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Gogglebox: Lockdown-Proof TV

Back in the first lockdown, early early lockdown, when everything was shut and the streets were quiet (remember?), telly hadn’t adapted yet. 

Now we’re accustomed to presenters, celebs and soap actors perpetually being at a cold, unfriendly distance from each other, echoey studios with half an audience, guests on chat shows zooming in and face masks being normal, instead of vaguely sinister. The news acknowledged Covid, but pre-recorded shows didn’t, so suddenly it was incredibly weird to see big crowds and people gleefully spraying each other with germs. Back then what we saw on screen didn’t reflect the world we were living in, and if it did we were baffled by it – with the exception of Gogglebox.  

Series 15 of Gogglebox was airing on Channel 4 as the pandemic unfolded. When it started on February 21st 2020, there were 13 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in the UK. By the last episode in May, we’d had over two months of national lockdown and worldwide cases had reached 5 million. In real time, we got to watch real people experiencing the effects of the pandemic, and specifically experiencing the oddness of our lives and television adapting to it week by week. Gogglebox was lockdown proof – it already took place within the living rooms of members of the public, mostly featuring groups which in the mad, modern world we’d describe as ‘bubbles’. It was one of the only shows that remained constant while almost everything else on TV changed.  

Of course, the pandemic is well documented. Social media (should any record of it survive the inevitable breakdown of society) will be a valuable resource for studying experiences of lockdown. Remember when all those celebrities almost immediately lost their minds and filmed themselves singing Imagine? There’ll be an A Level History question about that one day. But the value of series 15 of Gogglebox was the way it captured the before, during and after. It is an important piece of cultural and social history because it shows members of the public discussing their lives (and therefore the pandemic) in their own homes, but also because of the way it was packaged, and which programmes, moments and news items were highlighted during Those Unprecedented Times.  

During the many lockdowns I missed the pub, of course, and I missed nights out, museums, gigs, going out for tea and all the other stuff I definitely did all the time in my incredibly active social life.   

But what I found myself missing the most was the most normal thing of all: sitting in my, or someone else’s, front room and watching telly. I will never again take for granted popping round to someone’s house for a cup of tea and ending up staying for The Chase, or being one of many hungover people groaning under blankets in front of Blue Planet, or three generations of a family shouting at Ian Beale. Gogglebox gave us the chance to experience these moments a tiny bit after they abruptly disappeared. There was a period of 2020 when the people on Gogglebox were the only people outside our households we could watch telly with. 

I like basically everyone in the cast, but I don’t think the show’s strength is solely down to them, as proven by its remaining popular despite many different households leaving and joining over the course of its 18 series. I think it is good because all people, when sitting in front of the TV with people they love, are funny and odd and clever and stupid and say things worth listening to and, as the show demonstrates wonderfully, are largely similar to everyone bloody else. The way it is made means a massive amount of footage is filmed then neatly edited down; we are seeing the best bits. You probably generate at least 15 minutes of TV gold a week – minimum. What makes Gogglebox good is its celebration of people being at their most normal and therefore also their funniest, and we were and are lucky to have it. 

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