15 Mar 2017

Why Ex on the Beach is the greatest TV show since The Wire

10:15 am on 15 March 2017

The word Shakespearean gets thrown about a little too enthusiastically by critics.

Ex on the Beach.

Ex on the Beach. Photo: MTV

There is a void in the television universe. Game of Thrones, Stranger Things and Mr Robot are on hiatus. The Wire, Breaking Bad and The Sopranos are distant memories. A few weeks ago, while searching for something to fill this void, I stumbled upon Ex on the Beach.

Picture this: eight British men and women are holed up in a stunning beachside villa in Crete. They drink, they fight, they have sex - it’s essentially Godard meets The Big Chill. But wait, it gets better - every day or so, someone's ex-partner emerges from the ocean and begins squatting in the villa.

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Photo: Unknown

There has somehow been five seasons of Ex on the Beach - an incredible feat of casting to find so many people with interwoven dating histories. The sixth, and arguably greatest season, is currently airing on MTV, the home of Spring Break with Grandad.

As one can imagine, the sudden appearance of an ex-partner causes tension and a sense of claustrophobia.

Take the combustibile personal trainer Joe, who crashed the getaway on day two to find his ex-partner, Zahida, had already slept with stripper and naked butler, Sean. After unleashing a volley of abuse at her, Joe’s temper got the better of him and, after punching a hole in the wall (always impressive), was sent home to presumably spend the rest of his leave at home in Newcastle.

Take Londoner Alex, who is a gym-goer “who likes to spend his time in Marbella hanging out with bikini-clad women”. When Alex finds out his ex and fellow holidaymaker, Alice, is not keen on reconciliation due to his vast track record of unfaithfulness, he flips over a table and weeps uncontrollably. Alex is a self-described gentleman. In a desperate bid to win Alice back he tells her “you’re a lovely girl, you’re not a slag.” "Slag" is the show's word du jour.

It’s high drama television. A famous review of The Wire described it as “realistically flawed characters in harrowing, uncompromising circumstances”. Ex on the Beach fits that description.

Ex on the Beach.

A couple get frisky under the sheets. Photo: MTV

Credit must be given to the director for its tasteful sex scenes. There is no gratuitous nudity, rather the outline of bodies gyrating under sheets. These brief sequences are shot in gritty black-and-white and appear to have been filmed on surveillance cameras - a reference to The Wire?

Like all good foreign movies, there is little in the way of plot in Ex on the Beach. However, the group seems to worship an Orwellian device called the Tablet of Terror that sets them challenges such as spending one-on-one time with an abusive ex.

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Photo: Unknown

Each character looks genuinely astonished when an ex appears on the beach. The name of the show might have been a giveaway.

It's unclear whether it is scripted. But memorable quotes, or “banter”, such as “Harriette is fit as fuck so I’m to graft on her and massage her passage with my sausage” and “she had a fanny like a Hippo’s yawn” must have come from the pen of Sorkin or Kaufman.

Take Scotty from a previous season, who became known for such gems as “I’m going to take her advice and choose the right path, and hopefully that path leads directly to her box” and “Nancy was all over us like a tramp on chips”. Or Marty, who liked the phrase “ugly bird” and once uttered the immortal line “I’m going to fuck her and never speak to her again”.

It is refreshing for MTV to avoid drinking the kool aid that is "feminism". Its role in broadcasting Ex on the Beach in New Zealand is surely to expose misogyny rather than promote it?

For most of the cast - an orange cross section of modern Britain - this is their television debut. However, a few, such as Aaron and Nicole, have appeared on other little-known shows such as Geordie Shore and The Only Way Is Essex. Both will certainly occupy my time when the current season of Ex on the Beach comes to an end.

Unfortunately, like Vertigo or Now You See Me 2, Ex on the Beach seems destined to be underappreciated in its time. Here are its three user reviews on IMDB:

I was angered and saddened to watch this programme with my 17 year old grandson. I am sad for the cast, but also sad for the young audiences who are drawn to the series, and encouraged to think that this is a normal, even healthy way of relating to other people.

I have been forced to sit through this god-awful show because my teenage kids find it entertaining. I really do despair, I thought I'd raised them better than that. It's enough to make me want to cancel my television licence, sell the telly and replace it with something useful, like a big toilet. John Logie Baird must be turning in his grave.

Only positive aspect was the set, shame they absolutely done no favour with it.

A particularly harsh Huffington Post review called the show a “stomach churner” and said it was “single-handedly normalising horrendous relationship behaviours”.

Ex On The Beach manages to tear down any of [MTV’s] faux-feminist postings in one testosterone filled fell swoop,” it said.

“Before all of the tanked up, protein shake drinking ‘lads’ out there get all feisty - I understand that the vibe of the programming is perhaps supposed to be taken as ‘banter’, and that it is a structured reality show - but it’s about time ‘banter’ bores off and MTV takes responsibility for its actions.”

For the sake of young men thinking derogatory, hyper-sexualised behaviour and punching inanimate objects is normal, and young women being told they are worthless sex objects, I hope not.

Ex on the Beach airs pretty much everyday on MTV. Please don’t watch it.