GROW­ING UP IN PUB­LIC

A new show grap­ples with a di­verse bunch of ideas as it in­tro­duces a spot of re­al­ity into the lives of adul­tes­cents, writes Graeme Blun­dell

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

PAR­ENT­ING, I some­times think, is about wait­ing for your chil­dren to be­come old enough to tell you how badly you ac­com­plished it. Grow­ing up is a trou­ble­some and un­pleas­ant ac­tiv­ity for many peo­ple and, as the SBS doc­u­men­tary re­al­ity se­ries The Nest re­veals, it is es­pe­cially so if they haven’t done it by the time they are 25.

Across six alarm­ing episodes, The Nest mon­i­tors the lives of three Aus­tralian fam­i­lies, each with adult chil­dren liv­ing at home. Th­ese kids are known as adul­tes­cents, young peo­ple who refuse to settle down and make com­mit­ments, and who would rather go on par­ty­ing into mid­dle age.

They are also re­ferred to as nesters ( ob­vi­ous enough), twix­ters ( as in be­twixt and be­tween, nei­ther adult nor child) and by the elab­o­rate acro­nym KIP­PERS ( kids in par­ents’ pock­ets erod­ing re­tire­ment sav­ings).

In Ja­pan, where more than 70 per cent of sin­gle work­ing women aged 30 to 35 live with their par­ents, they call them par­a­sitic sin­gles. This is the way the op­por­tunis­tic young peo­ple in this doc­u­men­tary se­ries ap­pear in the first episode of The Nest , scroung­ing, freeload­ing and spong­ing.

They revel in their child­ish be­hav­iour and have so far man­aged to avoid any of the obli­ga­tions con­ven­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with adult­hood. For them th­ese obli­ga­tions have no re­deem­ing fea­tures.

Th­ese young peo­ple have no in­ter­est in ma­tu­rity, re­spon­si­bil­ity or com­mit­ment. To me, though, their lives with their ador­ing par­ents seem like a def­i­ni­tion of sub­ur­ban hell as th­ese adul­tes­cents daily scold, tease, taunt, shout at them and spend their money.

Even if you have reached the age where you have no in­ter­est in other peo­ple’s chil­dren, The Nest is worth watch­ing for its voyeurism and its vin­di­ca­tion of the way you may have en­cour­aged your chil­dren to grow up.

The first episode es­tab­lishes the Cur­ran, Troche and Wilkin­son fam­i­lies and their var­i­ous stay- at- home adult off­spring. Then five of the older male kidults and one girl­friend are moved into a shared house and two younger sis­ters in their early 20s into an­other.

Both prop­er­ties, though spa­cious, are with­out power or furniture and the res­i­dents of each are forced to set up their new house­hold co­op­er­a­tively. The two young women turn their at­tempts to find where the elec­tric­ity comes from into some­thing like a sketch from The Catherine Tate Show , so very noisy, foul and teenage.

All the par­tic­i­pants in this grow­ing up ex­per­i­ment fol­low writ­ten in­struc­tions as they pre­pare for a new life on their own. Ini­tially it seems like a big game and the young peo­ple act their parts slyly, only just con­ceal­ing smug grins; their par­ents are min­utes away, af­ter all. And they live in a com­fort­able house where the fridge is al­ways full, the laun­dry al­ways done and so­cial ta­boos are nonex­is­tent.

Then our lost boys and girls are in­tro­duced to The Nest ex­perts, fi­nan­cial guru Scott Pape and psy­chol­o­gist Dina McMil­lan, who ex­plain the show’s house rules. Stick with me here, view­ers; the show does get a lit­tle dif­fuse and there are many char­ac­ters to fol­low.

Each house­hold is al­lo­cated a weekly bud­get based on the av­er­age Aus­tralian in­come of some­one in their age group: $ 678. Each per­son is ex­pected to cook at least one meal for their house­mates, with the house­hold de­cid­ing all other chores col­lec­tively.

The Nest tests a com­mon the­ory: that adults in their late 20s who re­main at home find it harder to live with other peo­ple, cling­ing as they do to the crea­ture com­forts pro­vided by their par­ents. It also poses the ques­tion of whether baby boomer par­ents send un­re­al­is­tic sig­nals about what it means to grow up.

The pro­gram works from the not en­tirely new idea of ask­ing at what stage we should cut the apron strings and let our chil­dren ac­quire in­de­pen­dence and self- reliance. And it asks many other ques­tions, too: this is a busy show. Why are so many par­ents not ask­ing their chil­dren to leave home? Why are they us­ing their time and re­tire­ment sav­ings to pro­vide meals, ser­vices and ac­com­mo­da­tion? And when the grown- up chil­dren fi­nally do leave, will the par­ents still main­tain a work­ing re­la­tion­ship with them?

As the adult chil­dren come to terms with their changed cir­cum­stances by the end of the first episode, the par­ents re­luc­tantly be­gin to ad­just to their ab­sence. Jenny Wilkin­son, with her five chil­dren gone, prowls the empty house. ‘‘ Just as well the dogs are here; I’d get lonely, I think,’’ she mut­ters sadly.

Os­car and Marta Troche seem un­cer­tain whether their re­la­tion­ship will sur­vive, so sad is their loss. It’s only at th­ese mo­ments that the show comes per­ilously close to cross­ing the line be­tween en­ter­tain­ment and voyeurism.

At such mo­ments I’m aware that what makes good en­ter­tain­ment may not al­ways be good for the peo­ple in­volved. Most re­al­ity shows play off a mix of the clas­sic game show genre: a con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment in­volv­ing com­pe­ti­tion, rules and ex­pul­sion, with el­e­ments thrown in from soap opera: sto­ry­lines, char­ac­ters and high emo­tions.

But with The Nest there are no elim­i­na­tions, no prizes and no sur­vival of the fittest. Yet some­how, for all its so­ci­o­log­i­cal am­bi­tions, The Nest man­ages to present it­self as a lively piece of en­ter­tain­ment. Like all good re­al­ity- based shows, it’s about peo­ple ex­hibit­ing be­liev­able emo­tions and be­hav­iour in an ar­ti­fi­cial sit­u­a­tion. It shows how re­al­ity TV bridges the gap be­tween fiction and life by fus­ing the two, cre­at­ing truth­ful per­for­mances that are nev­er­the­less sur­rounded by scripted el­e­ments. And The Nest re­veals one of the ways in which re­al­ity TV has moved past ex­ploit­ing peo­ple through tor­ture, em­bar­rass­ment and temp­ta­tion to pre­sent­ing them in the process of chang­ing them­selves.

The pro­duc­tion is smart, highly vis­ual and at­ten­tion- grab­bing, with a fluid style fo­cus­ing more on images, emo­tions and en­ergy than on wordy ex­po­si­tion. Even the var­i­ous commenta- tors are cov­ered in a vis­ually ar­rest­ing way, the com­ments elided to main­tain the en­ergy.

When the cir­cum­stances al­low, se­ries pro­ducer Paul Rudd’s fast cut­ting and free- rang­ing cam­era move­ments are as force­ful and flam­boy­ant as any in fic­tional dra­mas. He shoots the static se­quences, when peo­ple talk in the cor­ners of their houses or the grown- up brats ma­nip­u­late their mums and dads, in avail­able light, which adds an at­trac­tive cin­ema verite au­then­tic­ity.

For a show deal­ing with so many ideas, The Nest is a fairly slick bit of TV. But the ideas bite. It should be re­quired view­ing for any­one who thinks re­fusal to grow up is an at­trac­tive thing in their chil­dren.

The Nest, Satur­day, 7.30pm, SBS.

The ex­perts: From left, de­mog­ra­pher Bernard Salt, so­cial psy­chol­o­gist Dina McMil­lan and fi­nan­cial ex­pert Scott Pape

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