Tans, tools and trashy television

Some people will watch anything and everything that is on television, and there’s others that will only watch a core selection of programmes and refuse to watch anything else. I, like most people, am somewhere in the middle.

That’s the reason why, when scanning the 4OD website for something to watch during my free week (I’d exhausted BBC iPlayer by this point) I decided that two shows in particular seemed like an easy watch and a bit of a laugh. I was right on both counts.

First of all, Tool Academy. Based on an American format, which has run to three series, this show featured twelve men who believed their girlfriends had put them forward for Britain’s Ultimate Lad, before it was revealed that they were, basically, on a relationship counselling show.

With names such as ‘Temper Tool’ and ‘Football Tool’, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were trying to create a male version of the Spice Girls. The word ‘tool’, by the way, is apparently slang for a penis. No, I’d never heard of it either. The basic premise of the series is to put the ‘tools’ and their respective other halves through challenges to help them improve on their relationship, with the one who has made the least progress booted out each week.

Ah, the other halves. At one point I started to think I’d accidentally put Footballer’s Wives on instead, such were the fake tans and inch-thick make up on the women.  They seemed as though they’d signed up for the fifteen minutes of fame rather than healing their relationship problems.

One had only been with her boyfriend for four months before coming on the show. Another nominated her boyfriend because she thought he was ‘a bit gay’. Seriously, girls. If you don’t like him, dump him. Sure, in the case of the couple that had been married eleven years, counselling could work. But it’s not really needed four months into a relationship.

Another reality show which caught my eye was Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. I’d heard a couple of people talking about this on the bus a day or two previously, and what they said sounded interesting.

Interesting, it turned out, was only one word to describe it.

The first in a five-part series focusing on the travelling communities in Britain, it showed two girls, a seventeen year old bride and a young girl preparing for her first Holy Communion.

The apparent conflict between a modern dress sense and traditional attitudes jumped out as the biggest shock. Dressed in little more than shorts and a bikini top at times, the girls explained to the camera that they were not allowed to go out alone, have sex before marriage and wouldn’t work.

One girl was filmed buying a dress for a wedding and said she thought nothing of her parents spending £300 on a dress she would only wear once. In a community where large families are the norm, so, it seems, are expensive dresses.

The young girl whose Holy Communion was featured was bought a custom-made pink dress which weighed more than her. When she turned up to the church, her classmates appeared to laugh at her extravagent outfit.

In a community where the Holy Communion seems to be a dress rehearsal for the wedding day, the wedding dresses are almost impossible to comprehend. The bride’s dress was almost as wide as she was high, and struggled to sit in both the car and on the chair in the reception.

Reading comments on the show, one thing that seemed to rile users with knowledge of the travelling community was the custom of ‘grabbing’. This was explained to be where a boy would grab a girl against the wall and ask her for a kiss, twisting her arm if she said no.

Many of the comments said that they had never heard of this concept before and those that had explained that it wasn’t as common as the show seemed to make out. Furthermore, the commenters were keen to make a distinction between the Irish travelling community featured on the show and that of Romany gypsies. They felt that it wasn’t made clear that it was Irish travellers, and that it could lead to a negative portrayal of the Romany community.

Both shows are the sort of ‘trashy television’  shows that areusually so bad it’s actually quite good. If you’re looking for a guilty pleasure to while away the cold winter evenings, look no further, even if it’s only to laugh at how orange everyone seems to be.


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