TV review

Island of dim souls

The Times

September 5, 2008


When Women Rule the World
Chateau Monty

Did the idea to give possibly the dumbest show on TV this year a serious feminist context occur before filming or afterwards in a desperate strain for credibility? When Women Rule the World claimed to interrogate whether a matriarchy could work. It did this by taking elements of Shipwrecked, Big Brother and Castaway and folding them together into one hulking ball of toxic dough. Despite its sociological veneer, the first shot told you every- thing: Steve Jones, T4’s handsome presenter, appearing out of some tropical sea à la Daniel Craig as Bond. Then eight women materialised à la Ursula Andress. They were going to rule an island. Under their command would be ten men. The women were rude, rather than assertive, and all the men were the worst kinds of sexists. The first episode was taken up with shouting matches about tidying up the “pods” where the women sleep. The programme, the concept even, was so vapid and without merit that it ran out of steam in minutes. Even if it was supposed to be brainless it lacked any sense of fun. The problem was the leader of the female tribe, the “Queen”, a mouthy club promoter who would get into a fight with a piece of carpet fluff. The show insisted its female participants dress as Greek goddesses and at very serious moments they had to wear leopard-print sarongs. The “Queen” couldn’t deliver her (clearly scripted) lines properly. Of course we learnt nothing about feminism or matriarchies. The women didn’t seek the men’s co-operation (bad TV), they just bossed them about. Only one woman got in with her slave and when she eventually had to sweep a paint-brush across a man’s chest to indicate he was up for eviction, she apologised — hilariously out of keeping with the staged moment.

One of the men had had enough, quite rightly, of the humiliation. Before the big eviction, he said he was off. Steve Jones, who reckoned “war criminals were being treated better” than the men, sounded genuinely cheated that he couldn’t play Davina McCall. The weirdest conceit came at the end: instead of leaving the island, the rejected participant had to “take the pathway to the sea and never look back”. Which they did. They walked into the sea and with the magic of a editing switch — at least you HOPED — disappeared amid the waves. So any man who fails to make the grade must at least look as if he is embracing death as a punishment. It would be great to say that this show was so bad it’s good. It’s not. It absolutely reeks. Let’s pretend it never happened.

In Chateau Monty, a handsome young buck was trying to make “biodynamic” wine on a French hillside (“biodynamic” means something about being caressed by the Moon with Virgo rising.) Monty employed plain-speaking Linzie as his helper — and she was good enough to spend a whole day putting manure down around thousands of vines. Naturally Monty’s Italian girlfriend (Sylvana) decided to stay in Italy. The series’s accidental star is Bill Baker, a super-posh wine buyer with red cheeks, who laughs in Monty’s face when he hears about the biodynamics thing (“It’s barking”).

Linzie seemed game, despite Monty’s underwhelming sell on the scale of the task: “It’s you, me and 15 tons of s***.” Despite the promise of Monty’s earthy vines, Sylvana may well have done the right thing.