The Devil's Dinner Party
Reality TV is a big thing in all its forms. Sure, Big Brother has died a death recently, but it was huge for years. The X Factor continues to pull in viewers even as it descends into monotony and its rival Strictly Come Dancing is growing in popularity every year.
But possibly the biggest reality TV show is Come Dine With Me. Not in terms of viewers or money, but sheer watchability. It's almost always on and it sucks you in so completely that you can lose hours to it. It has had so many series, so many incarnations, so many episodes.
There are also so many rip-offs. Four in a Bed, Restaurant In Our Living Room, House Guest Michael Winner's Dining Stars, May The Best House Win, Instant Restaurant, they all work around the same premise. Some involve food, some don't, but it's all crazy characters, bitchiness and voting.
Sky Atlantic has just rolled out a new imitator, called The Devil's Dinner Party. The premise is that a group of people are invited to a dinner party. There will be fancy outfits, nice clothes and as much nastiness as they can possibly fit into 60 minutes.
The focus is all on the personality of the contestants. Before they've even sat at the table they have to vote someone off. They then have to answer questions about the others, such as "Who was a bully at school?", "Who has slept with men and women?" and "How would X rate themselves out of ten for funniness?". If they answer the questions correctly, then £1,000 is added to the prize fund. The most popular contestant at the end gets the money.
The idea is that they're all going to be nasty and horrible to each other and we're going to be able to watch a car crash unfold in front of our very eyes. The whole set up is designed to make the contestants be at their very worst/most miserable so that we can watch and cackle at their misery.
The misery does come through. In episode two a woman questions her entire self just because of the way the others saw her. People see themselves as dull and boring because they were voted off early, or feel horrendous because the show has forced them to say who are they most and least preferred contestant.
The nastiness — not so much. As much as the show tries to say that it's the "devil's table" and that the contestants are "selling their souls", they're actually quite nice to each other. When forced to pick the contestant that was a bully at school, they go for the one who was least insecurity-ridden. When asked to say whether a contestant was most insecure about their body, face or personality they didn't say things like "Well she's well ugly so it'll be her face", they looked at how she acted and what they themselves were insecure about. No bitchiness at all.
You can't stick a bunch of egotistical but fundamentally nice people in a room that's got black and red decorations and a bloke talking in a vaguely creepy voice and just expect them to turn into total gits. It doesn't work like that. The Devil's Table could have been a thoroughly gripping show — horrible but thoroughly gripping, car crash TV — but instead it's just kind of...pathetic.
We're just not very good at being nasty. Not at something like this, anyway. With Come Dine With Me the nastiness flows because people are incredibly sensitive, competitive and protective over their cooking and food. The Devil's Table feels more like an office has been taken on a weird team-building exercise about truth and honestly, with money just being thrown randomly into the pot. It's not great TV, to be honest. But sadly I don't think it's going to be the last of its kind.