If there’s one show that should be mandatory viewing right now, it’s Gogglebox Australia. Switch off the never-ending news, forget Tiger King on Netflix and tune into this weekly show instead. Appreciating the importance of community is going to get us through the coronavirus crisis – and this show serves it up in spades. I’m even hoping the prime minister will press those involved in the show to continue beyond the season finale on 29 April: if there was ever an essential job beyond frontline workers in these dark days it’s the one performed by these folks.
In truth, I’ve long been a fan of this show. Not initially, of course; the idea of watching other people watching TV seemed absurd – the epitome of pop culture eating itself. But a few seasons back I caught an episode or two and was hooked.
Reality TV? This is the real thing. Forget overhyped, overexcited, possibly intoxicated strangers indulging in the worst kinds of human behaviour. This show sees family members, friends and flatmates sitting down together to discuss the big issues of the day: should Celia Pacquola have won Dancing with the Stars over Christian Wilkins? Is $20 really enough to tip a Bondi Rescue lifesaver after he’s rescued you from dangerous surf? And did Kim actually just slap Kourtney on the latest episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians?
Reams have been written about the virtues of this show: its depiction of ordinary people from different generations and different demographics coming together to laugh and cry is a delight. It’s won Logies and been nominated for Aactas, has international iterations and some of the “stars” have gone on to greater success. The simple reason is that, whether it’s watching election debates or wildlife documentaries, it demonstrates that what unites us is greater than what divides us. And who among us hasn’t watched Selling Houses Australia and thought, “Gee, Andrew Winter, you’re being rather mean to those poor people with questionable taste just trying to make a buck”? Or winced at some of Shayna Blaze’s decorating choices on the same show?
Yet as we all experience discomfort for the sake of the greater good, Gogglebox has never been more important. Last week coronavirus crept into all the corners of the show, with those on screen affected by the crisis just like the rest of us. As Scott Morrison announced stricter social distancing measures, new mother Sarah Marie realised her job as a makeup artist was over for now, while her friend Jad revealed he’d been forced to close down his restaurant. The Silberys, mother Kerry and daughter Isabelle, sang happy birthday to 91-year-old grandmother Emily over Skype because she is isolating for her health and safety. And the always hilarious Holly Dalton threatened to move out because her parents, Matt and Kate, were driving her mad while they were all cooped up together with her sister, Millie. We really are all in this together.
Life in lockdown means I’ve made things extra meta: I watched the show along with my family on FaceTime. I haven’t seen them in person for weeks so it was wonderful to share a laugh and snatch conversation in the ad breaks. It was like a throwback to my childhood, where we would sometimes watch TV shows together – although this time there were no arguments about the remote control and the mute button could be used if necessary. This is the very particular joy of watching Gogglebox if you live by yourself – just enough family life to warm the heart without having to deal with the less fun bits on a daily basis. Pity, for example, the three Delpechitra children who have to live with their delightful but cringeworthy father who insists on singing at any given opportunity.
There’s one more reason why I would encourage everyone to watch Gogglebox – it guarantees the belly laugh we all need right now. Last week I was reduced to uncontrollable giggles as those on the show collectively gagged, winced and shuddered as they watched Karl Pilkington being introduced to – and yes, finally partaking of – Shivambu on the UK show Sick off It. If the collective “eurgh” at the idea of urine therapy doesn’t bring us together, nothing will.
• Gogglebox airs on Foxtel’s Lifestyle Channel on Wednesday night at 7.30pm, then on Ten on Thursday nights at 8.30pm, and is available to stream on catch-up for 48 hours after airing