The Unemployables review - 'If your tastes run to arts docs you'll think it's mushy crapola, if not you'll enjoy it fine'
Format is the golden goose in television, isn’t it? Think up a new format (or, ahem, “borrow” someone else’s and tweak it) and watch the money roll in. Especially if it’s something that translates, and thus can be sold, around the world.
The Unemployables, RTE’s new lifestyle show which began tonight, has a reasonably new format (certainly, I haven’t seen anything quite like it before – maybe you lot have). Jennifer Maguire and Darren Kennedy take two young people under their wings to help them off the scrapheap of unemployment, apathy, lack of focus and general despair at where their lives are (or aren’t) heading.
This week we met Limerick lad Jamie-Lee and Chloe from Waterford. He’s 19, living with his mother, and does nothing all day but play videogames. He dreams of joining the army but is hilariously clueless – borderline delusional – about how to achieve anything.
He’s a very likeable kid, garrulous and good-natured and a little bit flaky, and a clever choice for this first episode: you really want him to succeed. You’re rooting for the guy straight away.
Chloe is a good choice too. She’s 23, also living with her mam. She’s put an Arts degree on hiatus, and does voluntary work in dance therapy with Parkinson’s sufferers, while she tries to work out what she wants to do with her life. As with Jamie-Lee, the viewer is rooting for Chloe: she’s sweet and charming, a bit shy, even insecure, beset by doubts.
The hosts put the pair through a fairly rigorous and well-structured series of tasks and challenges. They meet a PR expert who advises on CVs and interviews. Jamie is shocked out of his complacency through tough exercises on a bracingly cold beach. Chloe meets a group of businesspeople to improve her confidence and learn how to network.
Strengths and weaknesses are assessed, and both are thrown in at the workplace deep end. Jamie-Lee gets door-to-door selling and labouring at a fishmongers (which provides some amusingly disgusting moments). Chloe is sent on a brisk tour of several places: gym, fashion agency, Oxfam shop.
For a finish, each secures an interview: he in sales, she as a hotel receptionist. Do they get the job? Yeah, ‘course they do: this is TV, dummy. As A-Ha once sang, the sun always shines there and a happy ending is guaranteed.
The programme itself was grand; no better nor worse than most Reality TV shows. That sounds like mealy-mouthed praise, but it’s actually not meant to be. If your tastes run to True Detective and arts documentaries, you’ll think it was mushy crapola; if you’re into this sort of thing, you’ll enjoy it fine.
Kennedy’s a very affable host; Maguire not so much, but she seems genuine in wanting to help, offers some good no-nonsense advice, and provides an important little edge of “bad cop” to get these slackers moving again. The show probably wouldn’t work as well if both presenters were very easy-going and forbearing.
The worst failing is one of time: at the bones of an hour, The Unemployables is far too long. Padded out and stretched almost to breaking point, it makes the pace sluggish and makes your interest dwindle.
Thirty minutes would be fine for this format. Then who knows? Repackage it for global sell-on and start ordering that gold-plated yacht.