Did we like it?
At times this attempt to resolve neighbours-from-hell battles was intelligent, gripping and unintentionally funny but elsewhere it seemed vulgar, pointless, manipulative and ultimately futile – imagine Jeremy Kyle hosted by someone who genuinely wanted people to get along rather than spit venomous ratings-grabbing barbs at one another.
What was good about it?
• Mediator Colonel Bob Stewart’s admirable integrity as he visits the British idles who like nothing better than to bicker senselessly with their neighbours. As Bob drew comparisons with other, albeit more serious disputes, he perceptively noted that sometimes the arguments “become a reason for living”.
• Colonel Bob certainly knew his stuff. As the “intransigent” Hazel refused to concede any ground, he noted that “this is a standard way for people negotiating to behave – push the stakes up unacceptably.” But he did enjoy the cut and thrust of it all, too. “Hazel was being a bitch,” he opined reasonably. “I think that we were that close to the end of the game – but she blinked, I didn’t.”
• Dermot O’Leary’s narration that swung emotively between compassion, exasperation and thinly-disguised ridicule. Dermot managed to deliver lines such as “every conflict has a frontline and Bob asks Jamie to show him his – the garden fence” and “Martin has managed to track down their landlord” (he was in his office, hardly Osama Bin-Laden), with the perfect dosage of irony.
• If Nicky Hambleton-Jones is flying past on her broomstick, made from the sagging wrinkled hides of expendable pensioners, and spots the two women of the warring neighbours, then she will have two ready made saps for 10 Years Younger to humiliate, mutilate and obliterate. Hazel was 42, yet could pass for 70; while Zoë was 32, but looked 45. Perhaps it shows how much a strain this quarrel has been for them both.
• The funniest moments came after each time Bob had met up with one of the couples. It would then cut to him wearing a little military Beret while he gave his considered analysis, as though he was back in the trenches formulating the next move against a devious, cunning enemy.
• Bob’s friend Martin was also the source of much inadvertent mirth. For no good reason, Martin took Bob up in a helicopter to gain a panoramic view of the couples’ semi-detached houses (“to get an overview of the conflict zone”). But he trumped this when he presented his analytical research to Bob in a remote muddy field of all places as though they were spies making a drop, and what made matters worse was that Martin’s information was utterly useless.
What was bad about it?
• Despite displaying the patience of a saint, Colonel Bob never did get to the bottom of what caused the neighbours to fall out. Hazel said that it occurred after she comforted Zoë after her partner Jamie allegedly beat her up, while Jamie himself was far vaguer claiming that a puerile squabble over a washing line provoked the irreversible decline.
• And by the end, the only thing Bob had extorted from either couple was a half-hearted apology from Jamie to Hazel about a “slanderous allegation” he had made about her partner Brian in their first summit meeting. Of course, Hazel who revelled in the role of the victim looked for the slightest excuse to reject his apology in order to maintain the moral high ground. Although by this stage, both she and Jamie had been submerged by an ocean of their own sanctimonious pettiness.
• The evidence to support each couple’s allegations was very weak. Jamie was seen getting out of his car, apparently on the night when Hazel had come over to see Zoë after her alleged beating. But there was no evidence of this.
• While Jamie’s evidence was merely camcorder footage from New Year’s Eve last year, which apparently had the noise of Hazel drilling to put up some shelves. When Bob pressed Hazel on this she said she didn’t put them up until early January, a point Bob didn’t take any further.
• Colonel Bob seems rather over-qualified to sort this kind of thing out. Extolling his credentials for the benefit of the viewer he said: “This situation reminds me of Northern Ireland or the Balkans.” And while it might be interesting for similar conciliatory techniques to be applied to domestic conflicts, the very mention of those two enduring, bloody episodes merely amplified just how insignificant two slightly upset couples in Kent are.
• And this impression was reinforced in Dermot’s epilogue in which he disclosed that although Bob succeeded in negotiating a temporary truce, hostilities had once more broken out. Now if this was Northern Ireland or the Balkans, then Bob or one of his peers would be flying straight back to Belfast or Belgrade to demand a cessation of violence, but as it was just some nobodies in Kent, it didn’t really matter.
• The ‘covert’ camera shots of the vulnerable Zoë weeping with worry.
• The confrontation was a festering organ kindly denoted by the Jeremy Kyle show, only without an obnoxious host. Hazel is far more intelligent that Jamie and exploited his temper to provoke him into making insulting remarks and baseless slanders. She then used these to ultimately cow Jamie into making an apology, not just for those fresh slurs but for everything she had alleged he had done. But in truth, Hazel and Jamie were both as bad as each other.
• The denouement was a jumbled mess on a windy street outside their properties.