The Only Way Is Essex
Everyone has his or her own way of relaxing and unwinding. Some people smoke the occasional cigarette. Others enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the day. A few indulge in masturbation to an unhealthy extent. I do all of these things, but my preferred method for relieving stress is crap television. I’m not just talking X Factor here; I’m talking really bad stuff. Programs like Snog, Marry, Avoid, Pineapple Dance Studios and Four Weddings ask nothing of the viewer in terms of brain activity and are a good reminder that, even when I’m feeling down, my life could be a whole lot worse.
My friends are aware of my hobby and so it was not long after the first episode of The Only Way Is Essex that people started getting in touch about this new show that I would “absolutely love”. They were right, as I was soon to discover the highlight of the shit TV autumn schedule.
The Only Way Is Essex is a docusoap in the vein of American reality shows like The Hills and Jersey Shore. This format of program involves the participants re-enacting actual events from their lives in front of cameras in a way that is more dramatized than how human beings actually behave. This results in something similar to giving a Hollyoaks script to a group of people who cannot act and asking them to perform it. Which I believe was also the actual premise behind Hollyoaks.
The show is based around a collection of individuals from Essex’s ‘social elite’ whose lives are all, luckily for the plot, interconnected in some way. There is the main star and villain Mark Wright who doesn’t seem to have a real job but has a lot of money and a sidekick called ‘Arg’ who is retardedly shy and probably a little bit in love with his best mate. Mark’s ex is Lauren, a woman he dated for nine years and who regrettably has his name tattooed on her genitals. Their story looks set to dominate the first series, with Mark not sure whether he wants to ever see Lauren again or get back with her and ask her to marry him. Either way you don’t really care, you just have to revel in how much of an idiot prick this Mark chap is.
Other characters of note include a beauty therapist called Amy, who wants to be the next Jordan, a nightclub owner called Kirk who gets an image of Amy tattooed on his leg in an effort to win her affections, Amy’s cousin Harry who I would guess to be the love child of Andrew Stone and Gollum, and Nanny Pat – Mark’s pint-sized grandmother who brings him food, does his ironing and has a face as wrinkled as Ronnie Corbett’s left testicle.
All of the show’s regulars conveniently go to the same nightclubs, restaurants and events, which means there is always a bit of drama. Highlights include Lauren calling Mark a cunt for turning up at her birthday with ‘some bird’, Mark being wound up about Lauren chatting with ‘some bloke’ at the Essex speed dating event, and Kirk getting in a strop with Amy for dancing with ‘some fella’ at the sixties fancy dress party. It really is enthralling stuff.
The best way of enjoying this program is by treating it like an amateur theatre production where the actions and dialogue actually have an affect on the actors’ lives. The Only Way Is Essex is filmed just a few days in advance so every bitchy conversation and nasty remark will be watched by all the other characters. This isn’t a particularly nice thought but it does make things a lot juicier and means that the show improves with every episode.
Critics have slammed it as a misrepresentation of Essex but I’m not sure whether anyone who watches it could actually give a shit. The show doesn’t claim to be a gritty portrayal of real life; it is after all based on the concept of The Hills. After being fed every reality TV idea conceivable, Britain’s couch potato community now wants something a bit fake, which is why this show has been successful and Channel Four’s Seven Days was not.
You can judge me all you want for loving this stuff but until the BBC or someone else produces a decent comedy, this will be the program I tune into for a laugh.
The Only Way Is Essex is shown on Wednesdays and Sundays at 10pm on ITV2.