‘The people you are about to see are real. Their passions and jobs are genuine, but some scenes have been enhanced for your entertainment.’ So reads the text that introduces ‘Boom Town’ – a break from the structured reality formula that sees a cast of real-lifers playing it for laughs, not just for soapy cliffhangers.
Which sounds intriguing, all the way until the opening title sequence when the bubble promptly bursts. The snapshots of recurring characters, the construct of a fake town… it’s ‘Little Britain’ with real people. Worryingly, they've been given strange suffixes too. Get ready to meet ‘Garth – Life Coach’, ‘Louis – The Stripper’ and ‘Kev – The Witch’. What's off-putting is the high number of ‘eccentrics’ (BBC3’s words) where the ‘laughs’ derive from their lack of English. A whole sketch featuring Donata (a middle-aged wannabe actress) hinges on her immigrant twang, while the same laughs are gleaned from ‘Talina – The Temptress’ (another ancient eastern European stereotype brought to life ).
The real scoop here though, is that, like the plankton that turn up on the first-round of ‘X-Factor’ to get laughed at on film, these people know the score and are still somehow comfortable with the idea of young kids laughing at their deeply unfunny and staged exploits for six half-hour episodes. Hard to tell who’s sadder – the participants for signing up to it or the Beeb for commissioning it.
One of London's many escape games on offer, following the same sort of vibe: there's a theme, you form a team and use your mind to get out of a locked room. At this east London game a group (minimum two, max five) of you are invited into the mind of a 'white collar criminal' to search his thoughts for a secret code. It sounds a little 'Black Mirror' esque, but hopefully you'll do better than John Ham and won't get trapped. Within 60 minutes participants will be faced with puzzles, challenges and mysteries, which all need to be solved in order to escape in time.