passes through the looking glass and it’s weirdly compelling

Nanjing Night Net

Gogglebox has all the hallmarks of a hit: great casting, sharp editing and zeitgeist-friendly. Photo: Channel 10 “Would it help to talk about it? Probably. Would it help that it’s happening on television? Probably not,” said Symon. Photo: Gogglebox Instagram

With�0�2Gogglebox, reality TV has passed through the looking glassand perhaps finally landed in the place it always needed to be.

In the 15 years since the genre first landed en masse on our screens, the question has been: why do we want or need ordinary people doing mostly ordinary things beamed in to our living rooms every night? Schadenfreude? Envy? Prurience? A base desire for invading the privacy of others? Those and many other things. And�0�2Gogglebox�0�2– in which viewers are invited to watch other viewers watching television and observe their reactions – both answers the question and indulges the original instinct in a strange blancmange of televised humanity that works brilliantly in spite of itself.

It should, by rights, be unwatchable –�0�2as should some of the dross the�0�2Gogglebox�0�2viewers are watching for our entertainment. Instead, it’s weirdly compelling. It is also very difficult to review, given that the cast assembled by co-producers Channel Ten and Foxtel often come up with cracking one-line critiques that put we professional critics to shame. One might suggest that in lieu of giving these people a television show, they could have been given a television column and let loose with their observations.

There was this critique of a tattooed father-to-be on�0�2One Born Every Minute:�0�2“He looks like he’s about to steal the children and sell them on eBay.”

And our older couple, wine-sipping art lovers Mick and Di, watching the same show: Mick: “I recall changing nappies.” Di: “Well it certainly wasn’t our children.”

The producers wisely included big news events of the week, one of them being coverage of the Liberal leadership crisis from Canberra, an event which provided an instant national focus group that wouldn’t have gone over well in the PM’s office.

“Wake me when it’s over,” was one offering.

“He’s an idiot, that man,” was another.

“You’re a dickhead.”

“Big Mal. Get him in. Solid unit.”

And so forth.

Ten nobly avoided making the program all about its own programs. Seven’s�0�2My Kitchen Rules�0�2got ample airtime, as did Nine’s�0�260 Minutes�0�2and its competing version of the Sydney siege survivors story. If you were wondering how this played in living rooms across the land, here was your answer –�0�2it was gruelling, gut-wrenching television that prompted some surprisingly insightful commentary.

“Would it help to talk about it? Probably. Would it help that it’s happening on television? Probably not,” was the view of Symon, one half of the larrikin-mates duo Symon and Adam.

Of course, Ten’s own current offerings did get a healthy look-in –�0�2notably,�0�2I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here –�0�2during which we learned that there are indeed Australians who wouldn’t mind being buried alive and infested by a battalion of rats. And that the return of a middle-aged Marcia Brady to our screens has been both entertaining and traumatic: “Watching her on this has spoiled my whole�0�2Brady Bunch�0�2experience.”

Whether�0�2Gogglebox�0�2does the same for our wider experience of TV viewing, or whether it enhances our nightly gathering around the living room camp fire, will be revealed in the ratings results. The show did good business with its Foxtel debut on Wednesday, and is likely to show good returns for Thursday’s free-to-air debut on Ten.

It has all the hallmarks of a hit: great casting, sharp editing, zeitgeist-friendly and effortlessly adaptable to the changing television environment. It is extremely funny, at times oddly moving and suggests reality TV needed to go this step too far. Could it be that what we needed to see was not just real people on the telly – we needed to see just what it is about them that makes us tick? Who knows – perhaps the answer will come when we see the inevitable�0�2Gogglebox�0�2sequel –�0�2people watching people watching people watching television. You know it’s going to happen.