First blog of the year? I must have been busy. Or gone soft. Or spent too much time eating pretzels and watching 30 Rock.
TV: The Secret Millionaire
Several girls have told me that it is life-changing, sob-inducingly beautiful, superb television. No, it’s not BBC pondlife programme Snog, Marry, Avoid. I’m talking about C4's "The Secret Millionaire". I had to watch it, if only to see if I too would shed Notebook quantities of tears.
Before the show, I had imagined that the millionaire would be the stereotyped monnied, upper class twat who would normally be lynched within five minutes of walking into an anything-other-than-Sloane-Square scenario. But, by wearing an Adidas shellsuit, shortening his vowels and eating four Greggs pasties a day, he blends seamlessly into the rank and file. There’s got to be a baddie in the piece, after all, right, so why not make it the rich man in a worldwide recession?
But the whole piece is carefully crafted, and the millionaire is accordingly cast with great thought; it's not C4's remit to be so anti-capitalis, anyway. Last week’s wealthmonger was Iranian-born Jahan Abedi, who looks just like the offspring of a Bond villain and Asian Telly Savalas (who loves ya baby?). They show him cavorting with lovelies in one of his Welsh bars at the start, but this is a red herring. It materialises that he’s not a thoughtless knob; quite the opposite in fact.
Then they take him to downtown Leicester and drop in a rancid apparetment that looks it’s been ransacked. It's a fate I’d only wish on my worst enemy. And Katie Price. Which is maybe one and the same. But despite being out of his comfort zone, despite being without his butler, despite being in the Midlands for Christ's sake, he takes to his role with great purpose, visiting care workers, volunteers and the like.
Gradually, over the course of show, he comes over as a genuine, caring and down-to-earth man who has worked hard to make his riches.
He comes off both genuine – surprising in an act of made-for-television philanthropy - and likeable which is important when some of disenfranchised in this piece can be victims of society’s ills, and it's easy to transfer blame onto the upper class (just see my second paragraph stereotyping, for instance).
I felt no resentment for him, just for the fact that he has a million times more money than I do. And that he wore more obscene amounts of black clothing.
The show is, of course, utterly contrived and unbalanced, designed not to tug at the heart-strings so much as yank on them like a classroom of sugar-overdosing kids let loose on a bell ringing session. DING DONG, DING DONG; it's 48 minutes of pure emotional assault.
First, we meet a kind and generous volunteer worker (aww!) who needs a minibus, then a landlord who lets houses for shafted immigrants (bless!). And, to top it off, there’s John, whose wife of 40 years died a few years ago. Now, he spends almost every day volunteering at a hospice in her memory. They might as well show a film of an Andrex puppy crying or Bambi’s mother being killed. No wonder women lap this up, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Weepy, hormonal fish.
Throwing money at life’s problems is not presented as the cause to the problems; after all, the problems here are not flimsy or insignificant, and will not be solved by the money. But through his brief window of interest and whopping cheque, the millionaire provides unquantifiable emotional recompense to the most selfless or unfortunate beings.
It could be patronising and corny, but with Jahan Abedi, the undeniable sense that he does care is always there. And so, the woman gets £3,000 for a minibus, the millionaire feels slightly better about hoarding all that cash and the reader’s heart isn’t so much warmed as exploded. It's win, win, win.
I defy you to not smile at the moment the millionaire reveals his riches (although starting a sentence with “I haven’t been completely honest with you…” is usually ended with “ … about my new status as a post-op transsexual with a Nazi sex penchant, honey.”). Sweeping background music plays, the lovely John cries as he remembers his wife and treasures the cheque which means he can go to Cyprus, the couple's last holiday destination. And you can almost hear a million housewives simultaneously weeping at the sheer loveliness.
Of course, I didn't cry. Or even punch the wall at the difficult, difficult feelings I was experiencing. But there was a lump in my throat. In finding the unheralded gems in the country, it’s brilliant entertainment surprisingly life affirming (just don’t think about that one too much, as life affirmation and money are argumentative bedfellows), an all too rare offering of positivity in the weekly telly schedule.
Well, next week, no wall whacking, no life changes, no disenfranchisement. I’ll watch Sophie Dahl food porn on the BBC. The only moral dilemma I’ll have is whether masturbation over a food programme is ethical. No worries.
To watch it: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-secret-millionaire/episode-guide/series-6/episode-9
The Secret Millionaire
Season 2, Episode 4
First broadcast, Monday 15 March 2010