What’s it all about?
Two families exchange homes to enjoy a 10 day holiday in the other’s country. In this opener, the Jacksons, residents of the quaint Cornish town of Bodmin, swap with the Fischoeders, who hail from the remote French village of Poisson.
What to say if you liked it
A genial jaunt that exposes the hilarious truth about converse national characteristics.
What to say if you didn’t like it
The mutated progeny of Wife Swap and Grand Designs Abroad that has neither the confrontational qualities of the former and the obsessive purpose of the latter.
What was good about it?
• Richard Briers’ sardonic narration that dripped with the same subtle derision that made Roobarb And Custard such a success. At one point, we even thought he was
going to convey his disdain for the hapless Jackson family through voicing the insults of an orchestra of cacophonous birds, but even our feathered friends seemed wise enough to avoid the rural corpse of Poisson.
• We developed a sneaking admiration for the Fischoeder family, which burgeoned throughout their jovial jaunt. They had perhaps suspected the Jacksons’ ignorance and therefore fully enjoyed their vacation around Cornwall, knowing full well the Jacksons were stuck in Poisson which is closer to the Moon than any tourist attractions.
What was bad about it?
• The diaries of each family seemed to be edited to primarily ensure they adhered to national stereotypes (German efficiency and the English delusions that Europe is essentially the same from the frothing Bosporus to the Icelandic volcanoes). As the Jacksons drove through miles of picturesque countryside to an amusement park, mum Joanna moaned: “I’ve been to France before and I thought it was all fairly similar.” And later on: “When I booked the holiday, I didn’t really plan it.”
• The stereotypes were also emphasised in the script, most conspicuously when Angela Fischoeder set out early to avoid losing time, Briers noted: “And Germans hate losing anything.”
• The apocryphal etiquette of house swapping that forbids swappers from snooping through their hosts possessions. In all other walks of life this is referred to by the more prosaic term of “good manners”.
• The format, which consciously aimed to avoid any sort of confrontation – the staple diet of reality TV – and therefore denied any hope of resuscitation through ill tempered arguments, leaving it instead to drift into the same bland obsolescence as the village of Poisson.
• The script wasn’t really cruel enough to the Jacksons, who fully deserved their awful break. And while the Spartan décor of the Fischoeder abode offered plenty of scope for comic description, the best anyone could come up with was young Sam Jackson’s observation that the cellar looked like it was used for Satanist practices.
• Very little actually happened to the Jacksons (the highlights being the children trying to gain entry to a locked, empty room and the thin toilet paper), which led to the focus of their trip being boredom – a feeling that transmitted very smoothly to the viewer.