The Weekend's TV: Holiday Hijack, Sun, Channel 4
Sugartown, Sun, BBC1

A dose of reality is just the ticket

I don't know what the participants in Holiday Hijack thought they were signing up for, but if they were genuinely surprised by the sudden change in their travel plans after a day of luxury the working title must have been something like "Yes, There Is Such a Thing As a Free Lunch".

You'd ask a few questions, wouldn't you, if Channel 4 pitched up and said "we'll pay for you to take a five-star holiday in a tropical location"? "What's the catch?", for one. And if you didn't it would suggest either breathtaking vanity on your part, or a stupefying lack of curiosity. To be honest, you couldn't entirely rule out the latter with Louise and Natalie, Dan and Alex – four representatively solipsistic hedonists who were first up for Channel 4's culture-shock therapy. They thought (notionally at least) that they were going to be pampered and cosseted. In fact, just one day in to their stay in The Gambia they were pulled out of their gulag of indulgence and sent to live with a local family.

BBC Three has done this kind of thing quite a lot – rubbing the noses of spoiled Westerners in the bracing Third World realities that underpin their pleasures, and the genre has a number of fixed requirements that Channel 4's version efficiently ticked off. There must be flagrant bad behaviour initially, followed by ordeals of heat, odour and primitive plumbing and then finally a welter of tears, as those taking part sob out a hymn of praise to the exemplary courage of those they've been billeted on. And, as you may just be able to detect, it's easy to become a little cynical about the format and its glib moral instruction. Except, of course, that the moral instruction is necessary and not everyone is going to get it by buying a subscription to the New Internationalist.

The four guinea pigs began by establishing their credentials as unthinking exploiters, encouraged to talk up their dependence on room service and their exacting standards of hygiene and comfort. One of them was seen, shortly after arrival, quizzing the front desk about whether the beach towels were Egyptian cotton, which I don't believe for a moment is her routine practice on arriving at a new resort. What's she planning to do if they're not? Check out again? Never mind; this little pantomime satisfactorily established her as a spoiled princess, the better to contrast with the contrite and ethically aware Cinderella into which she was about to be transformed. And then, just as they were winding down on the sun loungers after filming some establishing shots, their host, Bella, arrived.

The next bit is always quite hard to watch, since it involves polite and hospitable people having their hospitality cast back into their face. "No! No!" shrieked one of the women when they were shown Bella's family bathroom – a selection of buckets alongside a clean but seat-less lavatory (facilities which could quite easily have been the pride of the neighbourhood). And when it turned out that they would have to eat with their hands from a communal dish, like many ordinary Gambians, there was a giggling attempt at tact so hamfisted that open insult would probably have been preferable: "We had a big lunch... don't know what my excuse is going to be tomorrow". It was shameful, as were the fastidious hissy fits Dan threw when he was asked to help at the local fish market. All that was necessary, though, in order to give them something to be ashamed of later – when they weepily realise that their priorities might be a little awry. And, however confected the early sections are, the acts of penitence still look reasonably genuine and there's something touching about the tearful farewells in the final act. But I do hope the host family got a very generous fee for supplying social enlightenment to their guests instead of a mint on the pillow.

I cannot for the life of me work out why BBC1 are transmitting a children's programme at 10.25pm on a Sunday, though it's hard to see Sugartown as anything else, so guileless is its plotting and so jauntily empty of threat are its characterisations. It's the kind of big ensemble drama where comic pizzicato is in heavy demand on the soundtrack and the challenges of life are framed as a kind of gang-show, with everyone pulling together to triumph over adversity. It isn't a terrible children's programme, incidentally, if that's what you want to watch. It's set in a run-down Yorkshire seaside town named in honour of its biggest local employer, a rock and confectionery factory that has seen better days. One brother (the good boy) struggles to keep the factory going; another (the sexy bad one) plans to sell it off to finance a casino. There's also a rivalry over a pretty girl, a long-lost orphan, and an attempt to relaunch a dance academy, which will allow for the occasional disco-backed chorus-line number. If you think that ageing hippies say things like "Let me stir-fry something into your think-wok, Ken", then you may find it an acute and heartwarming study of community solidarity under pressure. If you're not convinced by that line you might want to steer clear, because there are quite a lot of others like it, as well as boilerplate stuff such as "Everything's just a game to you isn't it? Who cares whether you break a heart or two along the way?" Cocoa for the mind, I think.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor