SEVEN YEAR SWITCH + ONE BORN EVERY MINUTE
SEVEN YEAR SWITCH: Tuesday, Channel 4
ONE BORN EVERY MINUTE: Wednesday, Channel 4
People are strange. Whenever they feel scared or desperate, their decision-making patterns can become erratic and bizarre. That’s an absolute Godsend for television producers, as it allows programmes such as SEVEN YEAR SWITCH to exist.
I suspect that for most couples on the verge of divorce, appearing in a modified version of Wife Swap would be pretty far down their list of priorities. For the couples participating in this new partner-switching series, it obviously felt like the best course of action.
On the one hand, Seven Year Switch feels symptomatic of the rampant narcissism that’s infected first world society since the advent of reality television and social media.
On the other hand, these genuinely troubled couples felt compelled to do whatever it takes to save their marriages. It’s just that, apparently, “whatever it takes” sometimes means having your private woes beamed into millions of homes throughout the country.
So how does it work? Over the course of the series, four couples for whom the dream has gone sour take part in our old friend the TV social experiment to find out once and for all if their marriages are worth fighting for.
The idea is that by living as husband and wife for a fortnight with someone they’ve only just met, they’ll either re-evaluate their marriage or conclude that it really is all over.
The production team have a budget that has to be pointlessly spent, so the participants are flown out to a luxurious Thai island. Overseeing the whole ordeal is a relationship therapist who decides who should be switched – not swapped, it’s a very important distinction – with whom.
The twist is that there are no rules about what kind of relationship they choose to have. When you think about it, that could mean anything. What’s more, the stunned guinea pigs aren’t even told they’ll be sharing a bed until they arrive at their villas. This doesn’t go down well with most of them.
As is reality television’s wont, it’s all very contrived and manipulative.
Episode one devoted itself to introducing the couples, outlining their various problems and seeing what happened when the switched pairings met for the first time.
The shared bed bombshell triggered a gust of polite awkwardness. Watching the couples deal with this issue was admittedly rather interesting. Despite my general misgivings about the project, by the end I actually found myself wanting to see how it all pans out. It would be dishonest to claim that essentially well-made programmes such as this don’t pander to our voyeuristic impulses.
Despite the presence of an old-fashioned chauvinist, there are no outright villains in Seven Year Switch. There will doubtless be some conflict in future episodes, but it’s not designed to be explosive in the Wife Swap vein.
Whether these couples actually gain anything from the experience, or live to regret it, remains to be seen.
One of Channel 4’s cast-iron warhorses, observational documentary ONE BORN EVERY MINUTE returned for another series of touching antenatal drama.
In a Birmingham maternity ward, we met more nurses and couples on the cusp of bringing life into the world.
The straightforward human interest formula never fails to gently lift the spirits, as we eavesdrop on nice ordinary people going through a life-changing experience while personable professionals ensure a smooth transition under often trying circumstances.
I hope none of them end up on Seven Year Switch one day.
TV HIGHLIGHTS of THE WEEK
THE RUTH ELLIS FILES: A VERY BRITISH CRIME STORY
Tuesday to Thursday, BBC Four, 9pm
This fascinating three-part exploration of the notorious case of the last woman to be hanged in Britain uncovers some troubling details from the official investigation. Ellis was sentenced to death in 1955 after being accused of murdering her lover.
FOUR DAYS THAT SHOOK BRITAIN
Thursday, STV, 9pm
People who were directly affected by 2017’s wave of terror attacks share their testimonies in this 90-minute documentary. As well as remembering those who lost their lives, it also features accounts from witnesses and members of the emergency services.
MY BABY’S LIFE: WHO DECIDES?
Thursday, Channel 4, 9pm
Filmed over a year at a paediatric intensive care unit, this moving two-part documentary observes children on life support and the parents and doctors dealing with intensely difficult decisions regarding their future and wellbeing.
PILGRIMAGE: THE ROAD TO SANTIAGO
Friday, BBC Two, 9pm
A group of celebrities including Ed Byrne, Debbie McGee and Neil Morrissey recently took an epic trek across northern Spain to find out whether a medieval pilgrimage still has relevance today. And lucky for us, they filmed it!
FILM of THE WEEK
WE BOUGHT A ZOO
Thursday, Film4, 6:35pm
Inspired by a true story, this charming comedy/drama stars Matt Damon as a widow who moves with his two children to a dilapidated wildlife park in rural California. With the help of the keepers, including Scarlett Johansson as the chief, he works to restore it to its former glory. Director Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous; Jerry Maguire) brings his usual bittersweet touch to this touching fable, the emotional heft of which revolves around Damon’s strained relationship with his teenage son.