Sometimes one just has to sit back and applaud the telly gods for pulling it off. Banged Up is one of those. An eclectic and frankly bizarre mix of celebs enter a closed down prison re-filled with ex-cons for the purposes of social experiment. Perfect. It would be hard to go wrong from there.
And when I say eclectic, I really do mean it. The star cast includes journalist Peter Hitchens and HRVY off of YouTube and Strictly to name just two.
The veterans minister might be slightly more life-experienced than some of his colleagues on the green benches, but when he is placed with contract killer Kevin Lane, can he handle it?
In episode 1 however, we kick off proceedings with Sid Owen AKA Ricky Butcher from Eastenders. No prize for guessing what the other inmates were shouting at him as soon as he entered jail (Rickaaaaaaay!), but I should imagine that is a daily occurrence for him anyway. At least he has some experience of prison. Owen has family members who have served time, including his dad for armed robbery, and sees the whole thing as a chance to understand life on the other side. Though you suspect Celebrity Masterchef would be a whole lot easier.
Then it was time for Tory MP and minister Johnny Mercer to enter the fray. The veterans minister might be slightly more life-experienced than some of his colleagues on the green benches, but when he is placed with contract killer Kevin Lane, can he handle it?
What ensues is a fascinating get-to-know conversation conducted over tinned mackerel and salad, where Mercer attempts to get on the level with his new roommate. It is a hard task, but he is a non-judgemental and attentive listener. God, I am finding him hard to dislike. “This is the first time I have come this close to people so used to organised violence,” says Mercer, clearly giving all his Conservative colleagues the benefit of the doubt.
Things get worse for Mercer when he finds out his new friend Kevin has concealed a tempting cigarette…up his backside. A baptism of fire, or in this case shit. But the boy is learning, even if he’d do well to keep Lane at arm’s length.
It is hard to believe this is all a fiction; the horror on the faces of our green celebs is strong and unrelenting
It might be manufactured, but the conditions and atmosphere of this documentary feel about as authentic as could be hoped. I am lucky enough to not be someone with a direct experience of prison or the wrong side of the law. Anyone in the same position who has not previously counted themselves fortunate surely will after this. In fact, a compulsory stint behind bars might be a better alternative to jury service.
Later it is Marcus Luther from Gogglebox’s turn to arrive, where he is quickly headhunted for g-check duties (that’s gangster check for those of you not as cool as me). His resistance to doing so doesn’t endear him to some of his new jail-mates, who seem to mark his card, but he at least seems a bit street smart. It is hard to believe this is all a fiction; the horror on the faces of our green celebs is strong and unrelenting.
I have always loved reality TV; it is easy-going comfort viewing. But realism is hard to come by. Banged Up has bags of it. Leave no space for PR gloss and your talent will act and react normally. An important lesson for all producers is thereby enclosed: keep it simple.