In the cracks between

IssueApril - May 2024
Comment by Virginia Moffatt

When Gogglebox first started back in 2013, I was not immediately wowed by the concept – a TV show about people watching TV sounded like television was finally eating itself. To my surprise, the programme took off and after a while I thought I’d take a look and see what the fuss was about. 

10 years later, it’s become a regular fixture in our house, because the seeming banality of folk in front of the telly has proved to be anything but. In fact, much like the fictional show The Royle Family, which partly inspired it, Gogglebox proves to be funny, astute and moving while also celebrating ordinary human relationships.

The format of the show is simple, each week the cast members are filmed in their living rooms watching the same programmes – a mix of light entertainment, drama, film, news, documentary. 

As we see snippets of what they are watching, the camera jumps from household to household to document their reactions, with gentle running commentary from former Royle Family star Craig Cash (originally Caroline Aherne till her death in 2016). 

That’s all there is to it. 

And yet it works, thanks to the warmth and wit of the participants and the (usually) interesting range of shows they watch.

There are a number of things that make Gogglebox a must watch for me. Firstly, it’s a really effective way to review TV and film. When four or five households in a row have gasped, wept, laughed or danced in response to what’s on their TV screens, it’s a good indication that the show is worth watching.

Thanks to Gogglebox, we found Line of Duty, Happy Valley and Mare of Eastown and have known to avoid duds such as Obsession. While their stunned reactions to a weird little film about a woman having sex with a duck and that infamous scene in Saltburn were a joy to behold.

Secondly, the cast members are, for the most part, lovely and very funny. 

The original cast included the fabulous June and Leon (now deceased), who were warm, affectionate, and politically astute; the often drunk Dom and Steph, lively friends Sandi and Sandra, snarky hairdressers Stephen and Chris and the insightful Siddiqui family – Sid and sons Raza, Umar and Baasit – (the only ones still in the show). 

Over time, most of the original cast have been replaced by, among others, the ribald David and Shirley, several pairs of hilarious siblings, Sophie and Pete, Izzi and Ellie, Amara and Amani, Simon and Jane and (my favourites) best friends Jenny and Lee. 

Watching them tease each other, make ridiculous mistakes (such as Lee eating Jenny’s face cream thinking it was yoghurt) and enjoy each other’s company is the height of comfort TV. And while there is a lot of humour at the heart of the show, there is also a lot of seriousness too, particularly during lockdown when many of them voiced the stresses we were all feeling.

My final reason for enjoying Gogglebox is that the participants are genuinely ordinary people drawn from all over the UK and taken from all walks of life. 

As a result, when faced with politics or news stories, we often get a flavour of how the country thinks beyond the Westminster Bubble. 

In the Theresa May years, the Goggleboxers were quick to point out her inadequacies and to give Jeremy Corbyn a fair hearing. And though Boris Johnson had some fans initially, he soon lost them with due to his behaviour in lockdown. Liz Truss was ridiculed and Rishi Sunak has few fans. 

While Keir Starmer has benefited from this, he doesn’t appear to be held in high regard. And when it comes to the royal family, though the queen’s jubilee was generally well received, and her death lamented, Charles, Camilla and the rest of the gang seem less popular than she was, which gives me hope that public perception is finally shifting on the monarchy. 

In a world that seems to get grimmer by the day, we need to be reminded that people, for the most part, are kind, caring and empathetic. Gogglebox is a great reminder of that, while also showing us some great telly and making us laugh. What’s not to love about that?

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