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

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen