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Pop CultureSeptember 22, 2015

Television: A Week of It – The Dismal Daytime Circus of Jeremy Kyle


Calum Henderson watches Jeremy Kyle every day for a week, and gets up to his eyeballs in other people’s misery.

Jeremy Kyle’s television show has been on the air now for over ten years. In that time there have been over 2,000 episodes filmed – something like a full two-and-a-half months worth of bickering, shouting, threats, sobbing and humiliation unleashed upon the world. Until last week, I had somehow merrily avoided seeing a single minute of it. Will these thundering waves of human emotion drag me under and spit me out a Jeremy Kyle fan?

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Monday – ‘My Sons Hate Me and Have Threatened To Crash My Wedding!

The first thing that hits you about this show is the music: it’s all over the place. We start with a full-orchestra Mission Impossible bank heist theme as we’re introduced to today’s cast of characters – one of whom you get the sense might actually die if Jeremy Kyle doesn’t sort their life out in time. Then, with a peal of enthusiastic applause from the studio audience, the skies clear and a euphoric Britpop reworking of the Kraftwerk ‘Computer Love’ riff kicks in as Kyle bounds onto the stage.

He wastes no time in introducing his first guest. “Catherine says she’s been abused in the street by her sons who have called her a prostitute and they’ve even  to her face  wished her dead.” Odd phrasing, delivered weirdly neutral and dispassionate. It’s like he’s reading the news.

“For this lady, 47 years of age, this is terrifying.” Let’s bring her out then. Suddenly an almighty din starts shaking the walls  are I Am Giant warming up in the studio next door? Nope, that’s just the production track they’ve chosen for this terrified 47-year-old woman to walk out to.

The short synopsis of the next 20 minutes is that Catherine is a bad mum and a liar, and her sons are bad sons and call her names. Both sides want the other to apologise so they can move on.

Kyle starts out gently admonishing Catherine from the seat next to her, before assuming a strange, buzzard-like crouch on the steps when the first of her sons is brought out. From this position he can shout with a growing intensity about how stupid both sides of the argument are. He’s a remarkably physical performer – and this certainly is a performance.

After a couple of walk-offs by Catherine – met by groans and chiding shouts of “come on darling!” from an increasingly impatient Kyle – we eventually reach some kind of halfhearted resolution. All parties are packed off to the mysterious offscreen ‘Graham’, who we can only hope is a qualified counsellor who can offer them some kind of genuine support.

The rest of the show is padded out with two even less spectacular cases ‘Son, I Want an Apology… You Threatened To Punch My Fiancee In The Face!’ and ‘I Can’t Help My Wife Move On From Her Daughter’s Death!’ During the former Kyle treats himself to a little lie down on the steps. It’s exhausting work.

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He doesn’t have the energy for a closing statement, in fact he’s barely coherent by the end of the show. From his spot on the steps he just turns to the camera and announces, grandly, “so I am for this morning out of time.” It’s half past one in the afternoon.

Tuesday – ‘10 Years: The Best of Jeremy Kyle

I truly am baffled as to this show’s appeal after yesterday’s offering. Perhaps I just caught it on a bad day. Luckily, today’s very special episode seeks to boil down the previous 2,000 hours of the show into one solid gold 47-minute greatest hits album. I’m ready to be won over to the dark side.

The show kicks off with Kyle greeting a horde of rabid, flag-waving fans outside the ITV studios in rabid scenes straight out of a political rally. It did occur to me yesterday that his commanding, persuasive speaking style would be perfectly suited to politics… probably bloody terrible politics.

“I’m looking back at some of my favourite stories, and there have been so many, but this… was an absolute belter,” he says by way of introduction to a segment from 2012 with a woman who had a relationship (“not intercourse”) with her daughter’s partner. “So he’s had you AND her?!” Kyle incredulously summarises. “Yeah, I can see where you’re coming from,” the daughter replies.

It’s really awful, tawdry stuff. A full three-way screaming match erupts between the warring mother daughter, and Kyle, right in the middle of things, bellowing “look in the mirror!” and “you’re a blimmin’ adult!” The dead-eyed studio audience gawp as the mother flirts with a nervous breakdown and threatens to punch her pregnant daughter.

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The segment concludes with a scene filmed in a hallway deep in the bowels of the studio. Kyle works the three women (another daughter has come out of the woodwork) like a dog trainer, asking them each a question then immediately issuing the command: “STOP.” It’s a strange, dehumanising performance and, despite a cameo from the elusive counselling wizard Graham, there’s no evidence that it was the least bit effective. A hasty postscript reveals none of the women now speak to one another.

The rest of the highlights include Jeremy Kyle vs a foul-mouthed elderly Scottish woman with addiction problems. On the topic of her son being taken into care because she was addicted to heroin, Kyle asks: “Why didn’t you just get clean?” For him, it’s just that simple. Despite her years of cruelty to her son, it’s impossible to get behind Kyle’s condemnation when he so willingly brings himself down to her level, repeatedly howling that she’s “a disgrace” and a “waste of space”.

We end on a lighter note, with Kyle snarling at a sex addict before cheerily waving us off with his flag-waving party faithful. “Britain’s Minister for Social Welfare Jeremy Kyle today told party supporters junkies should ‘just get clean’…

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Wednesday – ‘My Daughter’s a Bad Mum – She’s Chosen Drugs Over Her Children!

The exclamation marks at the end of these titles give them all an oddly gleeful tone. Good news – she’s chosen drugs! After yesterday’s best of – aka harrowing, soul-destroying worst of – I could definitely do with some glee, however misguided it might be.

Alas, we’re back to the daily grind – a woman whose traumatic miscarriage six years ago led to a spiral into drug addiction has been hauled on stage to have it out with her sisters. “It’s D-Day”! Today’s is a particularly dark and inscrutable screaming match, culminating in the druggy one lashing out and having to be escorted from the stage. “Calling her a smack rat isn’t going to help, is it,” scolds Kyle.

Again the host heads backstage to work his magic – a trademark of the Jeremy Kyle brand – talking her down from her hysteria. She confesses, sadly, “I just want to wake up and make pancakes for my kids.” One-on-one Kyle is a different force – no less intense, but gentler and seemingly more genuine. It feels like he might actually have a bone of empathy in his body. He coaxes her back on stage to reconvene the screaming match as quickly as possible.

It is exhausting viewing. We return backstage before long where one of the woman’s daughters confronts her anew. Kyle is right in both of their faces, saying things that sound helpful and wise, but are they? Does any of this help, or is he just some kind of ringmaster of misery, delivering us one banal domestic grievance after another?

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Thursday – ‘My Daughter’s A Bad Mum: I Won’t Let Her Destroy Another Family!

Ah, OK, it’s Bad Mum Week on Jeremy Kyle. This one “slept with eight different men while pregnant – she’s disgusting,” Kyle explains in his preamble. All the classic Kyle ingredients are again present – the mad mum, the aggrieved offspring and the hectoring host. But there’s a slightly lighter tone to this one, and… I’m almost into it.

There’s a sort of pantomime quality to the way this one plays out. The mad mum says something inflammatory, causing her daughter to then storm out from backstage to shout her catchphrase, a stroppy “I think you’ll find…!” It’s almost fun. Have I found my threshold for this kind of thing?

Before long, focus shifts to the real heart of the matter – it’s a classic ‘who’s the father?’ Kyle reels out one of his self-declared mantras: “Every kid should know who their father is.” Brilliant. Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Jeremy Kyle. A sibling DNA test reveals there’s a 79% chance the girls’ dad is a bloke called Kev. This is a satisfying resolution to absolutely no one – “all I’m saying is, look at you, look at her, and look at him,” he shrugs, gesturing at an old photo of Kev. They seem happy enough with that. Jeremy’s happy too, or at least for once not shouting or rolling his eyes. It’s the brightest moment in what has been a bleak old week.

Friday – [Episode Missing]

At the lowest ebb of my debilitating Candy Crush Saga obsession I would lie in bed at night and see row upon row of candies being crushed behind my eyelids as I tried to fall asleep. Last night I got that same sensation but with Jeremy Kyle’s voice, sneering things like “It’s not good enough though is it?!” and “You need to take a good hard look at yourself” at me from inside my own head.

I carry a heavy dread as I log into the efficient, reliable beast that is TVNZ OnDemand to watch today’s episode. But it’s not there. What? Has somebody just forgotten to upload it, or is this a sign from a higher power?

I check the TV Guide, which reports today’s episode title as ‘Today I’ll Make My Fiance Disown His Family’. Christ, not another disowning. I don’t even need to watch it. If I close my eyes I can already see the poor bastard slumped in his chair – shoulders sunken in defeat, head bowed in sorrow – as Kyle howls at him from his perch on the steps.

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