Last week I praised the BBC3’s new docusoap for featuring a host of colurful characters, who unlike the model-types in The Only Way is Essex, actually looked and behaved like normal people. To not make the programme seem repetitive the majority of the characters featured last week are nowhere to be seen in this second episode apart that is from my favourite laundrette owners the Wakefields who this week faced losing one of their number to the bright lights of London.
Yes one of this week’s central storylines saw Amber, who last week headed off to Magaluf, ponder her options now that her college course was coming to an end. Amber claimed that she didn’t want to inherit the dry cleaners from her family and instead talked of her love for acting before performing a Shakespeare soliloquy to an unimpressed punter. While Amber seemed incredibly enthusiastic about the possibility of going to London, as she had applied for a place at the University of Essex, the rest of her family had differing views. Mum Karen didn’t seem ready to let her daughter leave the family home calling her the rock of the house and adding that she would be able to defuse a dispute between herself and Paul simply by walking into the room. Sister Maddy meanwhile, who was just amazing in this episode, claimed that she would miss her sister but at the same time she’d be happy because she’d have peace. Talking of having peace Paul was complaining once again about the noise emanating around his house when Amber received some new shoes for her 18th birthday. Paul, like most men, couldn’t understand the fascination women have with shoes and he told of how the women of the house had to take a 40 pairs of shoes on holiday with them to the extent that he thought there was a dead body in one of their suitcases. We also learnt in this episode that Paul did some time in Strangeways, which looms large over Harpurhey, with Karen lying to Maddy telling her that Paul was currently doing some work for the Queen. While Paul clearly loves his family, there is a great scene in this episode where he half-heartedly tries to join in with Maddy when she’s singing along with the karaoke machine, at the same time you feel like every so often he’d like to return to his cell only if to get away from the conversations about periods and the fuss made about shoes. Eventually, despite being offered a place at the University of Essex, Amber decides to stay in Harpurhey for another year telling her mother that she’s not ready for London just yet. To me it seemed part of her hesitation was that she realised that she’d have to wash her own clothes however I wouldn’t think that was much of a problem for someone who spent most of their days in a laundrette.
Somebody who seemingly wants to leave Harpurhey is 19 year old single mum Nicola who is sick of her mother’s constant verbal abuse and wants a better life for her daughter Crystal. Nicola’s mother Kathleen is painted as a bit of a loose cannon right from the start shouting at her daughter for not using protection the night she slept with Crystal’s father. Though Nicola does live in her own flat she relies on Kathleen for support where baby-sitting is concerned but at the same time she realises this is a mistake as it almost traps her within the local community. Later we learn that Kathleen forced Nicola to keep her baby claiming that she would disown her daughter if had got an abortion despite Nicola having a promising future after completing three years of college. The fact that she had to keep Crystal means that Nicola is forced to shop-lift to support her daughter and most of her flat is actually decorated with stolen items from the clock and the carpet to the wallpaper and the lamp. We also learn more about her childhood namely that her biological father is in prison for murder and that she sees her step-dad Barry has her real dad. Barry, now separated from Kathleen, has also fallen on tough times and is now sleeping on a park bench till Nicola takes pity on him and allows him to stay in her flat. One of the most poignant and heart-breaking scenes in this episode of People Like Us is seeing alcoholic Barry being forced to drink Lambrini with his daughter in order to get his fix while telling the camera that he prefers the hardcore stuff. I think seeing Barry in the state that he was in was part of the impetus for Nicola to finally move on and move in with her aunt Lisa on the other side of town. To me it appeared as if this were a fresh start for Nicola as Lisa wanted to give her the space that Kathleen wouldn’t allow her to have and my hope that one day she would return to college and stop shop-lifting.
The other two protagonists in this first episode were both young men who were trying to better themselves even if 19 year old entrepreneur Dale never wanted to leave Harpurhey. Dale is presented as something of a Del Boy here as he tries his hand at everything including hosting his own online radio show in which his breaking news bulletins include the fact that his nan is off to the bingo. We also see Dale attempt to host a club night at his friend’s dad’s pub The Nag’s Head which initially doesn’t get off to a good start with the only two paying customers being his mum and aunt. Eventually things liven up as he gets a lot more punters, including the Wakefields, but despite this we are told he only made a £6 profit mainly due to the fact that he bought everybody there a round of shots. Dale’s DJ friend knows that he won’t give up though with his philosophy being ‘Get Rich or Try Dyin’ which I’m guessing was meant to be the other way around. In addition to the DJing and promoting, Dale also is an amateur boxer with two fights under his belt however his trainer Tommy isn’t convinced that he’s putting enough time into his training which I think is a fair enough criticism. Meanwhile Dale’s mum Lisa tells us of her anguish of having to watch her son fight but at the same time how passionate she gets about him winning often trying to psych out his opponent’s mother. Eventually Tommy decides that Dale has put in enough training so all of Harpurhey gather to watch his fight including Paul who seemingly is enjoying a night out that allows him to bring out his masculine side for once. Dale’s nan, presumably the same one who was on the way to the bingo, has employed some motivational techniques by giving her grandson a £20 note that he will be allowed to keep if he wins however if he loses he has to give her £40 back. It seemed that even this motivation wasn’t enough to keep Dale from losing however to be fair it was all done on points but I’m guessing that he’ll put the boxing on the back-burner in the future to concentrate on being Harpurhey’s answer to Peter Stringfellow.
21 year old Ryan combines elements of all of the other characters as he’s a single parent like Nicole, like Amber he hopes his talent will mean a life outside Harpurhey and like Dale his main interest involves battling an opponent. When we first meet Ryan he has just come out of Strangeways after a four week stint for breaking a restraining order put on him by an ex-partner when he sent her threatening text messages. Thankfully Ryan is determined that nothing like that will ever happen again and he believes that his way out of Harpurhey is to become known in the world of battle rap. For anybody who hasn’t seen 8 Mile battle rapping essentially sees two guys slag each other off and as Ryan says it’s like boxing but instead of throwing punches they throw punchlines. Ryan, whose battle rap name is Raptor, is squaring off against Dave aka Evila and is using Facebook as a way to gather material for their battle while at the same time slagging him off publicly in order to build up animosity before the fight. The battle itself essentially boils down to a playground scrap with both competitors engaging in ‘your mum’ jokes but unfortunately for Ryan he ends up choking halfway through the battle and loses to Evila. However he still has faith that his rapping will one day take him to America and that the money he makes will mean he can provide for his daughter Lily.
Just like in last week’s episode People Like Us continues to demonstrate all aspects of life through the young folk of Harpurhey all of whom have some sort of ambition however small it might be. I’m still enjoying the continued exploits of the Wakefields, who I’m hoping will be in every episode, as they also had to deal with someone weeing in the bin at the Wishy Washy and also the theft of their celebrity pictures with someone even nicking the portrait of Bono from U2. Del Boy Dale’s various schemes were also quite amusing while Ryan’s battle-rapping story was the weakest of the four even though the scene of him choking during his bout was fairly cringe-worthy. For me though this episode belonged to Nicola who is presented as a sympathetic character even though some of her priorities are a little skewed for example the fact that she decides to spend her benefits on designer clothes for Crystal rather than pay the gas bill. I have to say I also enjoyed the fact that the common element that all of the Harpurhey residents have is their daily viewing of Jeremy Kyle with Paul’s running commentary being absolutely hilarious.
Overall this was, if anything, a stronger episode of People Like Us than last week’s debut as the four stories really had a common bond that being the young people trying to better themselves whether it be Dale’s club promoting, Amber’s acting or Ryan’s battle-rapping. What I like about the show is that over the course of the episode I really feel like I’m getting to know everybody thanks to the candid interviews with friends and family. To me People Like Us comes across as one of the most real reality shows in years and I for one am really enjoying it.
What do you think of People Like Us? Do you enjoy it as much as I do? Leave Your Comments Below.