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
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