5 TV shows for when you need some escapism

Michael and Martha's wedding on the TV show Married At First Sight Australia

Happily ever after? Michael and Martha in Married At First Sight Australia - Credit: Nigel Wright/Channel 4/Channel Nine Australia/Endemol Shine Australia

From Made in Chelsea to Married at First Sight Australia, these are the shows that have been providing us with some much needed escapism during lockdown

Gemma Collins: Diva
One thing living through almost a year in lockdown has taught me, is to not watch the news before going to bed, and so, in the evening anything serious and gloomy is given the boot in favour of anything light-hearted and trashy.

Queen of the trash pile in 2020 had to be Gemma Collins, almost a decade on from her TOWIE debut, the 40-year-old who doesn’t really have any talent fronted a series of ‘documentaries’ showing her going about her daily life.

I like Gemma for the one reason that she proves you don’t need to be good at anything to be famous.

And as viewers saw on a recent episode of Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, she’s actually been through a lot of tough times, but still has a cheery disposition.

Gemma, or ‘The GC’ as she loves to call herself is totally over the top, has an overblown reaction to virtually everything in life and makes a drama out of even the simplest things, but she does have a heart which is part of the appeal.

And the good news is that when something bad happens, each episode does seem to leave her feeling rather cheerful. I think this is called showing us the ups and downs of her interesting life.

A recent repeat, for example, showed her upset at the plight of donkeys in a Greek donkey sanctuary.

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Thankfully after the ad break she was stuffing her face at a chocolate shop picking out sweets for her festive confectionary range.

This is perfect lockdown telly and therefore a perfect guilty pleasure.

Threre’s no point in watching doom and gloom before going to bed when you can watch some utter trash on telly and have a good laugh.
Nick Richards

Gemma Collins arriving for the ITV Palooza held at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London

Living her best life: reality TV star Gemma Collins, AKA The GC - Credit: Ian West/PA Wire

Soap operas
I take issue with the term “guilty pleasures” and I have science on my side: research has shown that taking a mental break and enjoying something which “doesn’t require intense intellectual focus” can improve our ability to cope with stress.

Has a more compelling reason to watch Hollyoaks ever been offered?
Self-imposed embarrassment holds us back so, in that spirit, I gladly admit that I love most of the shows that people claim are “guilty pleasures” and refuse to subscribe to the opinion that watching a soap or a reality show will reflect badly on me.

I also refuse to believe that just because something is popular or easy to watch means that it can’t be good (Mrs Brown’s Boys isn’t included here – however popular it is).

While popularity is not an index of importance and the canon of EastEnders may not be commensurate with the canon of Shakespeare, I maintain that soap operas are the Dickens of their day.

Soap operas exploit human suffering and condense it into half-hour segments of voyeuristic car crash television. But that’s enough about their good points.

I have watched EastEnders from the bitter beginning and have stuck with it through good times and bad, albeit more of the former than the latter in all senses.

I have grown up with Ian Beale and Sharon Watts, the Queen Vic and the launderette, Dot Cotton, the allotments, the market and the many incarnations of Phil Mitchell, including my favourite, Phil when he was on a Keith Richards trajectory and danced to The Who while on crack cocaine.

I’ve seen different actors play the same role, seen the dead resurrected, marveled at the ability of totally unloveable characters’ abilities to marry multiple times and wondered why so many upwardly mobile families don’t own a washing machine.

I dip in and out of other soaps, but it’s EastEnders (and Brookside in its time, RIP) that has my heart and always will. And I’m proud to admit it.

If anything, I am guiltier about what I DON’T watch rather than what I do: I struggle to get through a nature or ecology documentary or a current affairs programme, perhaps real life at present is tediously real enough without watching more of it in my spare time.
Stacia Briggs

Married at First Sight Australia
Not everything about lockdown is terrible.

There are plenty of positives – less traffic, fewer flights, the chance to appreciate the local – and Married at First Sight Australia. 

I’m not sure that I’d have chanced across this (ok, tracked it down like a hunter stalking a kangaroo with a boomerang the second I heard about it) without the wonder of lockdown (as in, ‘I wonder what I should do this morning/afternoon/evening’.)  

Married at First Sight Australia is a distant cousin of the smaller, tamer UK version.

Bigger and brasher it boasts way more couples, way more episodes and way more angst. I think the last Brit version I saw there were just two couples and the “experts” seemed to have genuinely tried to match the participants to give them a chance of creating a life-long, or at least series-long, relationship.  

That becomes harder for the Australian experts because “the experiment,” as it is constantly called, lasts for 30 episodes.

I have to admit I had no idea it went on so long when I first joined the hens’ and bucks’ parties and, sliding seamlessly into the second episode, began walking down beautiful alfresco aisles with couple after ill-matched couple. 

“Oh yes, he’s a rough’n’ready country boy, let’s pair him with a sophisticated city girl. A 29-year-old virgin with anxiety issues? He’ll be perfect for someone keen to explore swinging. A pleasant bloke with a lot of heartbreak in his back story? Give him someone so direct and uncompromising her first words to him are a barked order.”

It’s almost as if the experts are deliberately inciting drama.

And if that is their expertise, they are brilliant.

The weddings flow into honeymoons, and then a group holiday, all interspersed with regular dinner parties (translated from the Australian as regular excuses for everyone to catch up on the gossip, inflict misery on their partner and dispense deeply unhelpful advice to all-comers.)

The experts look on apparently, although surely this cannot be the case, unaware of the mayhem they have wreaked over the previous days.  

There are victims and villains, there are revelations and reappearances, and there even seems to be a perfectly matched couple heading for happy-after-after.

No spoilers please because I’ve still got many episodes to go.
Rowan Mantell

Rock of Love
I’m a huge fan of cheesy, tacky reality TV – so in one way, lockdown has been somewhat of a blessing for me.

I don’t feel as guilty wasting hours watching rubbish on the telly, as it’s all we’ve been able to do for the past year.  

Throughout lockdown, I’ve both discovered new shows and have rewatched some old classics thanks to YouTube and Amazon Prime.  

But my all-time favourite cheesy reality show has to be VH1’s Rock of Love.

For anyone who hasn’t seen it, you’re missing out as it’s absolutely hilarious.

It’s a reality dating competition show that stars Bret Michael, frontman of 80s hair metal band Poison, as 20 or so women compete for his love through a series of challenges in order to win dates, so they can get to know Bret better.

As the weeks go on and the challenges get even more ridiculous, the contestants get eliminated one by one, as Bret gets that one step closer to finding his true love.  
But of course, as with all relationships that blossom on screen, they soon crash and burn – as the show went on to have two more seasons as Bret continued his quest for love.  

Think of it as The Bachelor, but instead the contestants being given roses, they’re given tour passes as Michaels asks each of the women: “Will you continue to stay in this house and rock my world?”  

It’s been a great show to binge watch over lockdown – my friend Sophie and I would regularly rewatch episodes, and then message each other or discuss them over Zoom.

It’s our version of a less highbrow, more ridiculous sort of book club.  

And if you were to ask me to put one TV show into a time capsule that perfectly encapsulates mid-00s pop culture, it would have to be this one.

From the tacky hairstyles, to the gaudy, rhinestoned Ed Hardy shirts (which I will admit, I definitely wanted when I was younger), Rock of Love is an underrated reality gem, and if you have the time, you should definitely watch it over a weekend or two.

You won’t regret it.
Danielle Lett

Jamie Laing and Spencer Matthews

Made in Chelsea cast members present and past Jamie Laing and Spencer Matthews - Credit: Isabel Infantes/PA Wire

Made in Chelsea
This year it’s a whole decade since Made in Chelsea arrived on our screens and introduced us to the ludicrously privileged world of Spencer, Millie, Caggie, Hugo, Rosie, Binky, Mark-Francis and similarly loaded chums as they swanned around SW3 getting into all kinds of romantic scrapes against a backdrop of brunches, parties with weird themes, trips to the hair salon and arguing on staircases.

Like TOWIE, this is a ‘structured reality’ show with “some scenes created purely for your entertainment” - although in recent years with the original cast gone, apart from the odd guest appearance, “entertainment” feels like something of a stretch.

But yet, for some reason, I still tune in, ever the optimist that something, anything, will happen.

Perhaps I just like the cosy familiarity of each series - it doesn’t matter if I don’t know who the cast members are, they’ll always be gossiping, falling out and making up, going to ridiculous exercise classes, having nice holidays - and arguing on staircases.
Emma Lee