Gogglebox: UK TV at its … finest?

It’s been days since I pleaded with you to get a good VPN and peek into TV from England and Canada and Australia and everywhere else that you can’t get to if they think you’re from the U.S. And now I’m going to do it again, with a review o the frankly impossible UK weekly, Gogglebox.

Frankly, it’s indescribable. It sounds exceedingly silly, even stupid, and you’ll probably have a hard time believing it’s actually entertaining. But think of it in the same way as your first sip of hard liquor – any kind, vodka or bourbon on my beloved single-malt scotch. First taste – why am I doing this to myself Second sip .. well, wait, maybe there’s something worthwhile going on here. Third time… hooked for life (if it’s the right drink). So trust me on this: it’s an acquired taste, it’s totally British and it’s not for everyone, but it’s one of the most popular TV weeklies in the U, and there’s a reason for that.

So here’s the big premise. You choose about a dozen absolutely normal people out there – couples or families, married folks or siblings or best friends – and you don’t bring them into the studio, and you don’t interview them on camera. No. You to to their houses and you install what I assume to be a small, unobtrusive and non-intrusive camera right near their TV. One that it only on a few hours a day, when they’re watching specific programs that you producer-type have chosen for them in that week. Then you take all the footage from all those dozen or more groups, ou stitch the base parts of their comments and reactions to the shows – not reviews, at all, but their experience of watching these shows – and you send it back out to the world in one hour of almost found footage.

Now you’d think this would be just.. abysmal. Sitting here watching people react to episodes of Gladiators or Britain’s Got Talent or the latest nature documentary from Richard Attenborough – is he even still alive?. But in fact… it’s entertaining and revealing and just fun, as you learn about these nice, normal people and what their lives are like, what their world is like, week after week.

The differences between the groups is amazing. You have a brother and sister in their mid-twenties; three generations of an Indian family, a couple of old settled couples in their sixties or beyond, two sisters who can’t stop teasing each other, two best friends who make the most awful bawdy jokes … on and on. And no one segment is more than a few minutes long, so you see their reactions to everything from speeches in Parliament to the season finale of EastEnders to – most recently – the British premiere of Saltburn.

Maybe you’ve taken a look at some of the ‘reaction’ videos on YouTube, or the “let’s play” shows on Twitch, where you sit and watch another person or a couple watch a movie or play a video game … and maybe, like me, you thought before you watched of that this seems absurd: sitting there watching somebody else watch a movie or play a point-and-shoot. But you know what? We sit for hours and hours watching other people play football or baseball or even poker, and that’s perfectly acceptable. In this case of let’s pay or reaction videos, it’s as much or more about the person you’re watching than what they’re watching.

And the exact same thing is true of Gogglebox. Every Friday you get to catch up with your favorite couples – and we’ve seen babies born and their pets joining in, and even a couple passing away. And you get some truly hilarious or even touching insights into what life is like for them.. and weirdly enough, it means something. Watching the various and very real reactions these folks had to the death of their Queen and the coronation of their King was terribly revealing and affecting, and I use “terribly” quite literally this time.

And they do not hold back. At all. The reactions across various groups to one of the key scenes in Saltburn . — you know the one, with the bathtub … and the bathwater? Yeah, that one – was absolutely classic.

I don’t think an American version o this show would work at all – our experience with television and streaming media and cable is just so different now, I think this is unique British. But if you’re even a little bit o an Anglophile, or even a little bit of a straight voyeur, please give in to the siren song and get a damn VPN – I still recommend Nord VPN, but there are plenty out there – and check Channel 4 for Gogglebox. I can’t explain why, exactly. But .. I bet you enjoy it.

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