Of late, Channel 4 have added to their oeuvre by developing a well-honed shtick in the "people who are rich pretend not to be" genre. First there was Secret Millionaire, a genuinely glorious show which was laden with "excuse me, I have something in my eye" moments. This was only amplified in the Australian version, where stoic Aussie Rules coaches running vital community projects on a frayed shoestring budget would react to being given 10 thousand dollars by looking up at the sky and going "Bonza".
And then there was Undercover Boss, where a CEO type would get among his own employees and often get a chastening look at how little they knew their own company, with an occasional showdown with someone clearly mucking about. And now, there's Undercover Lover.
It may sound like a 70s spy romp starring Robin Askwith, but the premise of the show was actually quite sweet: a 24 year old self-made millionaire and helicopter enthusiast called Chris (who is also, impressively, not a knob) is going to bury mention of his enormous riches while he tries to find a nice girl who likes him for him, so as to avoid getting Kanye'd.
The show's charm was locked down from the get go as it was clear that Chris wasn't the kind of successful business gimp the kind of which you'd see on the early weeks of The Apprentice, the kind of lads who say stuff like "I am the Mohammad Ali of commerce" or "I choose my clothes from the wardrobe of awesomeness". In actually fact, he was a) Way more successful than most of those goons and way more modest with it and b) Had been told from an early age that due to his poor performance in school, he'd never amount to anything. So, within five minutes, you really want this young Prince to do well. Alas, it's hard to drum up conversation with Cinderella when you have to pretend you don't have any shoes.
The first girl he went out with was a nice blonde girl called Jane, but there was as little chemistry going on as there was in my secondary school (we couldn't afford Bunsen burners), and the highlight of the conversation was when Chris confessed to only ever reading one book in his life. The book in question was about helicopter pilot crashes and deaths. And, as they parted ways, Jane's exact words were "It was really nice to meet you and, um, take care!" The next volume of the book on helicopter crashes will probably include him after that.
Thankfully his next date with another nice blonde girl, a smiley South African called Inrgrid, went a whole lot better despite it taking a place in a bowling alley. After a successful first date he got the advice of his friend and fellow helicopter pilot Hugh, which was far and away my highlight of the show. A cross between Swiss Toni and The Most Interesting Man In The World internet meme, Hugh offers pearls of advice like texting her that he can't get her out of his mind, putting an x at the end of it and described asking her for dinner over at hers on a Saturday as tantamount to a shag. Quality.
Alas, Hugo's talismanic properties wore out by the time the second date came about, where Chris inexplicably decided to barbeque steak outside in the snow. The second date, a big enough jump in tone and style from the first as it was, had the magic pour out of it like a horseshoe held up the wrong way.
His third date, another blonde girl called Holly, also started promisingly, again in the face of a daring activity choice, that of rollerblading. Not only did he survive the lame trap that so devoured Cliff Richard, but he also got a coveted double hug at the end of the night. But, this wasn't to be either. After confessing he'd been thinking about her a lot since the date (a day after the actual date) they went on a second date, but after lobbying for a third one got the worst combo any man in his situation can endure: silence, followed by "Let's be friends". Ouch.
At this stage, poor Chris was really feeling that repressing his true identity was taking the edge off his character, like Superman being forced to cryptically tell people he does a lot of time-consuming travelling but not being able to blast off into the sky, whizz round the world a few times and make it last Saturday again. But just as he was losing hope he met Amanda, another nice blonde girl (seriously, all his dates could easily have been sisters) in the Stacey West mould, who seemed like the real deal.
His frustration with his dating lot at this point was evident in nothing else but his choice of drink, as he'd gone from sparkling water on the first date to swigging a bottle of beer at a driving range like he's Tin Cup on the last one. Yup, you read that right; the fourth date took place on a driving range.
Luckily it all went so well he decided he'd reveal his secret identity for the second date (which, despite dramatic advances in search engines over the years and the fact there are ruddy cameras everywhere, remained strangely undiscovered), and took her to Paris in his helicopter, at which point the cat was pretty much out of the bag, and they all lived happily until the end of the show.
Unfortunately we didn't see what happened to the new happy couple after the couple of months since the show was recorded, and the narrative did feel a bit rushed into the hour-long slot, but overall it was exactly the kind of solid stand-alone viewing of this kind we've come to expect from C4. And you never know, Chris might make another mint from a side project letting lads on dates hire out helicopters.
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