TV

One of the best things about Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends (BBC2) is that he almost never looks at the camera. This might sound like a rather meagre foundation on which to build an approving review but, technical detail though it is, it amounts to a matter of morality rather than mere style. It is all too easy for programmes like this - in which a presenter sifts other people's lives and beliefs for the explicit purpose of entertainment - to turn sour and exploitative, however unsympathetic you might find the victims of the exploitation. This is particularly true for Weird Weekends because the show has a kind of fib as its premise - the conceit that the presenter is searching for a personal truth amongst the people he visits. So, in the programme about Born Again Christians, Theroux introduced himself as a doubter ripe for conversion, anxious to know more about the possibilities of eternal salvation. And whatever you think of the cheesy spirituality of the tele-evangelists, it was difficult not to feel at times that he was engaged in a kind of fraudulent exchange, extorting sincere concern in return for a forged need.

Two things prevent this from being distasteful, I think. The first is Theroux's screen character, a studied blend of hesitancy, boldness and candour. His air of disingenuous eagerness clearly lulls some of his subjects into an unwise confidentiality but, when Theroux disagrees with what's just been said, he generally says so to people's faces and does it in a way that allows for an answer; he doesn't wait for the safety of the dubbing suite to get in the last, sarcastic word. The second saving grace is that he doesn't make the camera a co-conspirator in mockery, turning to it for a covert sneer. This requires some resolution, because the lens offers all kinds of temptations to a presenter alone in the wilderness - it allows him to disassociate himself from what he dislikes, to sneakily recover from any humiliations, to ingratiate himself with an audience that may be far more judgmental than he is.

Resisting those temptations involves a certain amount of risk. I'm not going to strike any kind of gallantry medal for Theroux here, because ultimately he remains in control of what happens. But there is a sort of bravery in not taking out insurance against what the viewer might feel. This was most conspicuous in last night's programme about porn, a film which began in frivolous mood as Theroux toured a video warehouse giggling at the range of specialist titles (A Dick Runs Through It; Tongue-Fu; Anal Witness IV) and discussed the hazards of "waiting for wood", but which became more and more sombre as it went on. After visiting a producer whose oeuvre included rape and abduction scenes, Theroux's free-wheeling liberalism hit the buffers - he made his apologies and left. You might argue that there was a duty to moralise here, not just a temptation - but beyond making his own disquiet fairly clear Theroux left the conclusions to you. He made a face as he emerged, it's true, but even here he didn't look directly at the viewer, as if to make sure you hadn't missed his finer feelings. And by including the scene and talking about the dangers of industry (two performers had recently tested positive for Aids) he made sure that the film wasn't flippantly indifferent to its human cost. As in previous programmes, he also built an honest relationship with the people he encountered - particularly JJ, a strange child-man who showed Theroux his collection of Godzilla videos in between penetrating various gum-chewing women and whose shell of insouciance failed to give to Theroux's gentle prising.

There are less formal kinds of boldness too - interviewing a straight man who had just finished shooting a gay sex scene Theroux pressed rather harder on the sensitive issue than most people would have dared; "c'mon, you must have enjoyed it" he exclaimed as the young man made his own exculpating grimaces. Nor would many presenters end such a film with a Polaroid of their naked body being passed around porn professionals for general comment. In that ribald, funny montage Theroux exposed himself to ridicule - which somehow made it all right that he occasionally does the same thing to others.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

    £27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

    Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

    £17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'