Love Thy Neighbour: Where Straw Dogs Meets Summer Wine

Channel 4's Love Thy Neighbour, which aired on Thursday, pits couples of all creeds against each other to win a £300,000 house in Yorkshire. Now sufficiently recovered from biting my fingers, here's what I made of it...
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Channel 4's Love Thy Neighbour, which aired on Thursday, pits couples of all creeds against each other to win a £300,000 house in Yorkshire. Now sufficiently recovered from biting my fingers, here's what I made of it...

Welcome to Grassington - a picturesque English village in the heart of Yorkshire, proud of its close community and it’s penchant for traditional British values such as racism, homophobia and dogging, although probably not dogging. It’s a little bit Last of the Summer Wine with the average age of the residents being around 106, and a little bit Straw Dogs with outsiders typically welcomed with suspicion and…well, not gang rape, but something else Straw Dogs-esque. It’s also the setting for Channel Four’s new reality show, Love Thy Neighbour, which pits twelve families in a head to head battle to win a dream cottage and fantasy lifestyle in the gentile, middle-English idyll. The twist? It’s the citizens of Grassington who get to choose their new neighbours from a delightfully eclectic bunch, hand picked to offend their sensibilities by being ever so slightly different.

The first couple vying for a life of cups of tea and nice sit downs are Londoners Phillip and Simone who, along with their three young sons, spend the entirety of the first half of the premier episode being gawped at by seemingly every member of the village because, wait for it, they’re black. For the residents of Grassington this is a bit of a shock, and so we’re treated to endless amount of amusing vox-pops from confused locals saying things like, “I was 18 years old before I ever saw a black man” and “I don’t want to come across as a racist but this isn’t the place for them” or “we once burnt Clive from the Post Office on a stake because he came back from Marbella too tanned”. Although, admittedly, I may have fabricated that last one. On the other hand some of the more open minded locals, like an 80-odd year-old sauce-pot called Bunty, try their best to be welcoming. “I didn’t really notice they were black really, they just come across as English.” She says, which although well intentioned is still a little too Clarkson to be deemed politically correct. Despite being a budding Tory politician and constantly carrying around a copy of Thatcher’s autobiography (that’s placed in shot so often C4 should be claiming commission), Phillip and his family are actually fairly likeable. By which I mean at least it wasn’t a copy of Mein Kampf.

Despite being a budding Tory politician and constantly carrying around a copy of Thatcher’s autobiography (that’s placed in shot so often C4 should be claiming commission), Phillip and his family are actually fairly likeable

Their competition comes in the form of nice-guy carpenter Steve, who is seemingly unable to stop telling everyone that he’s originally from Yorkshire, his girlfriend Nicky who constantly seems about half a glass of Merlot away from a nervous breakdown, and her teenage children from another marriage, who come across like teenage children from another marriage. Quite what it is that’s supposed to shock the Grassington locals about this lot I’m unsure, but if forced to guess I’d say it’s because they’re not married and the children aren’t made from Steve’s sperm.

And so the formula begins. For 45 Grassington-paced minutes we are made to watch as both families lick the collective bottom of the locals and make themselves useful in order to be liked and invited back for some tedious end of season showdown in a few weeks’ time. Phillip sets off like a bat out of hell, or just any other politician trying to gain a vote, making friendly house calls which initially have curtain-twitchers refusing to answer their doors, probably under the assumption that being both an outsider and black he’s intent on committing some sort of violent door-to-door crime spree. When doors finally begin to open he finds not one but two elderly women telling him they don’t wish to talk because they’ve recently lost their husbands. This leads me to believe that Phillip is either some kind of harbinger of death, stealing the souls of husbands at the press of a doorbell, and therefore not really a suitable neighbour for anyone, or the women of Grassington are really fucking dedicated when it comes to lying. After meeting the second widow Phillip can’t help but burst out laughing at the coincidence, or the death, it’s hard to tell. I like him.

Steve, on the other hand, decides to spend his time acting out the opening thirty seconds of every porn film ever by visiting single women and offering his handyman services. He measures kitchen cabinets for Mo the barmaid as she flutters her eyelashes and grins at him whilst quietly dripping on the linoleum floor. “He’s a dish. It’d be my dream to watch him pull out my kitchen and put it back in again.” She says, knowing full well that when her mouth says ‘my kitchen’ her mind is thinking ‘his cock’. You can’t help but feel that if Steve shagged his way around the village then he’d probably be a shoe-in for the cottage, but the fact that Nicky, his terrifying girlfriend, seemingly keeps his balls in a jar by their bedside will prevent such indiscretions, and in the long run, victory.

As time passes at a pace that can only really be described as a backwards stroll, the village seems to form the opinion that Nicky is a bit of a bitch. In order to turn things around her and Steve decide to throw a party and ply the locals with booze, which I briefly find myself hoping will turn into some sort of hedonistic swinging do, mostly because I’m desperate for something interesting to happen. Unfortunately the only attendees of the shindig are two thirteen year old boys. Nicky reacts by throwing some snacks in the bin and getting into bed where she continues to chug Merlot in the hope that it will block out the horrible reality of her being a crap contestant on a crap Channel 4 game show, but not before sending Steve out into the dead of night to try and drum up a crowd for the aborted party. It fails. She’s angry. He’ll probably never have sex again. I’m beginning to think she might be a bitch too.

As ratings drop and Channel 4 attempt to further shock the populous of Grassington we’ll probably get to see a family of back-alley abortionists compete against some midget rent-boys for a crack at the gaff

Meanwhile, on the least interesting show ever, Phillip and Simone are putting their competitors to shame, holding an open surgery so people can talk to Phillip about political issues and throwing a variety show where he sings a version of My Way which made me cringe so hard it felt like my balls were trying to hide in my throat. If you compare this mammoth effort to Steve measuring for some cabinets and Nicky supporting the wine section of the Grassington Londis, you get the feeling that the results are already in.

And they are, about fifteen minutes of boring TV later, anyway. Phillip and Simone get around 60% of the votes and the crowd goes wild. Although it doesn’t, because there isn’t one, there’s just Phillip and Simone celebrating whilst Nicky looks like she’s going to chew Steve’s balls off the moment the cameras are shut down. Steve, visibly pissed off at losing, looks like he wishes he’d at least slipped that barmaid a digit. After all, every vote counts.

But what about all the racism, did the winning couple really overcome it? Is Phillip destined to be Grassington’s Obama? Surely Channel Four didn’t just cleverly edit the few racist quotes they got in order to portray the entire village as backwards did they? Oh, really? They did? Ugh.

Next week the villagers get to chose between a voluptuous life-model and two lesbians trying for a child. As ratings drop and Channel 4 attempt to further shock the populous of Grassington we’ll probably get to see a family of back-alley abortionists compete against some midget rent-boys for a crack at the gaff, or perhaps an end of season finale where Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson compete to join the gentle, life-in-the-slow-lane community. I can barely wait. And by ‘barely wait’ I mean ‘probably won’t watch’.

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