July 10, 2008

There’s No Independence From Britain On Saturdays

By Jane Holahan

My Saturday afternoons are now devoted to watching three shows on BBC America. I'm not really proud of this fact. I'd like to gain my independence from the Brits, but I'm hooked.

My addiction begins every Saturday at 11 a.m. with two episodes of How Clean Is Your House, in which two domestic divas come to a filthy, disgusting, crud/bug infested house, shake up the owners and get the place cleaned up.

We are talking disgusting houses, odd owners and two very British women who don rubber gloves with feathers on them and happily dig in.

Then at noon, a nutritionist arrives at a home where one or two people are in dire need of diet counseling. She looks aghast at the disgusting things they eat each day, we get to see them stuffing their mouths, modeling their bodies in spandex (the smarty pants narrator tells us how many stones they weigh) and then she puts them on a proper diet that includes lots of beans, whole grains and food that tastes like paste.

They have eight weeks to lose all their bad habits and get used to eating paste before she comes back to check out their progress. I'm happy to see the Brits have as much disgusting food as we do.

Then at 1 p.m., I settle in for two hours of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, in which top chef Gordon Ramsay goes to a restaurant that's failing, figures out what's wrong and then works with the kitchen staff and the clueless owners to turn it around.

He swears a lot (the bleeping gets ridiculous) and he can be pretty nasty, but Ramsay always seems to make a lot more sense than the people running the place. If only they'd listen to his advice!

What's the appeal of these shows?

How Clean is Your House is obvious. I am not the world's greatest housekeeper, but I feel like Felix Unger when I watch this show.

Same with You Are What You Eat. I may have some bad eating habits, but these folks are way out of control.

So I can feel smug, which is always a lot of fun when you're watching reality TV.

As for Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, I find it fascinating to go behind the scenes of a restaurant. And these restaurants all have character.

But the fact that everyone involved in these shows is British makes it that much more fascinating.

People on British TV look and seem like real people, from these reality shows to the classics on Masterpiece Theatre.

Their teeth are crooked. Their skin is bad. Nobody seems to have gotten a face lift. Their houses aren't huge and elaborate. In fact, many of the people on my shows live in - gasp - duplexes.

In America, everyone looks plastic, with perfectly white, straight teeth, nose jobs and McMansions.

And they actually feature people over 40 on BBC America!

There are plenty of daffy characters who seem all the more daffy because they speak with British accents.

I loved the woman who refused to clean her house because she said she was an environmentalist and wanted to recycle everything. No harsh chemicals in her house!

Yeah, her house was green, but it was because of the mold.

Her husband, who just shook his head and smiled as he listened to his wife, seemed a little touched in the head too. They could have been characters in a Dickens novel.

Can I win back my Saturdays? Maybe. There's a show on BBC America called Britain's Worst Teeth. I haven't found the courage to watch it yet, but maybe if I do, my addiction will end and I'll be happy to see impossibly straight, white teeth.

Staff writer Jane Holahan can be reached at 481-6016. The Footlights column appears every other Wednesday.

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