Five Guys a Week arrives on our screens as a composite of reality TV excess and perversion. Blending Love is Blind, Come Dine with Me and your most horrific fever dream, the show is Channel 4’s latest contribution to the television dating canon, less explicitly pornographic than Naked Attraction but ultimately more depraved. The concept is as follows: a woman invites five men to live with her for a week, a fucked-up ménage à six which brings out the worst in male insecurity and deviousness. She is required to send them home, one by one, until she is left with the man she truly likes, or whom she hates the least.
In the opening episode, we meet Amy from Hertfordshire, a mother in her mid-thirties who is far too normal for the lowbrow insanity of reality television. Five Guys a Week, however, is not lowbrow. It is high-concept but extends into high art, with its subtle insights into masculine psychology and the warfare of dating.
The first combatant is ‘international banker’ Christian, who is training to be a pilot, such is his desire for adrenaline-boosting activity. A snarling would-be alpha male who can only consume his drinks, whether gin and tonic or morning coffee, with underlying aggression, Christian enters Amy’s house as determined to win as he is to find love. He is an arsehole, and this review cannot be the only one to extend that judgement.
Scott is a very different breed of arsehole, one whose personality so closely embraces a tired stereotype that it is hard to believe he is anything but a character meshed lazily together in the production room. Scott, you see, has quit his job to become a country and western singer-songwriter. Should the viewer ever forget this, he provides a helpful reminder by bringing his guitar and playing it disconsolately in the kitchen whilst others attempt to converse. Equally in tune with his emotions, Scott gently weeps as he discusses the strength of his parents’ marriage. He has at this point known Amy only a couple of hours.
Glen, the next suitor, works in local government and has four children. He is the least obviously despicable of the men in the programme, but one can only conclude that he is too nice for this kind of cut-throat environment. Clearly damaged from his last relationship, he states that he is looking for the “Michelle to my Barack”, before correcting himself to say, “The Barack to my Michelle.” Alright, mate.
Michael is a film stuntman. That’s really cool. The only issue is that Michael himself is not cool. A matter of seconds into his pre-recorded introduction and with great sincerity, he begins to discuss pissing his pants at work. Once introduced to Amy, he asks questions as if conducting a questionnaire, enquiring whether she has any pets, and if she smokes. As he sits with her and his four fellow candidates at dinner on the opening night, he inadvertently laughs when Glen reveals he was recently cuckolded by a teenager. The man embodies awkwardness to such an extent that it is uncomfortable to witness.
Rounding up the quintet is Trystan, a surfing coach who is the most classically handsome of the bunch. Like Amy, he appears to have wandered onto the wrong show, but whereas she approaches Five Guys a Week with a lucky-me enthusiasm, he looks permanently bewildered. Trystan probably applied for something more respectable, like Countdown or Bake Off, but now finds himself trapped in the newest, weirdest crevice of on-screen dating, sending distressed signals with his eyes to any potential rescuers watching at home.
Within the framework of Five Guys a Week, the woman is the central figure, the object of the men’s concerted efforts, but the viewing focus is trained solely on the dynamic which operates between the titular guys. Christian is the most immediately forward in his advances, and it is against him that his more reticent co-stars unite in distrust. Scott offers him a cup of tea. The moneyman-aviator says thanks but he’s just had one. Guitar Boy asks if he wants another one. Consecutive cuppas? The mind games on display are staggering, and the tension is only raised by the fact that each man is interviewed throughout the hour-long runtime in a dimly-lit garden shed, like a well-groomed hostage.
A little over midway through the programme, things go from strange to demented. The remaining contestants, for that is what they are, visit Amy’s well-spoken, refined mother Jackie for Sunday lunch. As they make polite conversation and each chap explains why he is a suitable match for her daughter, the lady engages in top-tier shithousery by asking them about the extent of their sexual experience. As they awkwardly mangle their words and Amy’s cheeks redden, Jackie goes in for the kill. She is aware of the metatheatricality of modern televisual spectacle. She has hitherto led a life away from public attention, and only now is getting a chance to make her voice heard. “My husband used to like spanking me”, Jackie says, matter-of-factly. It is at this moment that Five Guys a Week bursts through the prescriptions of reality TV, of reality itself, and becomes something transcendent.
You will have to watch the episode to discover who Amy chooses. An attractive, intelligent woman, she is confronted with monstrosity, banality and shit chat in her quest to find love. This is modern courtship: five strangers in your living room squabbling over who gets to sleep on the waterbed. Five Guys a Week is the most cringe-inducing, cynical, depressing thing currently on television. It’s brilliant.
Image: Jonathan Rolande via Flickr