The Seven Year Switch: it's just Wife Swap in the sun with better teeth
‘The Seven Year Switch’ is not the groundbreaking, radical experiment it constantly trumpets itself as
It may have all the trappings of a titillating ‘Temptation Island’ but for most of the couples, especially the women, it’s just a much-needed break
The beauty of reality telly lies in its inherent simplicity. Most viewers enjoy it because of the lack of real thought put into it. The concepts are wonderfully lazy – from Gogglebox to 60 Minute Makeover the clues are in the title. There’s no hidden surprise to confront, no baked-in mouse in your sliced pan, just easy enjoyable TV. If there was a Channel 4 show about staring into your neighbour’s kitchen window for a half hour it would find its audience.
Back when these shows made up half the television schedule, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen was crown prince, scumble-dragging his way around the habitats of the UK – the Laughing Cavalier of living spaces, forcing best mates to become sworn enemies with the delicate touch of his corner sponge on Changing Rooms. The popularity of this house-switching, curtain-twitching affair gave way to Wife Swap, the Thomas Hardy novel of reality shows which saw the matriarchs of two wildly different families packed off to each other’s houses to live under the distinct family rules before they got to enforce their parenting and housekeeping methods.
Wife Swap worked because most weeks saw another potato-faced Onslow gritting his teeth at the Hyacinth that just landed at the doorstep, one who would later dissolve at the Formica countertop when faced with the thoughts of making fish finger and mushy pea sandwiches. Wife Swap was less about family therapy or changing lives than about allowing its audience to be smugly judgemental.
Now that reality TV has somewhat transformed to be slightly more slick and sexy there comes the inevitable fancy rejig of this format: The Seven Year Switch. The show sees exasperated but effortlessly photogenic couples swapping partners and shacking up in separate villas in Thailand to sort through their “feelings” and see exactly how the other half lives. This all takes place under the supervision of therapist Lee Valls, the importance and seriousness of his role indicated by lots of shots of him carefully drawing Venn diagrams of the couples while frowning.
It may have all the trappings of a titillating Temptation Island but for most of the couples, especially the women, it’s just a much-needed break. The focus of the first episode is on the revelation that the newly paired-up partners will have to share a bed. Whereas the men see this as a sexual affront, pushing them into sleeping beside a stranger and thinking of their partners doing the same, the women tune out as they’re busy eyeing up the colossal king size bed like it’s a reclining, bath-fresh Idris Elba waiting to embrace them, almost kicking the oblivious blokes onto the nearby couches.
The theme that most of the troubled couplings have in common is that they are utterly exhausted young parents. With their haunted, blackened eyes and teary demeanours, it’s not a new partner they need to gain perspective but a reliable babysitter and a memory foam mattress. Channel 4 could have saved themselves the hassle and budget for the exotic location by getting the neighbour’s daughter to come around and entertain the babies while the couples downed a few Chardonnays and had a night in the nearest Travelodge.
Although in the coming weeks it will be enjoyable to witness boyman Tom realise he is not his wife’s other child when fiery Michelle challenges him or see deluded George, who prattles on about how “a man should be respected as a man” (as he fiddles about on his games console) be reprimanded by no-nonsense Rachel.
The Seven Year Switch is not the groundbreaking, radical experiment it constantly trumpets itself as but Wife Swap in the sun with better teeth. It’s the Thai takeaway spring roll to Wife Swap’s cheap crispy pancake coating. Simplistic but ridiculously addictive evening fare .