Channel 4′s The Audience: A bizarre concept that seems overly scripted and fairly repetitive
Out of all of the terrestrial channels Channel Four is definitely the one that is known for thinking outside of the box when it comes to concepts for shows as this was of course the channel that bought us Big Brother. I’m not sure how their latest programme, The Audience, was dreamt up by the opening line of the show sounds like it comes from a psychological horror film as the narrator tells us to ‘imagine being followed by 50 people.’ That’s essentially the concept of the show where in each episode a person who has a life-changing decision to make is followed around by fifty people from all walks of life who then decide what he has to do based on what they have seen. As is always the way with these programmes we get an introduction of what the show will be like as clips are shown of some shouting, people asking questions and lots of tears as the announcer questions whether each subject will be mercy to the wisdom of the crowd or the anger of the mob. This opening is also littered with relevant moments from the series however there were few from the episode I was going to watch which didn’t make me anticipate it all that much.
This week the audience are following 48 year old farmer Ian whose dilemma is whether he should continue to work on his family’s farm or walk away from it entirely. His quandary is basically a question of relationship versus family as he has very little time to spend with his girlfriend, because he’s always running the farm, but at the same time he doesn’t want to let down his two uncles who run the farm. It transpires that his Uncle Keith and Uncle Pat raised him for nine years of his life and treated him like a son, neither have any children that can carry on the business, though at the same time they’re fairly interfering and won’t let him trial his own ideas on the farm. This welcomes in the audience whose first day involves following Ian around the working farm while he goes about his daily duties occasionally asking him the odd scripted question. Throughout the episode we see cutaway clips from members of the audience which initially gives us their names and occupations however later on in the episode this information is taken away nevertheless my favourite audience member had to be a stunt woman by the name of tiger. More revelations pour out on this first day as we find out that Ian started working at the farm five years ago after a call from his uncles who only pay him minimum wage and he admits to the audience that if he wasn’t related to them he probably would’ve left by now. Though all this is very interesting all the camera wants to seem to get shots of is various cows urinating and the shocked faces of members of the audience who’ve never seen this before and who have never been to the country before judging by the fact that they hold their noses at the first scent of manure. At the end of this first day we hear from the audience who still have differing views on what Ian should do which is good firstly because if they all agreed the programme would be over fairly quickly and secondly it allows for story progression which is obviously what these sort of shows are all about.
One of the things that tickled me about The Audience was that the fifty people often had to be bunched in to one small room which inevitably meant some had to wait outside with the windows open so that they could hear everything that was going. This happened when they went to meet Keith and Pat the uncles who Ian ran the farm for however before he introduced them he dropped another bombshell that being that the farm would have to be sold and if Ian didn’t stay on there’d be new owners putting the uncles out in the cold. This is where The Audience briefly turned into Who Do You Think You Are? where we learnt all about the farming heritage in Ian’s family and how his grandfather bought the farm that he runs today. If The Audience did nothing else it introduced us to these kindly old men who obviously have had a fabulous life and obviously just want to live their last years out in what they consider to be their home and from meeting them, as well as hearing stories about them meeting dancing girls down at the local pub, I would’ve told the audience to get lost as there was no doubt in my mind that these men should stay put.
That thought did change slightly though when we met Ian’s hair-stylist girlfriend Sandy who he’d been going out with for seven years though since he’d been at the farm he hadn’t had a lot of time for her. Here we learnt more about Ian’s personal life namely that he was married until eight years ago his wife left him for another man and so now he only sees his children on the weekends but he and Sandy have been happy for a while. Sandy’s not convinced this will continue if he works on the farm as she has also been married before and said that she and her ex-husband didn’t maintain the great relationship that they had therefore it fell apart adding that she felt dragged down by the fact Ian spent most of his time on the farm. I did feel sorry for Sandy partly because of this and partly due to the fact that she had to shake the hands of the audience both when they entered her house and when they left.
It was clear that the audience were still torn though they saw why Ian wanted to please his uncles when they met his mother who scolded him for even thinking about leaving Keith and Pat to fend for themselves. As we saw her recite the value of family’s several members of the audience, as well as yours truly, thought she was hypocritical questioning why she couldn’t have her brothers move in with her if she was so worried about their well-being. To me she came across as fairly self-absorbed asking people to do things that she wouldn’t do herself and disgusted by the fact that Ian even deigned to think of putting Sandy before his uncles and the farm.
Eventually a decision had to be made and after finding a room to fit all fifty members of the audience inside it we heard a load of shouting before several viewpoints were heard my favourite was the down-to-Earth plumber who simply said that Ian needed to ‘grow a pair.’ I know I’ve made this point before but the judgment scenes seemed very scripted indeed with a few of the audience members voicing their points-of-view in a way that seemed fairly unrealistic. This feeling continued with the audience going back to the farm and revealing to Ian that they’d decided that he should leave the farm with several members chosen to deliver this news. After they made the decision I thought the audience would leave but no they had to follow Ian back to the house and watch him deliver the news to his devastated uncles this was obviously so we could get a few shots of the audience members sobbing. They then continued to follow him to Sandy’s house where he randomly proposed out-of-nowhere with her accepting and once again the audience members becoming all emotional before one of their number told Ian they were leaving.
I would’ve love to have been there in the meeting where the idea for The Audience was pitched as it just sounds ludicrous on paper and on screen it’s not much better. If I were a betting man I’d say that it’s probably a show concept that’s been lurking around for a while and the network decided to commission it as they had three Thursday nights to fill. Away from the unintentional hilarity of the programme, such as Sandy having to shake everybody’s hand twice, there was nothing really of note in The Audience as I found it incredibly scripted and staged from beginning to end with the only people I warmed to being the uncles who got the short end of the stick at the end of the show. The problem is that you don’t really get to know any of the audience so you’re not given that much reason to care about them or their decision but once again I wouldn’t be surprised if Ian had made his mind up a while ago but wanted to be on the show and wanted his wedding proposal to be screened on TV. If this episode is anything to go by then I won’t be watching the next two instalments because for me I don’t think The Audience has broken any new ground that hasn’t already been broken.
What did you think to The Audience? Did you enjoy it more than I did? Leave Your Comments Below.