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.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test