When asked why I like The Only Way is Essex I struggle to come up with an intelligent answer, perhaps because the show is consuming my IQ. More likely, it’s that there is no smart response: the show is a fake reality series about fake Essex stereotypes. There’s no sugar-coating the foundations of the series, no matter how hard Denise Van Outen's tries in her voiceover. Thing is, despite its shortcomings, the show is strangely addictive.
In season one we watched as a group of plastic, perma-tanned idiots attempted to make their lives look interesting. There was a staged boxing fight, the opening and burning down of a club and numerous fights over cheating men. Unlike MTV’s The Hills, another part-scripted reality series, the lives of Mark Wright and his friends are distinctly unglamorous, but that’s half the appeal--these people think they’re stars, but they’re nothing more than reality trash (even the cute, well-meaning ones). The psychology of this is fascinating to watch, much like the first season of Big Brother.
The one exception to this is Nanna Pat, who’s been dragged into the affair by default. Mark’s grandma pops up every now and again offering words of wisdom and pastries. Now you wouldn’t see that on other reality shows--nor would you necessarily want you--but in this instance it adds a much needed contrast. While the other characters play up for the cameras, Nanna Pat seems genuinely unfazed by the attention. In fact, she seems almost unfazed by anything her fame-hungry relatives do! (It’s upsetting to learn that she’s got her own publicist).
You’ll think it’s obvious which scenes are a set up, particularly when Arg and his girlfriend Lydia are involved: he shifts awkwardly unless he’s asked to sing while she’s always holding back giggles. The more you watch the more you wonder if it’s all staged because everyone (apart from Nanna Pat) seems continually on edge, they’re so desperate to impress potential viewing talent agents. As yet, none of them have signed lucrative deals. This, despite the promotional music video they created for season two.
You wouldn’t want to be close friends with--or even the same county as--any of The Only Way is Essex' cast and that’s one of the reasons they’re so interesting to watch: it gives you insight into a world you wouldn’t normally be associated with. Kind of like looking in on an ant farm and learning how it works. Everyone needs trash TV from time to time, and while The Only Way is Essex isn’t our idea of perfect programming it is our mindless show of choice. The second season starts on ITV2 on Sunday 20 at 10pm.