“Who names a fish Derek?” This is the kind of important question that demands forensic examination while watching This Is My House.
The BBC One show, (Thursdays, 9pm), features four “homeowners” who show presenter Stacey Dooley around a house – and attempt to prove that they live there. Three of them are actors though, likely thankful of a lockdown gig. All four homeowners are given identical names, and instructed to tour the house, explaining why they moved to the area, where they bought their furniture, and claiming the real homeowner’s partner or family is their own.
If a team of celebrity judges (Bill Bailey, Emily Atack, Judi Love, Jamali Maddix and a guest judge each week), watching via video, correctly identify the real homeowner, the contestant wins £1,000. Compared to other game shows this doesn’t seem a lot – especially given how grand the homes are – so perhaps the real thrill lies in simply being able to have three strangers and Stacey Dooley round in the middle of a pandemic.
It must also be an exercise in humility (or humiliation) for the real homeowner – as their taste in interiors, design choices, and the stories they tell about themselves are picked apart by both the judges and their rivals. Why can’t you remember the first date you went on with your partner? Why do you own a corpse-themed knife holder? (Yes, really.) Plus, if the judges get it wrong and don’t pick you, five people are basically saying your partner looked better with someone else.
The rivalry between homeowners is glorious. From subtly undermining comments to outright insults (a penis-themed bottle opener is brandished at one point, to the distress of one of the more prudish contestants), this is the heart of the show.
In the first episode, four people all claiming to be the real Fern Maxted argue about the sofa they allegedly hate – culminating in one of them licking it to prove a mysterious stain is nothing more than the remnants of a peach Frube yoghurt. In another scene the Ferns compete for the attention of their dog: the no doubt traumatised animal trots over to Stacey Dooley instead.
The most exquisitely cringeworthy moments occur when the potential residents have to interact with their alleged partner, who has to remain silent as the audience and judges read their often-pained expressions for clues as they hear four diverse explanations of how they met the contestant and their lives together.
Some viewers will be lucky enough to experience the thrill of seeing their own towns feature, as my hometown of Hitchin did in the second episode. My armchair Poirot took on the case, armed with 18 years of local knowledge. Why did no one ask which schools the kids went to? How dare they describe The Hart as a club rather than a (now) slightly bougie gastropub? Knowing the name of the local paper separated those who had done their research on Wikipedia from the only one who lived it.
This Is My House is a silly, chaotic mess that should not make for enjoyable viewing – but somehow does. Put your feet up and enjoy the carnage.