Last Night's TV – 'Young, Foreign and Over Here'

Posted on: 25 October 2011 by Alexander Hay

The BBC attempts a documentary series on life in the UK for the many East European immigrants who have travelled to our shores. Sadly, they get BBC3 to make it

Being young and foreign is all very well, but it hardly makes for good TV

Our prejudices reveal a great deal about us. This is always a problem for critics and journalists, who have to struggle with providing good information while at the same time venting their spleens. For some, however, no such matters of conscience apply, especially if they work in television.

How else to explain the latest offering from the abysmal BBC 3 channel? 'Young, Foreign and Over Here' claims to be a documentary series about workers from Eastern Europe and the hurdles they have to face while living in the UK.

What the viewer got instead was the sort of stage managed reality TV nonsense that this waste of the licence fee continues to churn out in-between repeats of EastEnders and episodes of Family Guy.

To begin with, the young people chosen aren't really typical East European migrants. In part, because there is no such thing as a typical East European migrant (even though the show tries to imply that there is), but also because unlike many of their fellow migrants, they couldn't work their way out of a paper bag.

Take the sort-of trilingual Hungarian lad who turned up to an interview as a German translator while wearing a baseball cap, trainers, a Little Britain t-shirt and, err, not being able to speak German. Or the privileged young man who quit his executive job at the family firm so he could leg it to London with his girlfriend and take acting lessons. (What this meant in practice was being a not-terribly-good waiter.)

Or the Russian girl who flew over to London hoping to immediately get a job as a theatre manager, only to find herself back on the plane home soon after when London didn't throw itself at her feet. Or the wannabe Oxford student who ends up peddling a rickshaw to pay for his somewhat naive Brideshead Revisited fetish.

It's all a million miles away from the reality for many East Europeans and the building sites, shops, restaurants and mundane grubby jobs they work successfully at and with little complaint. The specious young things the show chose as its stars aren't at all like the Polish woman in Hull who helps run a corner shop or the Slovak man who stocks the shelves at the Dagenham Asda. They're more like the affected, pretentious middle class TV producers who run BBC 3, labouring under the delusion that all young people are either like them or ought to be like them, as shown by their sense of entitlement, smugness and condescending attitude to both Britain and the home countries they left behind.

A similar bias surfaces in the choice of British natives the show selects to give a conflicting viewpoint. To a man (and a taxi driver), they're white, thick, bigoted and uncouth - exactly how parts of the media likes to see the hoi polloi. While it's fascinating to see the tortured psychic landscape of BBC 3 producers splayed across the screen in this way, it's also a bleak, ugly affair. Confirmation bias works both ways, after all.

The show isn't even that informative, throwing bite-sized chunks of information at the viewer that he or she already knows, and focussing less on the most interesting day-to-day grind and more on the day-trips the already rather pampered youngsters are taken on by a well-meaning charity.

The show only briefly flickers with interest when we get to witness some of the bed bug-infested slums some migrants have to live in, and the subdued solidarity that lets them survive such grot, but it's quickly overwhelmed by more of the same attempts to turn every scene into a 'yoof' soap opera and, curiously, lingering shots of the young migrants eating, drinking or making food.

It's telling that while BBC4 had to fight for its slice of the licence fee, no such battle was fought over BBC3's funding. Shows like 'Young, Foreign and Over Here', not to mention grimly patronising takes on youth unemployment ('Up for Hire Live') and the utter nihilistic frothiness of shows like 'England's Worst Ever Football Team' and 'World's Craziest Fools' (with Mr. T!) epitomise what the media thinks young people are all about, and it isn't a flattering picture. And yet they desperately chase ratings from that audience, inadvertently revealing their utter contempt for it at the same time

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Alexander Hay

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