‘Eden’ looks harm­less enough but is a re­minder that the coloni­sa­tion of Ire­land be­gan as re­al­ity TV

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Eden (Mon­day, Chan­nel 4) is about a bunch of English peo­ple who es­tab­lish a fledg­ling utopian com­mu­nity in the Celtic hin­ter­land (Scot­land). It’s a tele­vi­sion ex­per­i­ment that re­minds me a lit­tle of other ex­per­i­ments the English have en­gaged in in the past. Like the coloni­sa­tion of Ire­land, for ex­am­ple, which also be­gan as a re­al­ity-TV pro­gramme ( Was­sup

Bitches? with Henry II). Now, Eden is pos­si­bly named af­ter the place Adam and Eve lived be­fore it was gen­tri­fied and they had to move to the outer sub­urbs, but I sus­pect it’s ac­tu­ally named af­ter Bri­tish prime min­is­ter An­thony Eden, the man be­hind the Suez cri­sis, be­cause it also looks set to be an ad­ven­tur­ous folly.

Even­tu­ally. If your no­tions of sur­vival­ism in­volve Bear Grylls drink­ing urine or Han Solo cut­ting open a tauntaun in or­der to sur­vive the icy wastes of Hoth (my sense of sur­vival­ism comes from Star Wars), then you may have found some episodes a lit­tle slow. In­deed,

Eden was ini­tially greeted with a cry of “meh!” from so­cial-me­dia com­menters who were up­set it wasn’t the sort of fast-for­ward re­al­ity car crash they’d come to love. “Why were the pro­gramme-mak­ers giv­ing the par­tic­i­pants food and med­i­cal sup­plies and not al­low­ing them to starve or die of cholera?” they won­dered. “Would a sim­ple bear at­tack be too much to ask for? Why isn’t Christo­pher Big­gins here? Could Christo­pher Big­gins be­friend the bear? Is Christo­pher Big­gins ed­i­ble?” This was to miss the point.

Eden is slow-mo­tion re­al­ity tele­vi­sion and like other slow-mo­tion dra­mas, such as

The Wire or Amer­i­can gov­er­nance, the story arc is big­ger and po­ten­tially more dra­matic than the episodic scan­dals gen­er­ated else­where.

The par­tic­i­pants are not set up to fail. They have real skills. They are car­pen­ters, vets, doc­tors, game­keep­ers, paramedics, fish­er­men and hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ists (there are no so­cial-me­dia con­sul­tants, tech en­trepreneurs or, bizarrely, TV colum­nists among them). The only per­son who seems out of place is Tara, a life coach, who es­tab­lishes her­self as the com­mu­nity masseuse and op­er­ates out of a plas­tic shel­ter dubbed “the plea­sure­dome”.

Tara’s mas­sage par­lour an­noys some who feel that mas­sage has never been at the bedrock of any great civil­i­sa­tions, and claim that she’s shirk­ing work. “I’ll carry on the stresses of [run­ning ]the gar­den, you carry on the stresses of mas­sag­ing peo­ple,” says hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist Rachel, pas­sive-ag­gres­sively.

“That’s your opin­ion, sweetie, you’re en­ti­tled to it,” says Tara, pas­sive-ag­gres­sively. (One of Eden’s po­ten­tial ex­ports in the fu­ture is pas­sive ag­gres­sion.)

Wilder­ness mas­sage

A lot of this episode is taken up with the tra­vails of Tara’s wilder­ness mas­sage business, gen­eral shel­ter-build­ing and the hus­bandry of sheep and goats. (In the case of Glenn, a com­mit­ted goat-nuz­zler, I was con­cerned that it would be hus­bandry in more than one sense of the word.) But what’s most in­ter­est­ing to see is how camp har­mony is as de­pen­dent on in­ter­per­sonal in­ter­ac­tions as it is on such prac­ti­cal­i­ties. Even in this small com­mu­nity, these pi­o­neers and pil­grims can’t es­cape politics. Votes are held. De­bates are had about the type of com­mu­nity they want. There’s ten­sion be­tween iso­la­tion­ists and com­mu­ni­tar­i­ans. There’s ten­sion be­tween the talk­a­tive and the tac­i­turn. There’s ten­sion be­tween the lovelorn and the obliv­i­ous.

Game­keeper and IT con­sul­tant Glenn (he makes more use of the first set of skills than the se­cond – surely he could put to­gether some sort of “in­ter­net” out of moss and twigs?) be­gins this episode de­lighted by shep­herdess Caro­line, a woman who doesn’t hes­i­tate to ex­e­cute a sheep (it had been steal­ing, I think) or to cre­ate a bot­tle-holder from a lamb foe­tus. Glenn is cap­ti­vated.

“I saw her put the feed tube into a sick goat,” he says. “That was sexy.”

When Glenn re­alises Caro­line doesn’t fancy him, it all goes a lit­tle Heart of Dark­ness. He be­friends a goat, and be­fore long he’s fan­ta­sis­ing about culling the weak.

“We can’t carry ev­ery­one for­ever,” he says darkly. “And not ev­ery­one is go­ing to make it through to to the end.”

He’s not the only one think­ing like this. A small cadre of gung-ho males be­gin omi­nously ide­al­is­ing ru­ral de­pop­u­la­tion.

“I think if peo­ple leave, the ex­pe­ri­ence is go­ing to get eas­ier and more ef­fi­cient,” says Tom, a sports in­struc­tor, who has clearly learned about run­ning so­ci­ety from Ire­land’s po­lit­i­cal elite.

Any­way, I find it com­pelling. What sort of com­mu­nity will it be when we re­join them for se­ries two? Will it be an idyl­lic vista of fly­ing cars and mon­key but­lers or just fuzzy footage of Glenn, naked and smeared with blood, danc­ing around a camp­fire in the dark, much like all the footage we’ve been get­ting from Bri­tain since Brexit? By se­ries three, they’ll be ap­ply­ing for EU mem­ber­ship. By se­ries four, they’ll be ac­ti­vat­ing ar­ti­cle 50 af­ter re­ceiv­ing their first im­mi­grant (Christo­pher Big­gins, prob­a­bly).

This se­ries ends with Tara, af­ter quite a bit of bul­ly­ing, re­turn­ing to civil­i­sa­tion and the com­mu­nity erect­ing a wooden cross with her name on it (I pre­sume she’s not ly­ing be­neath it). Then we see pre­view footage from the next se­ries, in­clud­ing a clip of a burn­ing hu­manoid ef­figy (se­ri­ously). Who is within this fiery man of wicker? My money’s on a vir­ginal po­lice­man from the main­land. Or Christo­pher Big­gins. Du­bi­ous ex­per­i­ment In Last Or­ders with Gay Byrne (Tues­day, RTÉ 1), an­other du­bi­ous ex­per­i­ment in self­gov­er­nance – the Ir­ish State – is ex­plored. This ex­cel­lent doc­u­men­tary bal­ances an un­spar­ing his­tory of the re­li­gious con­trol of Ir­ish in­sti­tu­tions (Mark Pa­trick He­d­er­man, the ab­bot of Glen­stal Abbey, doesn’t shrink from words like “po­lice state”) with the clear-eyed in­sights of Byrne, who was ed­u­cated and ter­ri­fied by Chris­tian Broth­ers. He was also, as a broad­caster, part of the lib­er­al­is­ing process that un­der­mined such un­ques­tion­ing re­li­gios­ity. “We gave them so much power at that time, in that place, it seems to me they be­came cor­rupt,” he says sadly.

It’s fas­ci­nat­ing, thought-pro­vok­ing stuff – enough to make you want to go to a wilder­ness lo­ca­tion and start again.

Tara’s mas­sage par­lour an­noys some who feel that mas­sage has never been at the bedrock of any great civil­i­sa­tions, and claim that she’s shirk­ing work

Shep­herdess Caro­line from the Chan­nel 4 se­ries Eden

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