Last Night's Viewing: The Audience, Channel 4
Wartime Farm, BBC2

 

The Audience may be the maddest idea for a reality show since Big Brother was first conceived. It can certainly boast the maddest visuals, with regular establishing shots designed to reinforce the essential set-up, which is that a decision about a serious life crisis or personal dilemma is outsourced to 50 complete strangers. What you see is one solitary figure, back bowed by tribulation, being followed along a road by a shuffling retinue of observers, notionally there to conduct surveillance on his life.

In the barmiest moment of yesterday's opener, Ian, a dairy farmer, who's absolutely sick of tugging at udders for minimum wage, sat down for a quiet lunch with his girlfriend, Sandy, as the audience (they are always referred to as a collective entity) crammed around the French doors trying to eavesdrop on their "routine" conversation. No one involved seemed to have heard about the observer effect, or to give a damn about it if they had.

Ian's plight was rather neatly summed up by a close-up of the farm sign – "Home Farm". The associations were cosy but it was mildewed and neglected, a nice emblem for the trap of family obligation in which he finds himself snared. Raised by his uncles after his father left his mother when he was very young, Ian now does pretty much everything on the farm for very little reward, prevented from leaving by a sense of duty. His mother – who frankly looks to be quite comfortable off herself – also encourages him to stay, effectively paying off a debt she incurred when she threw herself on her brothers' mercy. Meanwhile, his uncles treat him like a child and his girlfriend is getting increasingly testy about the fact that she never sees him.

Among the people assembled to weigh up this intractable tangle of emotion, economy and thwarted ambition were Tiger, a stunt woman, Paul the plumber and John, a cabaret artist, who one can only hope didn't typify the general level of knowledge about agricultural life: "One picks up a lot from The Archers about farming," he said. But, although the hive-mind initially seemed to react as if they were responding to a soap opera, getting so indignant about Ian's treatment that you feared they might march on the uncles' farmhouse with pitchforks and blazing torches, subsequent revelations about the family's history left them more ambivalent and sympathetic.

The structure is carefully manipulated to make them dither, tugging sympathies this way and that. But when it finally came down to it, the collective wisdom decreed – after a few tears for the camera – that Ian should put his foot down and leave. Ian, who seems to have an instinctive flair for the narrative appetites of reality television, then put a cherry on the thing by proposing to the long-suffering Sandy in front of his delighted advisers. Whether his decision will stick – in the face of a family's continuing ability to work the levers of guilt – I don't know. But either way, Channel 4 should get another series out of it in five years' time when it goes back to find out whether the mob ruined lives or improved them.

Wartime Farm (the latest instalment of the BBC's re-enactment history lesson) doesn't look very different to Home Farm, rather underlining Ian's complaints that his uncles had got a little behind the times in their methods. But what was intriguing here was the reminder that, provided there was a sense of shared adversity and common purpose, minimum wage and long hours needn't be incompatible with happiness. Five years passed in a flash, said a former land girl, because they felt useful and were having so much fun. Not sure I will ever be able to apply the instruction we received in constructing a silage clamp, but I very much like the idea of a pig club. You chip in with garden waste and the dividend's paid in fresh pork.

twitter.com/tds153

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
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.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform