promised the jaunty voice-over, and you braced yourself for a tawdry freak show. But then Max came on (Grumpy by casting, but not by nature) and you began to wonder. Is it possible that what was really discomfiting here was our own questionable discomfort? And would a decorous invisibility really be better than a platform, even if it risked turning into a carnival booth from time to time?

The provisional verdict is an acquittal, I think – and not just because the series comes from the same people who made 24 Hours in A&E, a documentary with a pretty good sense of where the line between sympathy and prurience is drawn – but also because nobody on screen has been forced to take part. To imagine that because these people are child-sized their capacity to make informed decisions about their own lives is similarly diminished would make you guilty of exactly the condescending sentimentality that is one of the hazards of their daily life (as evidenced by the impertinent liberties taken by a friendly drunk in a nearby pub). They have had years to get used to people's reactions to their height and are probably far shrewder judges than anyone watching of whether they're being exploited or not – or whether the deal would be worth it to them even if they were.

Last night's episode concentrated on Max, who works in telesales (where his voice is the same size as all his colleagues) but dreams of making it as an actor. Panto didn't really count as a fulfilment of this dream ("It's not really a role. You just have to act as you're named"), but he'd also had a part in a sub-Guy Ritchie film feature, which he hoped might lead in more interesting directions. He was also warily exploring his first relationship with a woman of the same size, a fellow cast member called Karen, who Max described, in a moment of telling euphemism, as "a... petite lady". There are plenty of moments when Seven Dwarves feels as if it has rung the wrong kind of bell, summoning uneasy memories of Psychoville's provocative dance along the borders of good taste. And there are details that strike you as very odd indeed, such as the row of Disney soft-toy dwarves you saw ranged along Josh's bedhead at one point. But it also builds a sense that everyone here is the lead in their own life – and not just a novelty walk-on for a Christmas entertainment. One of the funniest scenes, when Max, Karen and Craig got rolling drunk and delivered a scabrous parody of Snow White round the kitchen table, wasn't funny because they were dwarves, but because they were fully in control of the laughter and which way it was pointing.

Wilfred began with Ryan (Elijah Wood) redrafting his suicide note and gulping down a suicide smoothie. This isn't a conventional opening for a sitcom, but then Wilfred isn't a conventional comedy, rather a strange hybrid of shaggy-dog story and outsider quirkiness. Wilfred is Ryan's neighbour's dog, seen as such by everyone except Ryan and us, to whom he appears as a sardonic doper Australian wearing a knowingly unconvincing dog-suit. Ryan thinks that Wilfred is a symptom of nervous breakdown, but it's soon clear that he's going to become Ryan's best friend, tutoring him in the more instinctive life. And, once you've got used to its low-key pace, it's genuinely funny, with Wilfred alternating between the administration of slacker philosophy and a hapless submission to his own doggy instincts, as when the friendly ear-ruffling of a pretty waitress ends in Wilfred's vigorous attempt to mate with her leg. Take a sniff. You might like it.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices