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The Undateables: unmentionable

or simply unmissable?
A keen viewer of Channel 4 documentaries, Tannice takes a look at this year's most controversial
documentary series: The Undateables.

Channel 4's been taking a lot of flak for its look at the travelling community, with its ads proclaiming
'Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier.' coming under the scrutiny of the ASA. The Undateables has also split its
audience, weeks before it was screened for the first time tonight. As always, series that examine
people solely due to their disabilities need to be sensitive and good-natured, so how was it?

Opening with one woman's fears she would be the subject of someone's 'fascination f**k', things
didn't immediately bode well and I was concerned that the show would rely too heavily on
fetishising its subjects' disabilities
to the point of nausea. However,
over the course of the
programme, I found that whilst the
voiceover could often be criticized
as slightly patronizing, the tone
was humourous, good-natured
and based in the reality of its three
stars.

It could so easily have been


framed in a way to make us feel
better about our own dating
failures, but we soon came to get
a good understanding of Penny,
Luke and Richard as people,
instead of just labels.

Whilst this isn't the first time a


programme has tackled the subject of love for the disabled, this is the first programme to solely
focus on romance, love and the nerves that everyone faces when they're seeking a relationship.

First up was Richard who, at 6' 1", is described by the dating consultant as a 'good commodity'.
Not the nicest of terms for anyone. Richard has a narrow geographical region of a 5 mile radius but
is very self aware of his own inflexibility, feigning surprise at his mother's insistence that he won't
cope well if his criteria isn't satisfied. Those who've struggled to find Mr or Mrs Right will empathize
with his obvious nerves before his date and his fury with a route finder that simply won't find a
route. His temper flaring several times; "the people who designed it are stupid", Richard is just like
any other man flustered when things don't quite go his way.

In preparation for his date, Richard's mum decides to help him out with a preparatory role-play.
Pretending to be a catering assistant, his mum is seemingly useless at small talk herself, her
answer to his probing "what do you cook?", "Well, meals" hardly conducive to flowing, sparkling
conversation.

Richard goes on two dates, the first a bit of a disaster as he commits the social faux pas of eating
the remnants of his dates' dinner after mistakenly choosing to forego a meal of his own. Seemingly
matched solely for their shared passion for 80s music, 38 year old Dawn wasn't keen. Undeterred,
Richard gives it another go with Patricia, whose accent caused viewers and Richard alike trouble
and a misunderstanding over whether Patricia was green-fingered and enjoyed 'hoeing' rather than
rowing.

Richard takes the impression many people hold about those on the Autistic spectrum and turns it
on its head. Funny, genuine and startlingly self-aware to the point of self-deprecating, "I look good
on paper", Richard is a good catch, putting only Ron Burgundy to shame in his earnest attempts to
show off his 'guns'. He's also got a cracking turn of phrase, deciding, when letting keen Patrice
down, he didn't want to "knock her opulence", as she wasn't quite the one for him.

Luke seemed there to raise a few laughs. Which is good,


to some extent, as he's very much keen to provoke mirth
in his role of a stand-up comic. Good looking, cheerful
and with what you'd assume was swagger, Luke is
actually shy, with little confidence. Doing his best not to
offend others doesn't come easily as Luke's Tourette's
means he often swears at people, his most common
insults seeming to be directed at ladies. Not the best
approach when you're trying to date the woman you just
called a fat s**g. Although the voiceover did make it clear
the swearing form of Tourette's (coprolalia) is actually
fairly rare (10% of Tourette's sufferers do it), it seems he
was likely picked for the show because he fits within the
public's idea of what Tourette's is and it did therefore feel
a little exploitative. Success came fairly quickly for Luke,
with his lady friend, a very pretty cross between Janine
and Whitney from Eastenders, although 40 minutes late
for their second date, saying she was pleased to have
met someone quite so cool.

The third person featured was Penny, a circus performer.


A brave choice of job indeed, given her bone condition.
At the time of filming, Penny was excited to be approaching a full year without breaking anything
(excepting fingers and toes and her ribs).

Keen on the idea of a six-foot tall policeman, Penny was instead paired with Max, a youth worker.
However, they seemed only to have their method of conveyance in common, as they sat in their
wheelchairs in awkward silences only interrupted with fractured, staccato snatches of badly aimed
exchanges.

Max's interview with the documentary makers after their date had faint reminders of reading the
Guardian's Blind Date feature in Weekend, where you'll frequently get one party more interested in
the other. Penny soon learned that sometimes the hardest part of dating is turning down the poor
sod when you're just not interested.

I'm sure many will disagree with me but I thought this first outing of a programme so distastefully
named was sensitive and funny without being heavily exploitative. I won't defend the name other
than to suggest that it was a good way of making a taking point out of a nice look into the lives of
those the 'not-yet-disabled' can often overlook. Many were rightfully concerned that it would be a
freak show, for the cruel to laugh at those portrayed. But the humour ultimately came from the
GSOH of these SWMs and the lovely SWF realising that while you've got to kiss a lot of frogs,
there's plenty more fish in the sea.
The British
Woman on
Death Row: Is
the whole
world watching
this time?
The death penalty hasn't strayed far from our computer and television screens ever since the
execution of Troy Davies in September (Twitter was awash with the hashtag
#thewholeworldiswatching, which now seems to refer to the 'Occupy' movement) and the calls from
blogger Guido Fawkes to reinstate capital punishment in the UK in the summer. Channel 4's latest
documentary brought us the story of Linda Carty, a British citizen (from the former Commonwealth
island of St. Kitts) waiting for her time to be called on Texas' Death Row.

Steve Humphries, the film's director, brought us close to Linda Carty, who has been convicted for
the murder of a woman in May 2001 whose 3-day-old son was also subject to kidnap. In a hour-
long sob-story we're asked to
consider the evidence and
Humphries comes out on the
side of Carty.

Humphries interviews Carty


Image Credit: Channel 4
(screenshot)

In scenes reminiscent of The


Life of David Gale and
Aileen: Life and Death of a
Serial Killer, Humphries
visited Carty on death row to
talk to her about her life and the crime she insists she did not commit. With interviews from friends,
family and an anti-death penalty lawyer, this documentary was very much on the side of the
accused. But what are the facts? Unfortunately, this documentary ventured further into special
pleading than dealing with what really happened.

We heard that much of the evidence against Carty hinged on circumstantial evidence and
testimony from a gang who'd struck a deal with the prosecutor for reduced sentences in return for
their evidence against her. However, nowhere during the documentary did Humphries ever present
one ground of appeal or shred of evidence that Carty was innocent - his approach was simply to
refute the prosecution's evidence.

Another interesting (and, arguably, telling) fact was that the Houston police had no qualms about
giving Humphries full access to the crime scene evidence. Was this a full acceptance by the police
that their case was water tight?
Humphries' final plea for clemency was the idea that if Carty did indeed commit the murder, then
she needs help: a plea for criminal insanity. Unfortunately, that's not an avenue that Jerry Guerinot
(nicknamed the state's undertaker for his infamy as a useless capital case lawyer) ever proceeded
down. It's also something notoriously difficult to prove in court as several experts seem to disagree
on what constitutes a good case for the 'Not Guilty: Reason Insanity' defence, something
increasingly topical today with news about Anders Breivik's case breaking.

Whilst it's obvious that Carty has suffered from rape, abuse and had a good upbringing in a school
that clearly impressed good moral values and the concepts of right and wrong on her young self,
that alone is not evidence she's innocent.

Linda denies the crime she's been convicted of


Image Credit: Channel 4 (screenshot)

Call me heartless but this documentary was overly emotional and reliant on images of Carty's teary
eyes, pleading with the viewer for sympathy. I actually feel Humphries has done Carty a disservice.
It wasn't sympathy that Humphries should have gone for: it was outrage at the basic inhumanity of
the death penalty and a call for a retrial due to the nature of Carty's incompetent defence lawyer.

No documentary will ever be able to set out clearly and comprehensively the arguments of a case,
but this one didn't even seem to try to.

What's wrong with a celebrity


travelogue?
ITV has three celebrity travelogues planned; Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey, Mighty Mississippi
with Sir Trevor McDonald and Cornwall with Caroline Quentin. This reviewer is looking forward to
them.

Why do we prefer watching celebrities presenting a show more than an experienced, eloquent
travel journalist?

There's something homely about watching a much-loved character actor or presenter take us on
holiday. We feel we know them: we've seen them onscreen, through their trials and tribulations with
their misbehaving men or their feisty, boozy side-kicks. We've also watched them relay breaking
news or, in the case of Michael Palin, dress as a Spanish inquisitor and inform us nobody was
expecting him (or the inquisition). There's a certain charm to hearing what a famous face thinks
about a certain area of our world and finding out more about them in the process.

There's certainly not a shortage of these programmes - from memory, we've had Martin Clunes
touring the Islands of Britain, Piers Morgan on Las Vegas, Marbella and Shanghai, The Wonderful
Stephen Fry™ across America, Paul Merton in India and Andrew Marr on cities across the world.

Whilst a lot of a travelogue often relies on the personality and the opinion of the host, whoever that
may be, you often get to see a side of a country you might not otherwise get the opportunity to.
Piers Morgan's series on the excessive glitz and glamour of Dubai was a prime example: profiling
a place few might get to see before the greed of its denizens destroys it, leaving the sand dunes to
reinstate their atrophy and reverting it back to a desert wasteland.

Celebrity travelogues get a lot of flack from serious journalists, arguing that the personalities get in
the way of the reality of the country and the people who live there: it's self-indulgent, egoistic and
exploitative; potentially a way for a Westerner to mock the idiosyncrasies of other cultures, alien to
our own. I've yet to watch one that I'd completely attach those arguments to.

So what makes a good travelogue presenter? I'd argue that humour and humility are the best mix.
Too much of either makes the journey a mocking 'self-discovery' piece and indeed falls into the
trap of self-indulgent nonsense that critics harp on about. I've never been a fan of Western
celebrities going to Africa to cry in front of hungry children, urging us to donate, then coming back
and cashing in on their exposure, when they could have easily donated a large portion of their
salary to whatever cause it is without boosting their own career. Anyway, I digress. A good dose of
humour (directed at themselves, rather than those living there) makes a programme - there's only
so many shots of beautiful landscapes a viewer can watch without admiration turning to out and
out jealousy at the cushy job they've landed. But if you love the celebrity hosting the programme,
you'd probably watch them extolling the virtues of various supermarkets across the UK without
batting an eyelid.

Anyone who's travelled alone will have experienced the loneliness of witnessing a breathtaking
sunset or a striking mountain and having no-one to share it with or relive it in nostalgic times. The
vicarious pleasure of these travelogues is not to be sniffed at.

What do you think of celebrity travelogues? Will you watch ITV's new shows? Do you love them or
hate them? Whose travelogue would you like to see and where should they go? We'd love to hear
your favourites in the comments.
Looking up into a Gleeful Sky
It's not easy being a Gleek... mocking aside, fans now need to ensure they've got a Sky
subscription as Murdoch's empire has got its claws into yet another hit show pinched from E4.

We started the senior year with a focus on what could be a natural end to the show: graduation.
Not too much has changed, but we have said goodbye to 'Trouty Mouth' Sam, Zizes has decided
that last season's Rachel/Finn on-stage kiss killed the cool of the club and Quinn has gone all
eighties-skank-chic, shunning the clean-cut image of Glee. I can almost guarantee it won't last,
given a few clandestine shots of her watching them perform on stage.

However, not all is lost: there's new blood on the scene in the form of 'Sugar' who's 'Apergers' and
not afraid to show it. I'm unconvinced by Glee's foray into showing disabled characters: Artie,
ostensibly wheelchair bound is actually not a disabled actor, a fact that was unknown to me until
last season when he jumped and frolicked around a shopping mall in a dream sequence that felt
misjudged and uncomfortable in equal measure. Becky, however, is another story: her story and
role in the Cheerios as Sue's left hand woman is dealt with sensitively, but Sugar seems to be a
contrived effort to bring humour to a so-far unmentioned area of disability in the show: Aspergers
and Autism Spectrum disorders. I felt certain that I wouldn't be the only one who would be
unimpressed with Glee's 'self-diagnosed' Aspie, who asserted that she could 'say whatever she
wants' because of her illness. As someone who has worked with those on the ASD spectrum, I
found it somewhat disrespectful and completely at odds with the way that people affected actually
experience the social world around them.

I was also surprised to realise that Glee, so far, has not addressed the idea that not all Ohioan
teenagers can sing: you'd think that, with the popularity of American Idol, American's Got Talent
and all the associated 'talent' shows that grip the world in their exploitation of the tone deaf, Glee
would have taken an early opportunity to take advantage of this potential comedy gold mine.

Anyway, back to Glee. What I really love about Glee and what keeps me watching is the guilty
pleasure of watching incredibly talented singers and dancers make their way through some
fantastic show tunes. It's saccharine and unrealistic, it's twee and auto tuned, but watching Lea
Michelle (Rachel) and Chris Colfer (Kurt) sing 'Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead' managed to melt
away all my troubles and makes my heart soar. Storyline, glitter attacks and purple pianos aside, I
can't help but feel glad that Glee is back.
Goodbye Sirens
Channel 4's newest comedy-drama didn't get the neurons firing, but did put a few fractures in my
funnybone.

Luke, thecustardtv's editor, wasn't sure about Sirens: "I couldn't work out who it was for". But Luke
wasn't the only one: the Telegraph called it 'a hellish mess' and Metro also thought it needed
tidying up. As an avid fan, I took another look over the first few episodes and found it far from
wanting.

Sirens is a lot less clever than its sometimes smug characters


think they are, but it suffers from comparisons with similar
workplace comedies like Teachers and No Angels. There's
hardly a dearth of medical programming at the moment, with
Channel 4 itself putting out Embarrassing Bodies, 24 hours in
A & E and stalwarts Casualty and Holby City on the BBC.
No Angels and Green Wing were a hit for Channel 4 and so
Sirens seemed set to follow in their footsteps. Although Green
Wing was funny, it suffered in some quarters for its surrealism
which is why, by comparison, Sirens looks like Green Wing on anti-psychotics.

Stuart, Ashley and Rachid are paramedics. Rachid is the newbie, keen to impress the old hands
and often failing, perhaps best exemplified in his offence at one man's 'TMI' rundown of the pros
and cons of fun with a carrot and why he's likely to need the help of a proctologist. Stuart is stoic, a
self-styled maverick, desperate to prove he's higher than the basic emotions that normal
paramedics are victim to and unaffected by his 'barren' nether regions. Ashley is sweet; private yet
kinky, experimenting with bondage with a short-lived beau.

Episode one, 'up, horny, down' was brave in examining


post-traumatic stress disorder, a subject which is rarely
talked about, despite it being endemic in the emergency
services. Rachid considered his mortality by proposing to
his girlfriend and Ashley, keen to avoid carpopedal spasm
(or wrist sprain), came unstuck when he ventured online
to order a mail-order man to satisfy the aforementioned
'horny' symptoms. Stuart was keen to ignore his feelings,
rallying against them by visiting policewoman and friend
Maxine, a woman whose death gaze you wouldn't want
pointed in your direction. Even though Maxine was
insulted that Stuart had come over to her place to escape
sexual temptation, we also saw the relationship between
the two was gentle and loving: a direction that continued
through their story arc. Later in the series we see
Maxine's heart (and ego) massaged by Stuart to ensure
her and fireman Craig's relationship got off to a good
start. But Stuart clearly holds more than a tealight for
Maxine and this seems like the first two angles of a love
triangle ready for the next series.

Other potential continuing storylines are Stuart's fractured


relationship with his estranged dad, Rachid's troubled
past and Ashley's potential lust for Stuart, who he secretly chose as his ICE (In Case of
Emergency) contact.
Sirens is based on Tony Bagsgallop's blog, a comedy drama for the new media generation, but it
hasn't lost any quality you'd attribute to a professional writer. Sirens reminds me of the Guardian's
'What I'm really thinking' column: a seemingly honest portrayal of the emergency services -
sometimes fun, sometimes serious and always with a dark thread of potential menace and danger
running through it.

Sirens keeps the bloodstream of comedy pumping throughout its six episodes, with a saline drip of
pure drama. But will it be back for a second series, or will it, like the ailing NHS, suffer from
haemmorhaging TV viewers and be put down? This reviewer hopes the waiting times won't be too
long to find out.