Last night's viewing - Sex: My British Job, Channel 4; Peter Andre: My Life, ITV2
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Tuesday 24 September 2013
Documentary-maker Nick Broomfield is one of those directors who's as happy in front of the camera as he is behind it. And that's putting it mildly. Fetishes, the film Broomfield made about sex workers, was set in a swanky "fetish parlour" on Manhattan's 5th Avenue and ended with him climbing a door frame, sound boom in hand, to escape the attentions of a bevy of randy dominatrix.
So in Sex: My British Job, it was amusing to see Broomfield relegated to the status of delivery boy and occasional giver of pep talks, despite his best efforts to insert himself in the action. That was your lot in terms of light relief, however. The real star of the film was investigative reporter Hsiao-Hung Pai (with whom Broomfield also worked on Ghosts), who went undercover as a housekeeper, risking safety and sanity to give us an idea of life in some of London's 2,000-plus brothels.
This was only possible thanks to a pair of thick-rimmed glasses with a tiny camera embedded in the frame. Wearing these allowed Pai to surreptitiously film whatever she saw at eye-level. It could have gone either way, but fortunately for the viewer, the effect was less like watching outtakes from the sitcom Peep Show and more like an impressive preview of the Google Glass-sponsored future. We were not only observing the world of the brothel maid from close quarters but experiencing it as if through her own eyes.
As soon became clear, Sex: My British Job was not really a programme about sex, or even the seedy underbelly of the sex trade, but the tragically liminal status of Britain's illegal immigrants, who make up an estimated 80 per cent of the brothel workforce. As a maid, Pai must work from 10am to 2am with no days off, for £200 a week, and that's assuming her boss, Mary, is in a wage-paying kind of mood.
Dickens himself couldn't have written a more caricatured villain than the real-life Mary. Often sporting only a towel and a scowl, she begins each morning by praying to the money god idol, kept on her mantelpiece. It was a rare daily pause in the otherwise constant stream of invective and psychological abuse issuing from her mouth. When Pai eventually confronted her at the end of the film, the moment was as satisfying as any fictional denouement. But, really, who needs 19th-century-set drama like The Mill when this sort of misery is taking place right now in an anonymous terraced house near you?
Over on ITV2, Australian-born Peter Andre was enjoying a remarkably different immigrant experience. At the opening of the fifth season of his reality show Peter Andre: My Life, he is just 40 and has already taken full advantage of the opportunities afforded by this great nation: sexual congress with Katie Price, a house where sparkling mineral water runs on tap, and now his own line of ladies' perfumes. Luckily, Peter's breathily excited assistant was on hand to explain what a big deal this latter achievement is – otherwise, I confess, I may not have been sufficiently impressed.
No one could fail to be awed by Andre's mastery of the celeb world's lingua franca, however. His humble-bragese was note-perfect throughout: "There's not enough hours in the day," he sighed during a business meeting in a luxury country hotel. "But I'm grateful." In fact, the worst that can be said about the relentlessly humble Peter Andre is that he's often a little late to appointments. Even by the low, low standards of "scripted reality" that made for rather a weak dramatic arc. Naturally, this didn't stop producers devoting a major strand of last night's episode to our hero's struggles with his punctuality demons.
It would seem that the time has come for ITV2's bosses to finally face the truth: if reality television is therapy for celebrities, the well-balanced Peter Andre has completed his course and must now be released back into the community.
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