In praise of daytime TV: comforting chicken soup for the brain

The Beast from the East will drive more people indoors so it's a chance to check out the mad-cap genius of midday programming

‘Homes Under the Hammer’ reveals the gritty reality of the property world that would have Dermot Bannon reaching for the Xanax

‘Homes Under the Hammer’ reveals the gritty reality of the property world that would have Dermot Bannon reaching for the Xanax

 

We live in a world stuffed with entertainment, in this ultra modern age you have the ability to watch anything you like whenever you like.

From using Youtube to find that beguiling Czech cartoon from 1987, old episodes of Boon or clips of Simon Amstell being masterful on Popworld to bingeing on countless new shows on Netflix – we can fulfil every whim that our greedy little hearts and beady little eyes desire. Who cares about regular scheduled programming? We’re crazy nonconformists who don’t give a damn, who’ll watch two episodes of Narcos while we’re lashing into our porridge in the morning.

While all this cultural bricolage is enjoyable there are times when it can feel a bit overwhelming, there’s almost too much variety, too much pressure to keep up and have an opinion on the latest thing, sometimes it’s nice to be told what to watch and when to watch it – this is especially true when feeling poorly. The act of bingeing becomes utterly pointless when you’re sick. The last thing you want to do when you’re lying in a sweaty heap on the couch with a violent temperature feeling like Martin Sheen thrashing around in the jungle in Apocalypse Now is attempt to follow a complex storyline.

Daytime TV has always been the true friend of the invalid. It’s the flat 7Up or comforting chicken soup for the brain.

Most of the time you’re fading in and out of fitful sleeps, waking up in the middle of an episode of The Killing and trying to remember who anybody is with everyone barking Danish. Forget about shows such as Sense8 or Altered Carbon; their storylines are hard enough to grasp when you’re not sponsored by Lemsip or spending half the day hanging over the bin in despair.

Daytime TV has always been the true friend of the invalid. It’s the flat 7Up or comforting chicken soup for the brain. The shows may have altered slightly but the general output remains satisfyingly static – it will forever be the creaky OAP home tombola filled with morning chat-shows, light quizzes, gentle cookery, antiques hunting and property purchasing.

Reliable constant

The classics will invariably reign over the schedule and the daddy of them all is still ITV’s This Morning. With its instantly recognisable, impossibly cheery wine-bar saxophone theme it feels like a reliable constant in a world that is forever changing. Although in the past few years there’s been a distinct modification in the content of the lifestyle show stalwart.

The familiar chumminess of Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby hasn’t disappeared – they can always be counted on to dissolve into school-kid giggles whenever chef Gino D’Acampo brandishes a spicy sausage and rolls out the giant meatballs. They’ll trundle in hungover wearing their black tie outfits after the National Television Awards and gurn empathetically when an over-excited dog defecates on Eamonn Holmes’s shoes but their knowing playfulness has now been injected into the show as a whole.

Tuning into This Morning these days is akin to flicking through a copy of Take a Break magazine at the newsagents. There are entire Twitter accounts dedicated to the bizarre topics of discussion and bonkers guests that now populate the show, such as the woman who said she’d had sex with a ghost, the woman who booked a cruise with a man she’d known less than an hour and the man who’s lived off chips for a decade, it’s like Britain’s Got Talent but for people who divulge their life stories to strangers at the bus stop.

Daytime telly feels conspiratorial:  it can get away with being  disjointed and surreal because no-one is really watching

Then there’s the showbiz reporters and second tier presenters such as Alison Hammond and the remarkable Rylan Clark-Neal. The two reality stars have a breathlessly disarming charm that can unmoor even the most taciturn of Hollywood legends. Hammond’s now notorious interview with Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling where she merrily confesses that she’s never seen Blade Runner is a masterclass in unintentional comedy.

This Morning’s scatty, ramshackle nature is its USP, it’s what makes it the queen of daytime telly. There is a genuine feeling that chaos could destroy the show at any given moment which not only makes addictive viewing but also manages to mirror that off-kilter, woozy sensation of being ill. This Morning is the sick day survival kit.

Daytime telly feels conspiratorial in that sense, there is an accepted sensibility that it can get away with being more disjointed and surreal than its polished primetime cousins because no-one is really watching.

Which is why something as peculiar as BBC property show Homes Under the Hammer could fly under the cultural radar for so long without being heralded as the work of genius it truly is. Homes Under the Hammer follows buyers of semi-derelict properties which were sold at auction and traces the journey of their development. It’s property porn directed by Mike Leigh. It celebrates doing everything on the cheap with sinks plumbed by novices, walls painted a miserable chalky white and gas fires inserted in the centre of the room.

This is no glamorous makeover show, it’s the gritty reality of the property world that would have Dermot Bannon reaching for the Xanax. Estate agents swoop in like overfed seagulls picking at the bones of the house/shed/garage/rabbit hutch employing their unique vocabulary about how “compact” the space is.

The show has gathered a dedicated cult following due to the amazingly frank presenting style of Martin Roberts who looks like he’s fallen out of a forgotten 1980s pop act and spends most of his time openly laughing at the condition of the properties. He kicks at doors giggling at the ashen-faced buyers telling them that they have a job on their hands as he taps at cracked windows with a shake of his highlighted head. He’s just short of braying “It’s shoddy workmanship Ted!” as he attempts to slam through a dividing wall. After watching Homes Under the Hammer everyone’s domain feels positively palatial even if it is covered in the balled-up tissue detritus of the ill.

Spiritual heir

Irish daytime telly hasn’t really lived up to the dizzy heights of Live at 3 with the glam looks of Thelma Mansfield and the genial stylings of Derek Davis being a tough act to follow even after all these years. While Maura Derrane and Dáithí Ó Sé give a valiant attempt on RTÉ’s Today show, there is still something slightly stiff and structured about the set up and their style to make it a pleasing, anxiety-free watch. Much better is TV3’s Six O’Clock Show which is like the spiritual heir to Live at 3.

Presenters Muireann O’Connell and Martin King have a welcoming, relaxed, non-judgmental vibe. They don’t mind that you’ve been lying face down on the couch for the entire day and have shed tears during Watercolour Challenge, they’re here to ease you into the evening with some zingy chat and friendly laughs.

King’s amiable patter and O’Connell’s quick wit give it the inclusive feel of This Morning but at a time of day when fatigue should be setting in, they are a much needed jolt of energy and enthusiasm.

There is a safety in the fuzzy landscape of daytime TV

Daytime telly has been painted with an unfairly bad reputation due to class-baiting Jeremy Kyle and his scouring brush visage administering morning hate speech and the chat show Loose Women mostly sounding like live readings of Auntie Sheila’s rambling Facebook comments. Other than those twin atrocities it’s a schedule that should be celebrated.

It’s a place where the stranger side of programming has been given a chance to breathe and has fostered gems such as Come Dine with Me and Coach Trip and has given us quiz shows that have conquered primetime such as The Weakest Link, Pointless and The Chase. Whereas the majority of telly can give you PTSD with its abundance of traumatised detectives and dark-hearted anti-heroes, there is a safety in the fuzzy landscape of daytime TV.

Free from sharp edges, its soothing colours, tinkling soundtracks and pleasant content are the mind-medicine sometimes needed to inoculate yourself from the real world.

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