TV review: Sad lives of the space cadets

'Her abductions usually occur after she's eaten a KFC…' Chantelle. Photograph: Mark Johnson for Channel 4

'Her abductions usually occur after she's eaten a KFC…' Chantelle. Photograph: Mark Johnson for Channel 4
‘Her abductions usually occur after she’s eaten a KFC…’ Chantelle. Photograph: Mark Johnson for Channel 4
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A show which probed the Earth lives of ‘alien abductees’ was little more than exploitation, says Lucy Bellerby


bellers-on-the-box-logo-230The Anomalous Mind Management Abductee Contactee Helpline, or AMMACH, is a special helpline for people who believe they have been abducted by aliens. I say believe, because of course it is all utter nonsense; yet the subjects of Confessions of an Alien Abductee (Channel 4) are utterly convinced that they have been beamed up from Somerfield’s car park and probed.

Chantelle is like nothing I have ever seen before. She’s a glorious mix; part Bette Lynche, part Liam Gallagher, with a three-foot cat’s bum on the top of her head. Her fingers are forever curled, vice-like, around the end of a Benson & Hedges. Her abductions usually occur after she’s eaten a KFC, and she actually quite likes them because the aliens feel like her family.

And that is the problem with this programme: whilst it is (guiltily) funny, it is also sad and voyeuristic. The people who ran the helpline seemed fairly compos mentis, but then they are making money from the whole thing. Without fail, all the other subjects were vulnerable and/or seemed to have some mental health issues.

One woman took part in a lie detector test to prove she had been abducted, and failed on all the questions asked. Not that there was any need for the test; when asked “have you ever made up things about your life to seem more interesting or to gain attention?”, her whole body froze with fear.

I don’t think the film makers set out to make the subjects seem crackers; they already were. It’s hard to take someone like Simon seriously when he graphically explains the sex he has with his alien “cat mother”. But, perhaps patronisingly, I felt sorry for them, and worried about the abuse they might receive after the show had aired. It felt a little like peering in through some slightly grimy net curtains, watching Chantelle eating her KFC, and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Sunburned and overwhelmed… Emily and Sharon. Photograph: Channel 4
Sunburned and overwhelmed… Emily and Sharon. Photograph: Channel 4

The general gist of Hollywood Me (Channel 4) is thus: England is crap. Everyone who lives here is grey and sludgy, living in a coal smudged tin shack on the outskirts of an industrial estate.

Hollywood, however, is shiny and puffed out. It is Michael Jackson rolled in glitter and stuffed up a peacock’s bum. So everyone that lives in the UK needs to have some LA style fabulousness administered to them, via IV or through the medium of neon Moroccan scatter cushions.

It’s basically Changing Rooms / Ground Force updated for 2013, complete with Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen mark II. I was really hoping that the show’s lucky protagonist (victim?) Emily would come home to a living room covered in roman stencilling and burst into distraught tears, like in the good old days.

On Changing Rooms, people would return to walls with bits of masking tape peeling off, giant MDF TV cabinets and always, always, a driftwood “feature”. It reflected the spirit of Great British DIY; start off with good intentions, get bored or run out of time halfway through, then finish it in a rush. You end up hot and dusty, with backache and paint flecks on everything you’re ever owned. It’s what we do, it’s how it should be.

Unless you go on Hollywood Me. Emily gets to sit in the back of a limo with Sharon Osbourne, looking sunburned and overwhelmed. She has a sheep placenta facial and tries on a load of flashy party dresses, while back home a bemused designer wonders around B&Q looking for a “Mauritian dresser”.

The whole thing was a celebration of pomp and cravats, but I kind of liked it. The only thing that was missing was a bit of Laurence; no living room is complete without an Aztec water feature.