The Nightmares Next Door, Channel 4

by | Jul 19, 2005 | All, Reviews

What to say if you liked it

An intriguing social experiment which aspires to empirically delve to the root of social conflict and produce enlightening solutions.

What to say if you didn’t like it

An indulgent exercise by a deluded provincial lecturer, in which he hopes to prove his crass, hare-brained theories about social interaction through an entirely phoney trial.

What was good about it?

• The very nature of the experiment ensures that there will be conflict of the genre which is so alluring in this era of reality TV. Each of the residents represents an easily identifiable group who occupy tangential, disparate areas of society.

• The way the contrasting residents are clinically played-off against one another in a procession of dissatisfaction. For instance, the students keep the young family awake with their partying; the young children vex the other residents with their bad manners and recalcitrance; the dog owners annoy their neighbours with their uncritical cosseting of their pets; the noisy neighbours inflict their unpopular music on the rest of the village; and the “busybody” demands, through a series of meetings chaired by himself, that each and every family adheres to a strict set of rules, often proposed and implemented by the “busybody” himself.

• The restrictions on electricity and water are another device to ensure domestic warfare.

• Simon Warr, the “busybody”. The divorced schoolmaster is the singular voice of reason in the whole village and often his monologues to camera read more lucidly than the programme narration, like diary entries from a naïve protagonist sailing far into the more profound depths of human depravity.

• But as he’s so dislocated from jocular society, Simon’s efforts to communicate on his neighbours’ level can be excruciating to watch. When the noisy Williamses fail to return from the shops with his desired amount of mince, he quips, “If I run out, I can borrow some from the dogs,” after which there is a bemused pause causing Simon to stretch out his arms and exclaim, “It was a joke!”, and he makes an appalling, puerile pun about an “erection” when the residents are building the community area.

• The editing ensures that the viewers’ disgust and sympathies flicker ephemerally on most of the clans present. Initially, the students are the subject of the ire when they hold a debauched party late into the night, but by morning this has switched to sympathy as they are assailed by the ASBOs-in-waiting in the shape of the Jones children. But when their mother Wendy is brutally chastised in the residents’ meeting by Esther of the noisy family, there is a sense of sorrow at her frustration at being unable to control her kids.

• Simon’s efforts to remain civil despite appalling provocation. When Wendy introduces him to her son James, Simon holds out his hand which James slaps with a bestial whelp of delight. In response, Simon forces out a diplomatic chuckle.

What was bad about it?

• By the very nature of the residents living in the village, the whole experience has a wholly artificial ambience which magnifies disputes to such intensity as to render them largely inapplicable to the outside world.

• Dr George Erdos seems to regard the whole shenanigan as merely the manifestation of his own flawless theories. This strips the show of any sense of spontaneity, an impression Dr Erdos does little to dispel when he remarks on the residents’ meeting,

“This is a very exciting development. And it is what I hoped would happen.”

• Dr Erdos’s bowtie. Bowties are only worn by people who wish to slip their “wackiness” down your throat like rough vodka.

• The families’ behaviour is rarely exhibited outside of their one-dimensional cipher, other than to illuminate the stereotypical behaviour of their neighbours. For instance, the students are seldom observed doing anything of note other than getting drunk or vandalising the garden furniture, but they are shown expressing dismay at the way the Joneses rudely commandeered much of the garden furniture leaving Simon with just two plastic chairs.

• When Wendy Jones scornfully says: “People find us offensive ’cause we speak our minds.” People who crow about “speaking their minds” are always wrong in anything they say or do and are invariably people too wilfully stupid to educate themselves and so remained mired in their own petty dogmas and prejudices.

• And her behaviour is reminiscent of Wige Swap witch Lizzie Bardsley in that she’s always “looking out for number one” by threatening to fill up her kids’ paddling pool even with the restricted water. She also tells her kids regularly to “f**k off”. Although her long-suffering husband Barry is perhaps the most reasonable adult in the village.

• The students are scum and seem to deliberately exaggerate their selfish actions to align with the social group they know they represent. They also use this false cultural identity to justify their more abhorrent deeds such as vandalising all the garden furniture, wasting water with “10 minute showers”, and derisively laughing at Simon when he visits them to discuss the repercussions of their vandalism.

• When the camera lingers on the supine comatose students after another night of insobriety, they are all lying in melodramatic, staged poses which suggest they are cameos in some dour facsimile of some stirring renaissance painting.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

19/07/2005

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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