Look who's on the Goggle box!
As Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell sign up for a charity special of our favourite TV show, Ed Power asks whether the supers can be as entertaining as us ordinary folk.
If you've ever wondered what it might feel like to squeeze up on a couch alongside Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell or Noel Gallagher - come on, we've all thought about it - a celebrity edition of cult television hit Gogglebox is about to sate your curiosity.
For those not au fait with the surprise Channel 4 smash - coming to Ireland in the near-ish future via a TV3 remake - Gogglebox is a show about watching people watching television. For an hour every week, the viewer is invited to pull up a figurative pew and join ordinary households as they tune into significant broadcasts from the previous seven days. Over recent episodes, for example, we saw Goggleboxers hunker down to coverage of the Scottish independence referendum, the return of Downton Abbey and a documentary about bigamists operating in plain sight in London.
It sounds like the equivalent of observing creosote congeal. In fact, Gogglebox, which recently entered its fourth series in the UK, has become a bona fide phenomenon, in the process making accidental stars of the families featured. A regular from previous seasons, George Gilbey, has appeared in the Channel 5 version of Big Brother (yes, it still exists) while serial wine-gluggers Steph and Dom from Sandwich have virtually become a national institution in the UK, where they are rumored to be in talks for their own interview franchise.
Indeed, if the series can be said to have achieved anything - beyond demonstrating that, in modern TV, there truly is no such thing as a ridiculous idea - it is to confirm 'ordinary' folk can be as interesting as any celebrity. We are not being sarcastic in the least in pointing out Moss, Campbell and Gallagher have their work cut out if they wish to reach the same standards of banter and repartee as Gogglebox's 'civilian' participants.
Far from an agreeable accident the success of Gogglebox is, say the makers, a result of careful casting. The families on the programme have been assiduously vetted - it isn't that Channel 4 is looking for attention-seekers, exactly, more individuals the rest of us will enjoy spending quality time with.
"There isn't much to the format so if the cast are crap, we haven't got a show," producer Stephen Lambert said in an interview last year. "I find that people who apply to be on TV are of a type. So instead we 'street cast' around the country, just walking up to interesting people. Then we test them quite rigorously to see whether they can keep being spontaneous."
Channel 4 would never say as much - nonetheless, it is undeniable that part of Gogglebox's appeal is that it allows viewers feel cleverer than the participants on camera. There was, for example, widespread mirth when, in season two, George Gilbey's mother, Linda, confused Michael Schumacher, champion Formula One driver, with Chewbacca, a fictional alien from Star Wars covered in matted hair (her actual quote is almost profound in its wrongheadedness: "Imagine spending all your life wanting to be an actor then coming back as one of those Schumacher things.")
While the broadcaster does not seem terribly surprised that the Gogglebox cast has become famous, the stars of the programme appear relatively blindsided. All they do is sit on their settees every week and comment pithily about the dross on telly. All of a sudden, people are coming up to them in the supermarket and post office, looking for selfies.
"Every time someone stops me it's still a shock," commented Sandy Channer, who appears alongside best friend Sandra. "We're just ourselves having a night in."
A broadcast date for the Irish Gogglebox has yet to be confirmed - but viewers here will already be curious as to how the show might differ from the original. Irish people can be more voluble than those in Britain and certainly have a low tolerance for bad entertainment. You can imagine participants delivering flinty rejoinders curled up in front of The Late Late Show, Love/Hate or an Ireland rugby game.
Until an Irish version airs, however, we will have to content ourselves with Gogglebox UK. The celeb-stuffed episode goes out Friday week. It will give Kate Moss and chums an opportunity to prove they can be as interesting as the rest of us.
It's a tough ask - you hope they are up to it.
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