TV review - The Fried Chicken Shop (Channel 4) served up something surprisingly tender
Arifa Akbar is literary editor of The Independent and i newspapers. She has worked at The Independent since 2001 as a news reporter and arts correspondent before joining the books desk in 2009. She was a judge for the Orwell Prize for books, 2013, and is currently a judge of the Fiction Uncovered Prize, 2014.
Tuesday 17 September 2013
The Fried Chicken Shop should really have been the worst kind of junk-food TV. Consider the concept on paper: a fly-on-the-wall camera crew pitch up for three weeks at a south London fried chicken takeaway to film the finger-lickin' goings-on of its (more often than not) loud, drunken patrons. Imagine the poetic symmetry if it were aired late on a Friday: drunk people eating a takeaway on their sofas after a night out, watching drunk people eating a takeaway in a takeaway shop after a night out.
But lo and behold, while this hour-long documentary began with a pitch not dissimilar to the awfulness of those shows on Brits behaving badly (in Ibiza, in Benidorm, in Ayia Napa and now on Clapham High Street), it morphed into something textured, tender and poignant. This is perhaps unsurprising, seeing as Roosters Spot – let's call the takeaway shop by its name – had already appeared in an acclaimed Cutting Edge documentary in February.
Its nondescript frontage in Clapham (two doors down from a McDonald's) belied the den of love, laughter and the occasional "after hours" brawl brewing inside, a voiceover told us at the beginning. There was no brawling in this first episode and some laughs – a group of men singing "we want chicken in our face", football-anthem style, as they waited for their order. What shone through was how much "love" – either the real deal or its approximation, or even, in some cases, impromptu attempts to find it over a bucket of fried chicken wings – existed within these sticky walls. That didn't include the lad who bore an uncanny resemblance to the "square one" from The Inbetweeners, who tried to pull a girl by asking her if she believed in love at first sight ("or shall I come over [to you] again?"). She got up and left pretty soon afterwards.
Strangers flirted, couples giggled or bickered, friends bitched ("He looks at other girls," one teenager complained. "Maybe he thinks you're not attractive," her so-called friend retorted). Jessie, Clapham High Street's resident 60-year-old transvestite, was given some air time: "Sometimes I look great, sometimes I look ridiculous. But even if I look ridiculous, I'm still doing what I want to do. I'm saying 'you can do what you want to do, too'."
Then, greater camaraderie bloomed. There was the fast friendship between Imran and Harris, the Pakistani men working behind the counter. "He's my best friend," said Harris, who spoke of his dream to one day run his own Italian restaurant, and then, more delicately, about his feelings for his Italian girlfriend ("I like her… and I love her too, but I haven't told her I want to marry her… maybe I'm shy").
There was a surprisingly lovely friendship between two tipsy young women, Cece and Lulu ("she's perfect," said either Cece or Lulu, of the other one). There was an adorable young couple, Leah and Tyrone, who met in "year seven" and now "me and Tyrone love each other". She wanted marriage, he wasn't as game, but they both wanted a baby, a house, a life together. The last time we met them, she was pregnant and they were on cloud nine.
Love was clearly in the air, even when the lads came in. One lusted after Asian women, looking dreamily outside as they walked past. Cool urban kids said they'd never bring a girl in here for a date. A middle-aged man talked about the ultimate vow of marriage to Imran in Punjabi. The Inbetweener and his friends ruminated on the subject too: "I would say it's hard to meet girls in London..." he said, before adding: "My big plan is to get married and have kids but I'm not sure it's ever going to happen." Who knew such vulnerability could be found in a fried-chicken shop. I bet the inside of McDonald's, two doors down, wouldn't be half as interesting.
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