Beauty and some beast­li­ness

Tech­ni­cally bril­liant, but tawdry tele­vi­sion: Mar­ried at First Sight is some­thing unique. Steve Kil­gal­lon says “I do” to re­al­ity shows with high pro­duc­tion val­ues.

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There’s a beau­ti­ful shot in the TV3 pro­gramme Mar­ried at First Sight. The camera sweeps high. Seag­ulls rush past it, re­veal­ing the beauty of a pas­tel pale blue sky; it tilts down­wards, and be­low sits the city of Auck­land and its har­bours, spread out in all its glory. The pro­duc­ers like it too, I know, be­cause they’ve used it at least twice so far, mixed in with other beau­ti­ful es­tab­lish­ing shots of Turn­er­style pas­toral land­scapes and sweep­ing Lowry city scenes.

There’s some mag­nif­i­cent tech­ni­cal skills at work in the pro­duc­tion of MAFS. Al­most as if the crew wished they were work­ing on some­thing else en­tirely. Be­cause when the cam­eras drop back to eye level, they re­veal the same old tawdry tale of hu­man ex­is­tence all over again, ma­nip­u­lated for our crass en­ter­tain­ment.

For those who can claim com­plete ig­no­rance of MAFS – and to be hon­est, I doubt you, given its sur­pris­ing per­va­sive­ness – it is a Dan­ish-in­vented for­mat which pairs com­plete strangers to­gether at the al­tar.

For this first New Zealand sea­son, that meant five cou­ples, who – un­like in the Aus­tralian ver­sion – were legally al­lowed to marry for real on their first meet­ing. Af­ter just six episodes, three of those five are al­ready patently doomed and em­broiled in bit­ter re­crim­i­na­tions.

One pair looks like a rea­son­able match with some prospects of per­ma­nency. An­other, much older cou­ple, at least have the life skills and ex­pe­ri­ence to give this flawed ex­per­i­ment a red-hot crack. The rest al­ready clearly re­gret sign­ing up, and so they should.

The show al­leges that the cou­ples are all sci­en­tif­i­cally matched, by an aca­demic, Pani Farvid, and a re­la­tion­ship coun­sel­lor, Tony Jones. Both seem em­i­nently like­able and suit­ably qual­i­fied, but their role so far has been as side­line ci­phers. For this show isn’t re­ally about science help­ing where chance has not. It’s about paw­ing over the raw emo­tions of peo­ple. The depth of their anal­y­sis so far was typ­i­fied when the five cou­ples were brought to­gether for a drink. One bride stormed to the toi­lets, pur­sued by two oth­ers, to dis­cuss what a sod her new hus­band was. Farvid pointed out that this was a chance for her to dis­cuss the is­sues more deeply. We did not need a psy­chol­ogy de­gree to see that.

Is a hit rate of one in five worth all that pain? It’s bet­ter, at least, than the Aus­tralian show’s one in 24 suc­cess rate thus far but it hardly al­lows Me­di­a­works and Warner Bros to claim any noble mo­tives. shifts the re­al­ity tele­vi­sion goal­posts. No longer is it about the rel­a­tively low-cost pain of not get­ting a rose from a C-list ac­tor, eat­ing a witch­etty grub or try­ing to grab the last taxi to the an­cient ru­ins while tow­ing a wheely suit­case. The emo­tional price is much higher and yet a host of 20-some­things were so pes­simistic about their prospects of find­ing love in their re­main­ing three score years on the planet that they hap­pily en­rolled.

Con­sider this all in the light that Tele­vi­sion New Zealand has an­nounced a slate of 20 such shows for its 2018 cal­en­dar, a mix­ture of im­ports and lo­cal pro­duc­tions, in­clud­ing most egre­giously, a for­mat called Heart­break Is­land. This ap­pears to be a changed­just-enough-to-avoid-the-law adap­ta­tion of a dis­grace­fully crude Bri­tish show called Love Is­land, where sin­gles are en­ticed to cou­ple off be­fore the cam­eras for $100,000.

The re­deem­ing fea­ture is those seag­ulls. If these shows are go­ing to be made, and con­sumed by us so vo­ra­ciously, at least let them have high pro­duc­tion val­ues. As a piece of tele­vi­sion, MAFS is good work – well com­posed, paced, full of plot and much bet­ter than its pedes­trian TV1 ri­val My Kitchen Rules.

There is a cruel myth that women make up sto­ries about sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault – for at­ten­tion, for money, to make them­selves feel bet­ter about an en­counter they later re­gret, or to ruin men.

If there is a list of women who have be­come cel­e­brated or rich or soothed by al­leg­ing sex­ual as­sault, I would like t to see it. By way of con­trast, there is a fairly long list of men – en­ter­tain­ers, sports­peo­ple, busi­ness­men – ac­cused of sex­ual im­pro­pri­ety who have been able to go about t their day.

If we have learned any­thing so far from Har­vey W We­in­stein, it is this: women don’t lie and say that sex­ual as­sault or ha­rass­ment hap­pened; we lie and say that it didn’t. A lie by omis­sion – to our­selves, to the au­thor­i­ties, t to each other. Like we are suf­fer­ing col­lec­tive Stock­holm syn­drome, a friend says. But we’re talk­ing now.

Al­most ev­ery woman has a story. Here’s one of mine. It is eas­ier to tell than the oth­ers be­cause I was 52 years old when it hap­pened, pro­fes­sion­ally es­tab­lished, and in no phys­i­cal dan­ger. It’s just a work story.

I was booked to en­ter­tain at a din­ner for a trade or­gan­i­sa­tion in an­other city. I drove for three hours, booked into a ho­tel, turned up at the venue. First per­son I met was the lo­cal branch pres­i­dent. Im­me­di­ately af­ter hello he told me that, years be­fore, he used to mas­tur­bate while he watched me on What Now. Ex­plain­ing that he would watch me on 7Days at home tonight af­ter he had watched me on stage, he noted that to­day he had two op­por­tu­ni­ties to mas­tur­bate while watch­ing me.

This was the man who had booked me, would pro­vide the agency with feed­back on my work, and sign my cheque. “Ha-ha-ha,” I heard my voice say.

I found the event man­ager and started to tell her what had hap­pened. She brushed it off with: “Ev­ery­one knows about him – he’s a char­ac­ter!” and I un­der­stood I had to get through this on my own.

Seated next to him at din­ner, he asked ques­tions about my work and be­lit­tled each of my an­swers in front of the other guests. When I snapped back at one of his re­sponses I couldn’t tell if ev­ery­one fell into an awk­ward si­lence be­cause of him, or me.

My com­edy set went about as well as you would ex­pect. I left as soon as I could, went back to the ho­tel and wept.

The next morn­ing I had break­fast with a writer I was work­ing with and tried to tell the story as an anec­dote. “Here’s a funny thing that hap­pened to me last night.” She was ap­palled. Af­ter that, I kept it to my­self.

I have never been booked by that event com­pany again. I Googled his name this week. He is no longer the pres­i­dent of the lo­cal branch. He is the na­tional pres­i­dent. Re­ally? What, was Ro­man Polan­ski not avail­able for com­ment that day?

It is the women we need to lis­ten to, and not only when they reach a point where they have to re­sort to le­gal ac­tion or fronting the me­dia. It is the women in our own lives, our fam­ily, friends and col­leagues. Their sto­ries should hold just as much weight as those of the fa­mous.

We should also lis­ten when they are not telling these sto­ries, and ask our­selves why.

Al­most ev­ery woman I know has a story to tell, and those are just the ones they’re will­ing to tell me. I’m sure if you look around you, you’ll find the same thing. I wish I could say that the de­struc­tion of a rep­u­ta­tion as gi­ant as Har­vey We­in­stein would sig­nal a sharp change in our at­ti­tudes to sex­ual ha­rass­ment, but it won’t, just like Trump’s Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood tape didn’t stop him be­ing elected, or the ac­cu­sa­tions against Cosby didn’t end in a crim­i­nal court. For most men, that change has ac­tu­ally al­ready hap­pened, or never needed to hap­pen in the first place, but for most women, en­coun­ter­ing one of those for whom it hasn’t is still a daily risk.

All we can do is talk, and most vi­tally, re­alise when it’s time to stop talk­ing, and lis­ten.

Mar­ried at First Sight is on Sun­day at 7pm and Mon­day at 7.30pm on Three.

Mar­ried’s first cock­tail party sees dirt be­ing dished on the new­ly­weds’ other halves.

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