"Bigger, Fatter, Gypsier" is what Channel 4 promised for the second series of its observational documentary sensation Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. The controversial tagline gave a glimpse of what was to come, and after the first episode it's clear to see the programme remains just as outrageous as the Traveller brides' tans and garish outfits featured in the last series of the show.
The fly-on-the-wall hit, which claims to have "unprecedented access to the world's most secretive community", became the channel's eighth highest-rated programme ever during its first series early last year, racking up a total of 8.7m consolidated viewers. More people watched the finale than watched the Brit Awards on ITV1.
Although Gypsy Weddings gives what the channel claims is an "authentic look into the Traveller community", after watching the first episode there's a sense of uneasiness about what's being filmed.
The episode attempted to find out what's behind the travellers' distinctive and outlandish looks and apparent preoccupation with appearance. It showed 9-year-old Nangel preparing for her first Holy Communion by getting fake nails and a fake tan applied. When asked why she was going to such effort, she said: "God wants you to look good."
The young girls spent so long perfecting their outfits that they missed the beginning of their service, eventually arriving as miniature versions of the older Gypsy brides in their families who became famous last series for their humongous white dresses, and bickering over who looked best.
Little was explained about where the tradition of such a loud look for special occasions came from and when it became such an apparently important focus, with one young girl simply spouting the old adage "beauty is pain". Another Traveller, as she was filmed lying on a sun bed - minus protective eye wear - claimed: "At the end of the day, if I get cancer I get cancer."
The shock factor is what Gypsy Weddings is all about. That's why 21-year-old Dolores, who had been traveling through Spain for the past six months and was returning home to Ireland for the wedding season, got so much attention from the cameras for her 'unusual' palm tree dress. Her friend Chantelle stated matter-of-factly: "I'm a pineapple and she's a palm tree... like a Spanish senorita." And of course, Liverpudlian Dressmaker Thelma Madine, who featured in the first series, was drafted in to create the monstrosities.
The second series is bound to entertain, but it's also likely to upset. Christine Cawley, an Irish Traveller living in London, has already lambasted the series for "presenting an untrue or untypical image" of the Traveller community.
Writing on the Guardian she added: "Some of these posters (for the second series) blatantly exploit young girls who are specially dressed up for an event. The message is: 'This is what they are like all the time, look how brash and provocative they are.' To use children like this just to get viewers is shocking."
Perhaps the most enlightening moment of the show, and an indication of how the show's stars should be reacted to - instead of ridiculed - was provided by the vicar. Asked how he felt about the young girls who arrived late for their first Holy Communion in outfits that even Christina Aguilera might think trashy, he said: "That's them and that's how they express themselves... Like it or not, that's special."
What's your view on the show? Let us know below.
SLIDESHOW: The dresses in all their glory...
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