Just what we need, I thought, when Freeview channel Choice TV set sail earlier this year. More lifestyle and entertainment shows. We’ve lost TVNZ 7 and gained Cheese Slices and Meat Men (“… takes us inside the dynamic, chaotic and fascinating world of butchering meat”). There’s My Kitchen and My Dream Home. My giddy aunt. On the plus side, Choice is owned by the Top Shelf people, who have done their bit to halt the descent of civilisation into an endless shrieking infomercial with such shows as Media 7, Immigrant Nation and The Sitting, in which well-known New Zealanders chatted while having their portraits painted. Nice. Choice. It’s a name that allows them to chuck in everything, including the exquisitely designed kitchen sink. The idea involves gathering up the sorts of programmes you might pay to see on, say, Sky’s Living Channel or UKTV and showing them on a free-to-air channel. Choice’s primetime viewing is like a nightly theme party: travel on Monday; home-makeover madness on Tuesday; an all-you-can-eat buffet of food shows on Thursday … Anyone who feels there aren’t enough fishing shows on television should tune in on Wednesdays.
The channel screens many shows dedicated to the proposition that your life sucks unless it includes Alan Titchmarsh-approved handmade pebble mosaics as seen on Love Your Garden; and you can turn out a chocolate lava cake in your admittedly adorable Little Paris Kitchen. Lifestyle viewing can be quite aggro these days. In Bathroom Crashers, Matt Muenster is the Crusher Collins of ablutions, waylaying innocent punters and demolishing their hideously appointed bathrooms. The Stagers is an unflinching look at the wacky world of house staging. These are the people who can make any house look good simply by stuffing it with expensive furniture and art. Who knew? There’s a surprising amount of suspense. Will designer Matthew ever find a place for
the cowhide ottoman? Yes, in the poolside room. “Eventually,” explains Matthew, “I realised the cabana was the cow-bana!” Dear oh dear.
The weekends are devoted to providing evidence of just how broadly the term “entertainment” can still be defined, long after public floggings went out of fashion. Though there are some real gems to be found. Roger and Val Have Just Got In explores the interactions of a couple in the first half-hour after they get home from work. Only actors as handy as Dawn French and Alfred Molina could make watching sad middle-aged people bicker in real time a treat. Visit the Choice TV website to catch up on the excellent British saga White Heat, which tracks a group of friends from the 60s to the present. There’s also Work of Art, a sort of Project Runway for artists. It’s a wonder no one thought of this earlier, because, as it turns out, artists are bonkers. There’s New York pop artist The Sucklord, who makes art out of dismembered toys: “Andy Warhol had soup cans, I have Power Rangers.”
Dusty, a teacher from Arkansas, can turn out an impressive portrait constructed from crayons. The slightly disturbing Kathryn takes her creative inspiration from anatomical dissection. The South Bank Show this is not, but it makes strangely compelling viewing. Choice does screen some local content. Worth a look is Bucket Wish, in which cancer survivor Aaron Carotta takes CanTeen members on extreme adventures. It’s low-key, unsensational, good-hearted television. For those of a robust constitution, there’s Brunch with April Ieremia and Josh Kronfeld, a show that puts an anguished “why?” into DIY with such projects as making lurid ottomans (ottomen?) out of old car tyres. For the more cerebrally inclined, there are film reviews – “Karl Urban – he’s hot!” Choice indeed. The viewing experience is sometimes like being trapped in the television equivalent of a remainder bin, squashed between Annabelle White and the Gator Boys. But it’s quite fun, in its random way. And it’s free.
CHOICE TV, Freeview 12 Sky 078.