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Why we're glued to Gogglebox

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The programme no-one can resist is back for a third series. TV critic Michael Hogan analyses the strange allure of channel 4’s Gogglebox

Watching other people watching TV – who’d have guessed that would be a cultural phenomenon? Yet that’s exactly the pitch for Channel 4’s cult hit Gogglebox. Its third series started last week and it’s now been promoted to the prime slot of 9pm on Friday.

When Gogglebox debuted one year ago, critics (myself included) sneered that the bottom of the reality barrel was being scraped. Yet such critics underestimated the fiendish genius of the format. A cross between The Royle Family, Harry Hill’s TV Burp and Big Brother, it’s compulsive, hilarious and heartbreaking. It captured viewers’ imaginations, saw ratings double from 800,000 to 1.5 million and became one of the most tweeted-about shows of 2013. Remake rights have been sold to China, Ukraine and America, where it will be called The People’s Couch.

Only matching recliners will do for June and Leon

So what’s the attraction? For starters, it appeals to the voyeur in us all, providing a rare glimpse of other people’s soft furnishings, their snacks and drinks, their loungewear, the way they talk to each other and their telly. It’s skilfully made by Studio Lambert, the production company behind Undercover Boss, who found a perfect cast of characters.

There’s posh Steph and Dom, who get merrily sloshed in their Kent B&B; the wise-cracking Siddiqui family from Derby; sweet old married Scouse couple Leon and June and best friends Sandy and Sandra from Brixton.

Don't hold back: Sandy and Sandra share the box in Brixton

It also reflects a cultural shift in the way we watch TV. In this age of Netflix and Sky+, pundits have been sounding the death knell for ‘linear TV’. However, they forgot the sheer joy of watching together. Be it the Strictly final, catching the killer in Broadchurch or Downton on Christmas Day, TV can still unite half the nation.

Like the characters on-screen, Gogglebox makes us gather around our TVs. In a fragmented world, we crave communal experiences. Gogglebox is warmly inclusive, fosters a sense of belonging and provides a connection to the outside world. Not bad for a few cameras pointing at squishy beige sofas.

Gogglebox is on Channel 4, Fridays at 9pm

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