Channel 4's The Audience: Letting Strangers Run Your Life For You

The new experimental reality show hands the reins of one persons life decisions to a whole host of "Audience" members to help them out. It shouldn't work, but it really does...
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Decisions, decisions. Life is full of them, and even the smallest ones can carry huge implications. Work, relationships, family. Each day, we all are forced into situations, some big, others small, which require us to make a decision.

But would life be easier if that pressure was taken away? If we had a group of people to make that decision for us? The Audience, which premiered on Channel 4 last night and runs for the next thirteen weeks, aims to do just that.

We start with forty-seven year old Farmer Ian Wainwright. Who, like a modern day Pied Piper of Hamlyn, is followed around by a group of fifty strangers, aiming to help him reach the decision as to weather or not it is time to walk away from working on the farm which has been in his family for generations for the sake of his own well being and that of his girlfriend.

Ian's dilemma is a complex one. He comes from a family of farmers, and the farm, based just outside Oxford, has been in the family since 1955. Sadly, Ian's father walked out on him when he was three months old, and he and his mother were taken in by his uncles, Pat and Keith, where Ian lived until he was nine.

Ian finds himself in a position where he is the only employee on the hundred acre farm, working for minimum wage where his uncles call the shots. Ian, a forty-seven year old divorcee with three kids, only gets every other weekend off working on the farm. Time which is reserved for his children. Initially only bought in to help out for a few months, five years later, Ian finds himself still working on the farm. Much to the displeasure of his long suffering partner, Sandy.

But would life be easier if that pressure was taken away? If we had a group of people to make that decision for us? The Audience, which premiered on Channel 4 last night, aims to do just that.

Initially, it starts off as something of a flawed concept. But ends as a fascinating insight into the study of human emotion. The Audience, a group of fifty people consisting of a Retired Nurse, Ex Copper (as Astoned by Channel 4) Church Organist and Cabaret Singer amongst others are bought in to help resolve Ian's unhappiness.

We've all had to turn to somebody for help at some point in our lives. And in more extreme cases, some of us have had to turn to somebody completely impartial to help resolve issues we are having.

As the audience join Ian at 5:30am, the truth starts to unravel. Ian works for twelve successive days, has two days off and then works another twelve days. This cycle repeats itself ad-nausiem. It becomes apparat very early on how unhappy Ian is. And you find yourself struggling to have any sympathy for him, as he clearly isn't strong enough to stand up against sixty years of farming tradition.

As the concept of the show becomes more clear, we learn that the audience are allowed to go and speak to whoever they like over the course of the five day process.

The impressions of Ian from the group after the first day are along the lines of "Is he having a midlife crises?" to "Is this not just a way of getting rid of his girlfriend?" The only question left unanswered is what Ian's profession was prior to him joining the farm, the only hint comes later when the elder of his two uncles reveals "He went to college, he was a good mechanic"

Prior to the uncles being quizzed, we learn that the farm is to be sold. But certain parts are to be brought back and the farm will be kept running. If the farm is being sold, you are left asking yourself if the whole process is perhaps redundant and Ian could perhaps walk away without a fuss.

The first real enlightenment on the problem comes as we meet Ian's girlfriend, Sandy. It's clear from the first time we see her that not only does she utterly adore him, she is obviously deeply concerned for his welfare as well as the family tradition being at stake. She understands he needs to see his children, but can't bear to see him like this. Her concerns are unselfish, which is refreshing to see.

The Audience promises to be fascinating viewing over the coming months. It's a concept that on the face of it, really shouldn't work. But actually does.

A complete contrast to when we meet Ian's mother. A bitter old woman choking on guilt and regret at the whole situation. We keep being reminded of the fact that Ian has never known his dad. He mentions at one point that he "didn't have time to notice my dad wasn't around" whilst he was growing up. Whilst almost fifty years later, his mother desperately clings on to the fact that her brothers took them in. It becomes apparent at is stage that it's Ian's mother pulling the strings here, not the uncles. As she admits to feeling that she owes her brothers a debt, the sympathy is transferred to both Ian and Sandy. She says they feel sorry for them "Who will they have to talk to?" She says. Without ever considering the fact that she could sell the farm, put the uncles in a smaller place, and visit them a number of times a week. She's allowed herself to become stuck in the past, and although she seems quite happy there, she has no concern for her son's well being, despite claims to the contrary.

When it comes to decision time. We see how much Ian's plight has affected those in control of his destiny. Prior to hearing the verdict, Ian announces he will "Do whatever they tell him to do" Hinting that he knew what he wanted all along, and this process has given him the opportunity he was desperately clutching for. As a "Gold Plated Mother's Boy (as one Audience member refers to him) had the decision gone the other way, one suspects Ian would have subjected himself to a lifetime of unhappiness.

As the verdict is delivered you can almost see the weight being lifted from his shoulders. And his uncles, although surprised, ultimately seem to accept his desicion.

It's amazing to see how a group of fifty people could come to a unanimous decision in such a short period of time. And the feelings of all concerned are truly taken into consideration. Whereas the programme started off being about Ian, the group take the feelings of all the affected parties into consideration prior to making the decision. The footage of the uncles and Sandy when they hear the news show that they probably did, although you are left wondering what Ian's mother, who was very keen to put the point across that she had no life, so why should he? Thinks about the whole situation.

As the Bill Cosby lookalike tells Ian he no longer needs them. The viewer is left wi the feeling that at the end of the day, the genuine caring of human nature will rule the day and the good will out eventually.

The Audience promises to be fascinating viewing over the coming months. It's a concept that on the face of it, really shouldn't work. But actually does. I'm already looking forward to next week's episode.

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