Tuesday, March 8, 2016

REVIEW. Gogglebox South Africa on the Sony Channel successfully runs like an Easter egg hunt, constantly compelling the viewer to stay for just that one little bit more.

Gogglebox South Africa on the Sony Channel (DStv 127) is bubblegum television: a personalised TV version of the director's commentary you find on your favourite movie DVD, with a surprisingly soft centre.

"Who knew it would be such an emotional show?" remarks one of the viewers in the debut episode of the localised South African version of the format show, and her comment is as apt for Gogglebox SA itself.

Gogglebox South Africa's first episode included families watching Moment of Truth (Sony Channel), The Moaning of Life (BBC Brit), Spud on M-Net, The Impossible, violent university protests on eNCA, The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story (FOX) and The Voice South Africa (M-Net).

It felt highly reminiscent of the first time specifically Big Brother South Africa and The Jerry Springer Show were broadcast on South African television: watching people on TV, doing something you've never seen them do on TV before.

Like those two shows, the crux of Gogglebox SA is people watching people being people within the parameters of various heightened emotional states, and the new sensation of it makes for compelling viewing.

Viewers at home take their cue from the emotional yardstick of the viewers in the show, who are reacting to the emotional scenes show to them involving people.

Well executed and edited with a cotillion of instantly identifiable and likeable "family" groupings who comment on what they see, Gogglebox SA keeps serving up the same emotional snack over and over to viewers but with slight differentiation.

Using the same template and pattern that makes gambling, Candy Crush, going on a rollercoaster and watching race cars go by just one more time, all so addictive, Gogglebox SA will draw you in and keep you transfixed if you let it, serving up an unending stream of bite-sized, mood-injecting video chunks.

Although Gogglebox South Africa isn't tabloid programming like the recently cancelled The Soup on E!, it is in essence also a clip show - with added commentary - about very visceral, eye-popping and emotionally combustible content.

On the periodic table, Gogglebox South Africa (with language and some content not suitable for younger viewers) will fit in nicely right next to hydrogen - emotionally uplifting, quickly spinning between positive and negative charges, an energy carrier, and of course being highly flammable.

Like puppies at the dog show, every single family in Gogglebox SA has clearly been hand-picked for perfection - there's not an ugly one in sight.

The big plus point of the Eject Media and Picture Tree production is that the show found extremely well-informed content curators - people who know what's inside shows and can trigger reactions.

Thankfully the production and Sony Pictures Television allowed these right choices to go through that can and do elicit "big" reactions.

Television thrives, and drives, on melodrama.

While basically none of the families have seen and been exposed to content like The Impossible, Spud or The People vs OJ Simpson, I've seen all those as a TV critic, creating the added dramatic irony of knowing and watching these families - knowing what highly emotionally charged scenes they are going to see, and knowing that they won't be able to not react.

In that sense Gogglebox SA, executive produced by Stephan Le Roux and Gary King, is slightly emotionally exploitative - it plays with people's emotions and zooms in for that awe, shock or surprise reaction you know they surely are going to have. Then again, what TV game show isn't?

Although it has an assembly line quality to it, Gogglebox SA isn't boring - it runs like an Easter egg hunt where the emotional pay-off remains exciting even after finding 10 eggs for your basket in the garden. You're still prepared to stay for more.

Respect should also go to whoever is responsible for neatly managing to pack in comments as a type of overlay voice-over in-between the already-there dialogue of the film or TV episode family members are watching.

There's very little cross-talk and "talking over" which would quickly have detracted from Gogglebox SA and have made it difficult to really follow and "hear" the show.

The viewer at home hears one person at a time and its clearly because the sound editing and prepping of the families have been meticulously done made that way.  

Sony Channel's Gogglebox SA cleverly captures what makes people watching at your local supermarket and at the airport so successful when you go with grandma who's old enough to no longer care about having a filter: You get to hear someone else say out loud exactly what you are seeing and thinking.