Last Night’s TV – True Stories: 21 Below

by Lynn Connolly

What an utterly depressing film this was. Made by Sharon Buck – whose family were subjected to the scrutiny of her often shaky camera – the film examined her dysfunctional but by no means unusual family.

The primary focus of her film was her younger sister Karen who, at 21, had two children already and was expecting a third. One of her children, Maya, had a terminal illness which just about summed up the misery that was this film.

The father of Karen’s third baby was Courtney, a black drug dealer and one got the impression – though it wasn’t actually said – that the colour of Courtney’s skin was as much an annoyance to Karen’s mother as his errant and criminal ways.

But Sharon came across as being very protective of Karen and having a sense of guilt about how her life’s turned out. Over Thanksgiving turkey, the family seemed to have little to give thanks for, especially with Maya’s time running horribly short. And not unnaturally, this fact set a black cloud over the ‘celebrations.’

The backdrop of a freezing cold vista mirrored the family’s own personal landscape as Sharon tried to rejoice in her own pregnancy without rubbing it in that she’s much better placed to give a child a good life than Karen is.

However, the continual filming of the ordinary and mundane became tedious after a while, but I have to say, I could sympathise with mother Buck’s dislike of Courtney; not for the colour of his skin but because he seemed to enjoy all things violent and destructive. In one scene, we saw him encouraging one of Karen’s kids to crush a caterpillar, and joyfully announced, “He’s aint gonna turn into a butterfly now!” Nice.

I’m not really sure what this film was supposed to achieve other than to show how miserable Sharon Buck’s family are. And do we really need to know that?

I personally could’ve done without it and was left feeling only desperately sad for little Maya.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.