It is rare - very rare - that I get excited about a new reality TV show. I don't much care to see people trying to survive like Vikings, or buy the perfect wedding dress. Not since the very early days of Big Brother have any of them seemed like a genuinely interesting sociological experiment. Until now that is.
Hunted, Channel4's latest attention-grabbing six-part series, stands a very good chance of being fascinating, and alarming. The premise of what is being dubbed a 'real life thriller' is that 14 ordinary people go on the run for 28 days, trying to stay hidden in a society that increasingly monitors and records our every action, while being actively tracked by a group of experts in the field.
It's like The Bourne Identity crossed with The Pelican Brief, and about two-dozen other Hollywood blockbusters. Because this is the staple of most thrillers - the chase. Can the hero/heroine disguise and hide himself or herself and evade capture? What resources - of skills, friends, experiences - can he or she draw on to help them stay free? So in the trailer we see people running through water, through woods, cutting their hair, being chased by dogs, being monitored on sinister, grainy CC TV. "It doesn't matter who you are or what you think, we'll find you," intones the voice-over.
This is truly alarming, not manufactured 'Oh-my-God-the-guest-will-be-here-in-10-min-utes-and-the-souffle-isn't-ready' put-on type hysteria. The fugitives have limited funds, and no help or company beyond one silent cameraperson in tow. Clearly they need to avoid all the obvious give-aways, like cash withdrawals, social media and supermarket shopping, but thereafter, what seems likely to really frighten viewers, is just how difficult it is to avoid your journeys being tracked and your personal details monitored.
Leading the hunt is Brett Lovegrove, previously head of counter-terrorism for the City of London police and a senior investigating officer in SCD5, a Met unit dedicated to tracking paedophiles, who emphasises the authenticity of Hunted procedures: "What you'll see in Hunted is very similar to an operation you would see run by a police or security service." As part of the search, hunters are allowed use all methods available to the State, including open-source intelligence-gathering and interrogation of friends and family. Participants have given permission for their bank records to be monitored and homes searched. For Lovegrove, it's a matter of professional pride, but what of the prey, those who chose to go on the run?
Among the fugitives, who travel alone or in pairs, the motivations are interestingly various. For Harry and Dove Singh, two brothers from Leicester, this was a chance to see if "in this day and age, with all the technology available, can a person really disappear?" However, for Ricky Allen, a 55-year-old GP from Kent, volunteering as prey was driven by his fury at increasing government intrusion and social apathy. "We're tiptoeing towards an all-overseeing, all-powerful Big Brother," he says, unable to understand why there isn't more public outrage. Of his experiences in Hunted, he said "I found it quite liberating. We're the only animal on the planet who doesn't live in fear there might be a predator around the corner. So I think not being under threat makes our lives a little hollow."
We've all wondered just how much of our lives are accessible to forces we don't know or fully understand. We've all wondered could we, one day, simply disappear if needed, and hide all traces of our movements. Would we make it, out in the big bad world, alone? Well, here's a chance to watch the best efforts of others, and maybe take a few notes.
Hunted starts on Thursday at 9pm on Channel4
Sunday Indo Living