Last Night's Viewing - The Undateables, Channel 4; All You Can Eat, ITV1


I tied myself in liberal knots of anxiety the last time I reviewed The Undateables, in which Channel 4 paired up the dating show with the disability documentary in the hope that they'd get on famously. I take it everything went well after that first date because here we are nine months on for another series, just as I'm ironing the final kinks out of my ethical consciousness. And within minutes, all the patient work of untangling has gone for nothing.

The question of why we are watching is at the core of the problem. If it's because we want to understand more about some of the conditions portrayed on the show, there's no difficulty at all, I would have thought. Empathy is a pretty uncomplicated good. But television viewers are rarely quite as selfless as that. We seek entertainment too, and the fact that The Undateables can be entertaining makes things much trickier. Amusement and curiosity – both of which you're likely to experience in any given episode – aren't uncomplicated at all. They slide all too easily into mockery and prurience, and it isn't always easy to tell when it's happened.

Take Michael, for example, an autistic 26-year-old who yearns to have a girlfriend but who finds it tricky to negotiate that awkward first meeting. To help him rehearse for a blind date with a girl called Helen, his mother took him to a café for a bit of role-playing. Cue Michael, who marched up to the table and plonked himself down without an introduction. You didn't even check that I was the right person, his mother pointed out gently. Michael went back to his starting position to give it another go. "Are you sure you're Helen?" was his second stab at an insouciant opening gambit. Funny, no? Even his mother thought so and she didn't feel any anxiety about laughing, though Michael couldn't see the joke. But then it's all right for her to laugh because she loves and cares for him. We're just passing by and gawping and our laughter might be a different thing.

There is a sympathy short of love though, and it may be that The Undateable's ability to elicit that is what finally gets it off the hook. You'd have to be a sociopath not to have felt for Brent, who has Tourette's, or Sarah, a pretty 22-year-old who'd been left with aphasia after suffering a stroke. For both of them small talk was a nightmare, in Sarah's case because even the smallest talk is sometimes beyond her and for Brent because he couldn't be sure that it wouldn't come out blue and abusive: "It's basically like going on a date with a live grenade... and hoping it doesn't go off," he said. We accompanied both of them on blind dates, persisting through the early agonies of first encounter to a point at which it was at least clear that the occasion wasn't a humiliating failure. And the sweetness of that didn't seem entirely discreditable.

At least you feel The Undateables has some kind of ethical conscience, not something that can be said of All You Can Eat, an ITV celebration – there really is no other word – of decadent gluttony. While other channels address the obesity crisis with programmes such as Embarrassing Fat Bodies or Weight-Loss Ward, ITV gives us this cheery documentary about supersize food challenges and eating contests. "Today is about a lot of crazy people doing something that's really stupid," said the organiser of a British nettle-eating contest. "We love that sort of thing in this country." They love it even more in America, where Joey "Jaws" Chestnut later took a Nathan's Hot Dog trophy by consuming 68 of the things in just 10 minutes. The only health warning offered in a narration of jaunty witlessness concerned choking hazards. Alongside this, The Undateables was Spinoza.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?