I am a Made in Essex addict. A The Only Way is Chelsea connoisseur. See what I did there?
My point is, to the discerning reality tele buff around town, the two shows - the aces of ITV2 and Channel 4 - are so formulaically similar that the one could easily be the other.
There are, by my reckoning, 10 key ingredients that make any show a slice of 'reality', and here they are.
Please note: some of these have been created purely for your entertainment. They contain vajazzles, clay pigeon shooting and Nanny Pat's sausage plait...
1) Ego struggles
The ego plays an important part in the reality show. Each character is desperate to be key to the 'plot' (forsooth, 'tis reality, how can there be a plot?), which was never made clearer than during Kirk Norcross' TOWIE outburst to glamour model, Maria Fowler. 'Who are you?' he roared. 'You're just a @!$?ing extra!' An extra, Kirk? Perhaps he was taking Shakespeare's observation, that all the world's a stage, a little too literally. Needless to say, in the new series, Fowler has upped her game - and her role within the show - in a suitably Dynasty-esque fashion: by dating Kirk's father, Mick. Sigh.
Meanwhile, MIC played it differently. In the opening minutes of the first series, Caggie glided into a chauffeur-driven car, telling us, as she glided towards the Kings Road: 'You may have heard rumours that Chelsea is an exclusive world of royals, aristocrats and playboys. Where the gossip is as startling as the prices. Well, it's all true, and I'd know. I'm Caggie Dunlop, and this is my world.' In these few carefully-scripted sentences, Cags has affirmed her role as number one gal in the SW1 postcode. Admittedly, this is the only bit of narration the show has had, although I like to imagine that the peculiar quotes that appear on screen at the start of each episode are the non-spoken equivalent.
2) A gang of bestest friends
Am I the only one who refuses to believe that these people already knew each other before the cameras started rolling? In the case of the 'bromance' between TOWIE's Mark and Arg, I frequently get the impression that the first time they ever met was the first day of filming during series 1. 'Why weren't you here for me during this break-up?' sobbed Mark. Arg looked suitably shifting, clearly thinking, as were we all: because we weren't filming, Mark. I was busy honing my hospital-DJ skills, you 'mug'.
The reality show is keen to make us believe that these people are all close to each other, all genuine BFFs and WEFs, as otherwise the notion of them crammed together on our screen just doesn't make sense. The notion of how 'real' these relationships were was relentlessly drummed into viewers during the first series of TOWIE: in almost every episode, a cast member would randomly drone 'yeah, but that's Essex though - everyone knows everyone in Essex'. Essex has a population of over one million, thus I somehow doubt that everyone knows everyone. (Unless 'everyone' is in fact the name of some bizarrely-christened Brentwood child of the 80s. Although this seems equally unlikely.)
3) Clichéd activities
It doesn't need to be the weekend for the Essex bunch to hit the clubs: every night of the week (even Wednesday, for Pete's sake) they are glammed up and unleashed on the streets. Cast members also spend a fair amount of time attending fashion shows, such as Jess' recent lingerie launch (P.S. anyone remember Essex Fashion Week? I must have missed that in between Milan and Paris this season...) Going to the gym also features heavily in characters' 'hobby time', mainly so as to bump into other characters and have awkward stand-off situations.
MIC is equally as stereotypical, from the casual shooting parties (featuring lashings of competitive 'banter'. Spencer and C.J. were like two rutting stags, desperate to demonstrate their sheer raw masculinity in front of a be-tweeded Caggie. who chortled merrily into her sleeve as Funda smouldered with her Chihuaha in the background) to the casual garden parties, and the equally casual jets to Cannes. Just 'cause.
4) Equally clichéd occupations
In TOWIE, seemingly every man works in the 'club scene', either as a promoter or an owner (yes, alright Kirk, stop boasting. Apart from Mario, of course, who works as, er, a tailor. The girls, meanwhile, are either already glamour models, or aspire to be. As above, there is an exception to the rule: Gemma 'London, New York Paris' Collins works as a car saleswoman. Every other woman is a hazy mix of silicon and botox: keep away from naked flames, ladies. Les femmes des Essex have also branched out into boutique-running. Not satisfied with just modelling, some of the girls have now opened boutiques. Sam and her sister run Minnie's, a clothes shop; Jessica has just opened a lingerie store; and Lydia is prepring a shop that will sell 'cake and vintage stuff'. Naturally.
MIC also favours club promoting, with the odd bit of banking and trading thrown in for good measure. The girls pursue largely 'arty' paths: singer/songwriters Gabriella and Caggie could form a supergroup, and could sing a themetune for series 3? Meanwhile, others are 'interested in fashion'. Millie famously bagged an internship at a fashion mag (sparking outrage amongst the muggles who apply for such placements and don't even receive a 'no, thanks' letter) and started a make-up advice blog which, at last count, had around two posts on it. Amber has her remarkably successful-appearing jewellery line, whilst Rosie also blogs. Mainly about the outfits she has worn in the previous night's episode because, y'know, we all want to know how we can recreate her look. Totes.
5) Questionable beauty regimes
From Caggie's multi-coloured nails to Amy Childs' vajazzle, a radical approach towards personal grooming is key if you wish to stand out as a trailblazer (or, in Amy's case, averagely-trained beautician). However, some characters, it would appear, were genuinely being themselves: the reason behind Spencer's radical second series haircut? He thought he looked chubby and old with his David Brent-inspired goatee and slicked-back mane.
6) The metrosexual
Mark with his waxed chest. Ollie Locke with his plucked eyebrows and voluminous hair. The constant gymming and tanning. Joey Essex's newly-acquired fashion prowess, allowing him to become a master of couture and rip up a pair of vintage jeans into thigh-skimming hotpants (for himself). Mark-Francis and his ludicrously groomed appearance. These men collectively have more of a beauty regime than the cosmetics staff in your local Debenhams.
7) Unlikely characters
Speaking of Mark-Francis... Am I the only person wondering who, or what he is? Part-royalty, part-Cheshire Cat, M-F is an intoxicating mix of unapologetic decadence and haw-haw-haw-worthy one-liners. Equally as odd: Agne the intern. I will gloss over the fact that Francis (other Francis, not Mark-Francis - do keep up) doesn't actually appear to do anything to warrant needing an intern and simply ask a plain old WTF? What does she do? Other than sit-in on poker games, suggest auction ideas and appease Francis when he says he wants a penguin, of course...
Meanwhile, TOWIE's Nanny Pat and the blonde-haired lady who I know only as 'Lydia's mum' are arguably the oddest and yet most amusing additions to the line-up. When Lydia's mum isn't wailing at 'Jaaaames', Nanny Pat is appearing on Mark's doorstep with a fresh-out-the-oven sausage plait. Or as per a recent episode, she will be unpacking sex toys and commenting on their batteries. Bless her.
Ah, the catchphrase. So simple, and yet so powerful. TOWIE's Joey Essex is getting a bit noticeable with his attempts to end up in the Oxford English Dictionary: first we had 'reem', and now others, such as 'cheers united' are beginning to slip into his lingo. In Essex, there are also a variety of other phrases that appear in quite literally every sentence spoken by every character: jel; mug; are you 'avin' a laugh?; shuuut up; how funny (haaa faaa-naiii).
MIC have a far smaller catchphrase repetoire, but they are slowly increasing their quotability rating. Anyone worth their pinch of social-network-addiction will know that the A-list cast member (Cags, Hugo, etc.) use the same goddamn phrases in every Tweet: beaut, sure, hell yeah. In the show, the only real catchphrases are 'love triangle' and the one memorable occasion when Funda told Spencer to 'pipe down', and he echoed the expression in horrified disbelief.
9) Incredible acting
If there's one thing that tele doesn't have enough of, it's awful, stilted acting. However, Channel 4 clearly felt that getting the MIC characters to spend at least half their time gazing awkwardly into space would add a certain je ne sais quoi to the scene. Hence why every character spends around 4/5 of their time on screen staring into space whilst an excerpt from Airplanes by B.O.B. or We R Who We R by Ke$ha. In TOWIE, the characters are permanently smirking as they deliver their lines, as if they are fully aware of how embarrassingly earnest they are expected to be.
10) Awkward break-ups
Gabriella getting dumped on the boat in the Thames, wearing, at the time, what appeared to be a cheap wedding dress. Ollie's lipbiting and anguished eyebrow raising as he heard about her 'over him' tactics. Lauren and Mark fighting, via OK! magazine interview, and the mighty Twitter timeline. Amy and Kirk splitting within the hallowed walls of Sugar Hut for no real reason other than the fact that Lauren Pope had inexplicably turned up to start DJing (we have never actually seen her do, FYI). And, the most recent shotdown: the ol' cocktail in the face for Hugo when Millie dumped him for cheating on her (this, of course, following a riverside chat and Hugo wearing the 'baseball cap of doom').
So there we have it. The 10 crucial elements to the reality show. Perhaps you could use these to make your own (Life is Mad in Kent, or, perhaps, Fabulous Folk of Fife) - or, alternatively, use the above as a guide for a drinking game and have a shot every time one of the above appear in an episode.
You will need a lot of alcohol.
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