Settling differences on TV
As reality series Divorce Court returns to telly on Really, we ask - can you really settle your differences on TV?
When Really starts broadcasting Divorce Court this week, you’ll probably be quite offended by it. This is because watching it is a grim, grubby experience. Week in and week out, you’ll see warring couples at their least happy and most unpleasant bludgeoning through the worst period of their lives in front of a sassy judge and a bloodthirsty television audience. It’s almost guaranteed that, at least twice an episode, you’ll wonder why these people chose to appear on Divorce Court. After all, real divorce courts exist, and they won’t show you looking like a massive git on the telly.
But, in fairness, Divorce Court is actually quite sedate. It’s been going for 13 years and there is a semblance of legitimacy to it - the judge is a real judge, for instance, and her decisions are legally binding. Or maybe it’s only sedate compared to all the other television-as-difference-settler TV shows, because they’re much worse.
Like Divorce Court, the bulk of these shows are American. America loves nothing more than seeing strangers thrash out their disputes on television. Oprah is American. Ricki Lake is American. Judge Judy and Jerry Springer are American. The country has such an insatiable appetite for this kind of programme that even Jeremy Kyle has been successfully transplanted over there. That says a lot - not only that Americans are hungry for Kyle’s brand of creepily exploitative confrontation, but also that we can send them Jeremy Kyle and Piers Morgan and they won’t immediately respond with an apocalyptic drone attack. Perhaps America is more patient than we gave it credit for.
At least most of these shows offer some sort of resolution. Judge Judy makes her rulings, Jeremy Kyle has his endless DNA paternity test results and even Jerry Springer can excuse the madness of his show with a half-baked Final Thought. All this is more than can be said for the still-incredible Cheaters, which also airs over here on Really.
In Cheaters, a person suspected of infidelity has their transgressions secretly recorded by a private investigator. The footage is then shown to their partner prior to a confrontation that often happens in a car park and usually turns violent. It’s cheap, trashy, exploitative stuff, and it comes from a genuinely offensive place of faux moral superiority - each show begins with a lot of guff about how it’s “dedicated to the faithful and presented to the falsehearted to encourage their renewal of temperance and virtue”. Cheaters has absolutely nothing good going for it whatsoever. It’s bear-bating of the absolute worst kind, and the subjects have nothing to gain by appearing on it but mutual humiliation. I know this because I can’t stop watching it.
At this point, it’d be traditional for me to imagine a dystopian future where these shows dispense of all reason and helpfulness, and just consist of two wronged parties thumping lumps out of each other inside a boxing ring surrounded by whooping rednecks. But I can’t do that, because that show actually exists in the form of Gotta Grudge. Two people with a real-life personal disagreement walk into a ring, and the winner is the one who can stand up at the end. It’s the natural conclusion to something that Oprah Winfrey started and Jerry Springer sensationalised, and it can probably only be topped by a show called Contract Kill!, where men get to organise gangland executions of their girlfriends because they’re not entirely convinced that they’re the father of their own children.
But, hey, until then there’s always Divorce Court.
Divorce Court returns on Really at 4pm on Thursday 14th June.