Dear ITV2 – A rant about TOWIE

PFR is marking the 500th post by putting up a bunch of DVD extras this week. This one is a letter highlighting my problems with the most unnecessary show on TV – The Only Way is Essex.

OPEN LETTER – The Only Way is Essex (aka TOWIE)

Dear ITV,

Please, please, please stop this show.

For anyone unfamiliar with the current UK trend, we are going through a bizarre phase of regionally specific, ultra-tacky, scripted ‘reality TV Shows’ that rip off The Hills / The City / The O.C. – but remove any traces of high-society, fashion, style and class. The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE) is the biggest of these shows, but we also have the cleverly titled Desperate Scousewives, Geordie Shore, and Made in Chelsea.

Series 1 of The Only Way is Essex introduced us to the main characters: club promoter Mark, his best friend club singer James 'Arg' Argent, his sister girl band member Jessica, his on/off love Lauren, club owner Kirk, Kirk's girlfriend beautician Amy, her best friend glamour model Sam and Amy's cousin Harry. The two central relationships between Mark and Lauren and Kirk and Amy were at the heart of this first series. Kirk and Amy's love started off strong but she was jealous of his job and his flirting with other girls and called it off. Kirk later begins a relationship with DJ Lauren Pope, much to Amy's chagrin, and she and Sam try to find love elsewhere. Mark and Lauren have been on/off since they were teenagers and at the start of the programme they are separated with Mark in a relationship with fashion designer Lucy. However, it transpires that Lauren and Mark have secretly been sleeping together behind Lucy's back.  When Lauren gets an offer to travel to Dubai on work she is unsure whether to leave Mark or not. It also transpires that Mark and Sam may have had a sexual relationship at some point during Mark's time with Lauren. Elsewhere Arg and his ex-girlfriend Lydia decide to give things another go despite her jealousy of Arg's relationship with Mark. And girl band Lola, which include Mark's sister Jessica, are signed by a record company and start to work on a debut single. Mark opens a club on Halloween. However it burns down soon after and is never talked about again. The climax of the first series is a charity boxing match between Mark and Kirk, which Mark wins. During the match, Lauren and Lucy have a confrontation where Lucy tells Lauren she knows about her and Mark going behind her back and is disgusted by the whole thing. Mark tries to reassure Lucy about their stability of their relationship but when Lauren reveals she is going to Dubai, Mark tries to stop her.

Sam Faiers, Lauren Pope, Diags, Chloe Sims

TOWIE lands somewhere between a low-rent Jersey Shore, cheap soap opera, and ‘Children say the dumbest things’ clip show. In fact, it could more accurately be called “Vapid wannabes do the most desperate things”. Most ‘scenes’ revolve around men/women spending large amounts of money pampering themselves; men/women talking about who is texting/snogging/arguing with who; men/women confrontationally shouting at each other; etc etc. Some scenes are actually just women talking about how great their fake breasts are. It’s essentially playground politics with ‘adults’.

As series two kicks off Mark is still in a casual relationship with Sam, who opens a boutique with her sister Billie in the first episode, however he decides to give things with Lauren another go. When he finds out that Lauren is having her tattoo with his name on it removed he proposes and she accepts. The two spend most of the rest of the series planning their wedding and moving in together despite Lauren's clashes with Jessica, Mark's mother Carol and his grandmother Nanny Pat. Mark also considers several career paths during the series, including opening a glamour model agency but eventually decides return to promoting. Kirk and Lauren Pope briefly split up but while on a date with Lucy he realises how much he misses her and they get back together.  Problems in their relationship arise when Kirk clashes with Lauren's best friend Maria and the two end up arguing. Kirk presents Lauren with a key to his place and plans for her to move in but gives her the impression that he doesn't want Maria to visit. Arg and Lydia initially seem to have a strong relationship with plans to move in together which are halted when Arg reveals the he wishes to move into the flat below Mark. Arg also has problems passing his driving test and losing weight and clashes with Lydia's mum Debbie. Cracks start to appear in Lydia and Arg's relationship when Lucy, Billie and Sam reveal that Arg has possibly cheated on her and revelations that Arg had been bragging about a relationship between he and Amy.  New characters in series two include Joey Essex a club promoter who aspires to be the new Mark Wright and uses the word 'reem' to describe things that look good. Joey initially pursues Lucy but when she tells him that she doesn't want to date another Mark Wright he goes after Sam instead. The two share a kiss in a swimming pool during Harry's birthday and later start dating although Joey's dating style does leave a little to be desired. Joey also starts promoting a night at Kirk's Sugar Hut which goes down a storm but makes Mark jealous as he feels like he is losing his touch. Joey's model cousin Chloe is also introduced and it seems that Kirk's dad Mick wants to start dating her despite their obvious age gap.  Another new character, car saleswoman Gemma, also actively goes after Mick using several tactics to try and ensnare him all of which fail. The series ends with a pool party, organised by Mark, in which all the characters with the exception of Lauren are present. Mick teases Kirk that he is going to present a bottle of champagne to a girl that he is after which Gemma believes to be her but instead turns out to be Lauren's sister Nicola a moment that leaves Gemma in floods of tears. Amy confronts Arg about his lies to Lydia about their supposed relationship and later Arg tries to get Lydia back when he sees her with another man. Lauren arrives at the party to confront Mark about not inviting her and he tells her off for embarrassing him so she pushes him in the pool.

Mario Falcone, Jessica Wright, Lucy Mecklenburgh, Two bikini babes.

The so-called stars of the show don’t even register on the talent spectrum – some find it difficult to speak (incomprehensible accents aside) – and most annoyingly, they don’t seem to have worked for fame, so why hand it over? At 26 years old, even I remember when the term ‘celebrity’ used to mean something; athletes, entertainers, singers, actors, comedians – some of whom spent the majority of their lifetime working hard, and being genuinely charming & interesting. Shows like this, in conjunction with the gutter press, have degraded and diluted the word beyond recognition.

Amy Childs - Reem!!

You only need to look at Essex queen Amy Childs to see why shining the spotlight on these people is a bad idea. Once happy supergluing plastic sparkles on to vaginas (aka a “Vajazzle”), she somehow came out of TOWIE on a high, and now there is nothing she won’t say, no TV show she’ll turn down, and no product she won’t pedal to stay in the limelight – her own spin-off show, fashion line, fake tan, and Pot Noodles!!! In Celebrity Big Brother the public voted her 4th, after a gypsy who wasn’t even famous, Jedward (two annoying Irish media sluts) and Kerry Katona, a permanently troubled media personality. Amy Childs genuinely makes Paris Hilton look as smart and eloquent as Angela Merkel.

These people are terrible role models for young and impressionable viewers. Surely there’s a morality issue of letting anybody think that it’s OK to be this shallow, fake, materialistic, self-obsessed, narcissistic, boring, or so aggressively pro-plastic surgery? A decade ago these people would have been rehabilitated on other shows, yet we’re now at a point where they are star material, and put on a pedestal.

Shows like this don’t normally bother me as they’re tucked away on the far-flung channels, however the idiots of TOWIE town are absolutely EVERYWHERE. They get an unbelievableamount of column inches in the tabloids and trashy mags, but most annoyingly they keep popping up in lots of other prime-time panel shows, talk shows, dating shows etc… Their coverage is now so saturated that even actively avoiding them doesn’t work. In case I haven’t made it clear; these people have zero wit, talent, or charm and bring down anything they appear in.

"This show is not real, but we will pretend it is"

"This show is not real, but we will pretend it is"

My biggest gripe with the show however is that it’s continually painted as ‘real life’, ‘fly on the wall’, ‘documentary’. But when you watch it, everything is so meticulously set up that it’s clearly, 100% staged – the camerawork, audio (perfect sound in a nightclub!), lighting… the only thing that’s not predictable is the cast remembering their lines. And when the people go about their ‘day to day’ lives, all I can think of is “who is paying for these people to live like this?!?”

I could rant about this for hours but the bottom line is that this is simply the dumbest show on TV; the fact that people’s names flash up at the start of every scene (to remind the viewers who is who) really says it all about the show and its audience. It’s so bad that I struggle to sympathise with the viewers, and reckon they should be a little bit at least a little bit ashamed of liking it. Comparing this to junk food is doing junk food a disservice.

Series three kicks off with the revelations that both Mark and Lauren and Kirk and Lauren Pope have split up with both Laurens now living together. Mark vows to a life of celibacy but soon finds himself tempted when he finds Lucy in her underwear in Jessica's flat. Meanwhile Lucy is now seeing Mario who tells her not to see Mark but after Mark finds out Mario has been badmouthing he tells him that he can get Lucy any time he wants. Arg and Lydia are back together but Lydia's fractured relationship with his best friend Mark is still causing problems for Arg especially when he forced to spend time with Lucy and Mario.  When Mark reveals that he spent the night with Lucy while Mario was away, Lydia and Arg side with their two friends and when Lydia confronts Mark, Arg accuses her of being a bully. Eventually Mark and Lydia make up but Arg still feels self-concious about his weight and also decides to take a new job as a hospital radio DJ as Lydia opens a new vintage store he feels that he is not good enough for her. While trying to lose weight together at Boot Camp Gemma confesses to Arg that if he and Lydia weren't together she may consider seeing him but she tells Lydia not to worry about anything.  During Karoake Night at the Sugar Hut, Mark is seen texting someone with various characters checking their phones it eventually turns out to be Sam. Sam and Mark then embark on a casual relationship which includes dates to a cooking lesson and skiing after Sam and sister Billie are attacked her and Mark begin dating properly and Mark's family invite Sam round to eat with them. This annoys Lauren as she feels Mark's family never accepted her and that Sam has betrayed her. During Chloe's birthday party Mark tries to settle things with Lauren but she angers Sam so much the two get into a argument.  The newly single Kirk and Joey begin a bromance calling themselves Team "Jirk". Kirk teaches Joey how to be more domestic after he moves into a new flat and soon the two meet two girls named Cara and Billi. While Joey seems quite taken by Cara, Kirk struggles to get on with Billi and launches into a tirade at both of them when they come to his house to confront them. When Sam is attacked Joey goes to visit her and confesses that he still loves her but she is by this point back with Mark. Kirk also encounters problems at home after his dad Mick starts dating Maria as he never got on with her and he feels that Maria is after her dad's money. After a couple of dates it is revealed that Maria previously worked as an escort and when Mick sees her coming out of a club with another man he ends the relationship and she leaves to go back home to Derby for a while.  With Chloe approaching 30 she feels inadequate that she is without a man and wants to better her body by getting bum implants but decides against it and for her birthday she has her own wedding where her cousin Joey becomes Prince Charming. Gemma decides to teach Harry to drive and also learns that he is has started dating the half-German Kurt, Gemma is also pursued this series by Greek twins Georgio and Dino who she adores but who are far too small for her.  With Debbie and Lydia warming to Mario it seems that he can't put a foot wrong but then it is revealed that his former girlfriend, card-shop owner Perri, was told by him that he never fancied Lucy and is just dating her for a more prominent role on the show. Lucy gets increasinly paranoid about Mario's activities and tells him that he can have a night off from their relationship he goes off to a club where he gets very pally with the two Laurens. Mario eventually sees the text that Lucy sent to Jessica proving that something happened between her and Mark when Lucy tells Mario she can't remember what happened he leaves her and they break up.  After the fight between Lauren and Sam, Mark decides its not fair to the women in his life that he stays around Essex and tells his parents that he is going to move on. In an emotional scene with Arg, Mark says he will miss his best friend but it seems that Arg and Lydia are back on track claiming they will never break-up. Mark makes his final Essex appearance at a Fireworks Night Party in which he tells Lauren that he will always love her but he's not in love with her any more. At the same party Joey and Jessica surprise everyone by kissing on the dancefloor. Lucy gets up to speak in front of everyone and addresses Mario telling him she knows she did wrong but she wants a second chance he tells her that he still loves her and they can work through things. Mark asks Sam if they can have a proper relationship if she leaves with him but she can't see them being anything more than close friends and tells him she doesn't want any more. The series ends with Mark looking around the club at all his friends, foes and family before giving Arg a hug and walking off into the night.

Gemma Collins, Joey Essex, Ricky Rayment, Georgina Dorsett

The Only Way is Essex is like the circus freak show has gone full circle, and ITV assumes that the public’s taste hasn’t changed since then either. I love bad TV, I also love bad, scripted reality TV, but shows like this are definitely a step too far. TOWIE provides negative entertainment, education or cultural value. I truly hope that this goes down as one of the darkest hours of TVland. ITV / ITV2 – this joke has gone on for far too long.

What’s your thoughts on TOWIE? Am I being too harsh?

  1. Jaina said:

    Ugh. I was wondering when UK TV execs would would want to emulate the success of the likes of The Hills and here it is. In all its crappiness. I think a radio DJ put it well – “Heightened reality” – it’s just all crap and really wish there was less of this on TV!


    • Paragraph Film Reviews said:

      Maybe it’s because we’re British but there’s definitely more appeal in watching American socialites go about their (relatively normal) day-to-day business.

      As mentioned, the UK shows have stripped away anything that resembles class, dignity, or sophistication… doesn’t leave much on screen.


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