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Television masochism: the housing crisis hits our screens

Wednesday night’s current double helping of sadomasochistic ‘property problem porn’ with BBC Two’s Under Offer: Estate Agents on the Job followed by Channel 4’s How to Get a Council House is the latest in the genre of resentment television.

Social housing in Rochdale. Photo: Getty
TV shows about the housing crisis, whether in council housing or the property market, are popular with resentful viewers. Photo: Getty

Channel 4’s Benefits Street, whether it was its content or controversy surrounding its content, was headline television because people viewing it either had bile to spew at the street’s residents, or at the government that had so neglected them. Either way, it was resentment television. And it seems this is currently becoming rather a popular genre. Aspiration on our screens is slowly giving way to bitterness.

Although we still have our supposedly ‘aspirational’ favourites such as MasterChef – where the humble viewer can only dream of making such dramatic dollops of jus – and Downton Abbey – where the humble viewer can only dream of having a dinner gong loud enough to drown out inheritance-related squabbling, our televisions are now leading us to a topic that is more masochism than entertainment: housing.

And it’s not the kind of audience-friendly, Escape to the Country, Grand Designs housing, either. It’s just a narrated series of problems about property – away from the cosy Cotswolds, or Kevin McCloud designing uninhabitable infinity flood rooms for excitable buyers.

Wednesday night is now an incessant flow of stress and antipathy, what with BBC Two’s Under Offer: Estate Agents on the Job immediately followed by Channel 4’s How to Get a Council House. The first follows stereotypically smarmy estate agents going about their business – whether they’re selling Kensington mansions to multimillionaires or doing up tired old dwellings in the suburbs. It splashes the whole cornucopia of property buying subjects onto our screens, from cockroaches to colonnades.

Then there’s Channel 4’s offering, which tells the individual stories behind London borough Tower Hamlets’  council house waiting list. There are 20,000 households on the list. The programme presents the trials of the council workers as well as the individuals waiting to be housed, many on the brink of homelessness.

While both these programmes tell compelling stories, surely the source of entertainment is from the audience’s resentment. How to Get a Council House will either have viewers resenting what the government’s neglect to build more social housing has done to London residents (and in turn, the effect this has on the private rental sector), or agog at some of the impressively roomy apartments local authorities sometimes have to offer. Under Offer shows the other side of the street – buyers –and will have audiences resenting the inflated prices, how estate agents profit wildly from them, and also the simple fact that people are buying.

In the pit of recession, it was often reported how ‘escapism’ in entertainment is popular in tough times. Perhaps now, as we’re constantly being told we’re over the worst, we prefer a dose of bitter reality instead.

Under Offer: Estate Agents on the Job is on Wednesdays, 8pm, BBC Two
How to Get a Council House is on Wednesdays, 9pm, Channel 4

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