THERE must have been wailing and gnashing of teeth at Channel 4 when it was finally decided that they couldn't squeeze another series out of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. And then, of course, there were those rumours of exploitation ... So hats off to the bright spark who said, "Hang on a sec, the dresses were the real stars of the show ... and if we looked as if we were doing something for the community ... " And so Thelma's Gypsy Girls (Sunday, Channel 4, 9pm) was (probably) born. Thelma is the creator of the incredible dresses, the executor of the bride-to-be's staggering flights of fancy. "I want to look like a fairy, who's been to Ibiza, then flew through a rainbow ... "
So Thelma is now "giving something back" to the community that has supported her in fine style all these years. She will take on 10 girls as apprentices, teach them her trade, and hope they go on to get jobs and break out of the usual round of cleaning-cooking-minding-kids that awaits most Traveller girls.
But before any of that worthy stuff can happen, the show needs to pack in all the usual cliches of reality TV: "Will her thriving business be pulled apart at the seams?", "risking her money, risking her sanity", "the cost has snowballed", and tears. Tears shed, choked back, threatened. All to try to add a bit of drama to what is, essentially, an ordinary story of moving premises and taking on new staff.
Without the dresses -- they don't appear much in this first episode -- the gypsy girls are the undoubted stars. Whether it's waxing the floors of their caravans in spray-on jeans and crop-tops, cleaning the TV in black bandage dresses and full make-up, or telling their little brothers, "Get out, you ugly bastard", these girls are full of spirit and style.
There's Shannon, 17, an Irish Traveller, and Roseanne, another Irish Traveller, whose day consists of "clean all upstairs, feed all them, clean all downstairs", who says she knows for certain that Lady Gaga is a devil worshipper.
Star of the show was Margaret, 17, again an Irish Traveller, who showed up in a red satin jacket with exaggeratedly pointed shoulders, spray-on black leather leggings and towering heels. Thelma and her sidekick went on about how impressed they were with her incredible "passion", which passion Margaret demonstrated by saying laconically: "I might as well. There's nothing else to do."
Apart from being gorgeous, Margaret is clearly full of mischief and has an appetite for mayhem. If the show scrapes itself off the ground, it'll be largely thanks to her.
THE second episode of Blackout, (BBC 1, Mon, 9pm), was all about the passion, too. Though this time it's passion repressed and misdirected. Secrets, lies and squashed-down fear. Daniel Demoys is mayor, but begins to think the police know more about the murder of a corrupt businessman than they're letting on. He's trying not to drink, but in the manner of a man walking a tightrope with eyes closed and arms outstretched, trusting to fate's sense of the ridiculous.
In keeping with Episode 1, there's an awful lot of actoplasm (like ectoplasm; a saliva-based substance produced by over-emoting actors), mainly from Christopher Eccleston (Demoys). The rest of the cast need to keep things toned down to off-set his passion for being passionate, and so Dervla Kirwan (Demoys' wife) has gone for "silent and grim" as her motivation. A series of silk blouses in strong colours and tense one-liners are all she produces. Those Gypsy Girls could show her a thing or two about projection.
THE corruption of Demoys' unnamed dark city may be taken to extremes, but Show Me Your Money (Channel 4, Wed, 10pm), indicated that a disturbing amount of secrecy regarding pay structures is not uncommon. The idea here was simple -- take a mid-sized firm, in this case a busy plumbers in Pimlico, with no transparency and no agreed pay-rise procedures, get everyone to reveal what they are on, then sit back and watch the ruck. Ultimately, the thinking of boss Charlie, a man with strange Rod Stewart-like hair and a customised number-plate, 'CH4RLE', was that staff would sort it all out themselves. From each according to his means, to each according to his needs, essentially, without costing Ch4rle a penny more.
It turned out that the discrepancies between workers in the same positions was a bit eye-popping. The new guy in the call centre was on £3,000 a year more than the rest of the team, but this was nothing compared with Mark, the mechanic who earned £10,000 less than his workmates. Some of the smart ones -- the highly paid tradesmen -- refused to disclose their earnings. But this didn't keep them out of the negotiations that followed.
Leanne in the call-centre put together a suggestion that the tradesmen all take a small pay cut, with the proceeds shared among the call centre staff, to bring them all up to New Boy's level. She seemed genuinely hurt and surprised when they said no.
Invariably, the lower-paid couldn't understand why the higher-paid needed all that money, and said they, in that situation, would hand a bit over without any fuss. The higher-paid felt they earned what they were worth, and other people's lowly earnings weren't their problem. Really, it was a matter for Ch4rle, but Ch4rle chucked the ball into their court, and, this being TV, they had to play.
Eventually, the PR guy, Karl -- "who thinks he's Max Clifford", according to cheeky Ch4rle -- bowed to pressure and gave £1,000 of his £57,000 a year to Tina in the canteen, who was on just £14,000. But it was clear that Karl did this out of guilt, not because he felt her job should command a better salary.
The mechanics found they could save £30,000 a year in cost-cutting, which was redistributed to even up their salaries. The tradesmen -- reluctantly, one feels -- also bowed to the pressure of looking good on TV and ponied up enough money that, when matched by Ch4rle, levelled things up in the call centre.
Cue a warm fuzzy feeling for viewers, who could go away believing that man was fundamentally sympathetic to man and, when left to himself (with a bit of pressure from Leanne in the call centre), would do the right thing.
I'm not sure I agree, but I'm certain of one thing -- if Karl was responsible for this publicity, he's worth ever penny of his 57k.