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TV review: Channel 4's Benefits Street and Three Wives, One Husband both terrifying in their own right

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: January 28, 2014

By Jonathan Whiley

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IT has become, in the space of just a few episodes, one of the most talked about TV shows in years.

Channel 4 have been inundated with complaints - 1,700 and counting - and everyone that is everyone; critics, columnists, your next door neighbour's cat seems to have an opinion.

I am of course, referring to Benefits Street - which by now, if the title didn't spell it out already, needs no introduction.

The latest installment of this surprise ratings hit focused on Fungi - non-edible variety here - who we have so far seen in and out of pretty much every one of the 99 houses on James Turner street in Birmingham.

Among the now customary sweeping shots of ultra-aggressive looking dogs, sofas in ever-more disgusting shades on the pavement and White Dee with a fag in her mouth like a permanent NHS health campaign, we were given an insight into the life of this mercurial character.

Pulling at the heart strings with Channel 4 producers as puppet masters, we're provided plenty of background meat on Fungi's very fragile looking bones which bless him, look as though they could release his can of Special Brew at any moment.

Here's a man who hasn't seen his child in three years, lives with no electricity or gas and largely relies on the sense of community and the safe haven it provides. For all of White Dee's flaws (and God there are plenty) she treats Fungi as part of the extended dysfunctional family; washing his clothes, checking he's doing what he needs to in order to put his life back on track.

Because boy, did he go off the rails. He slept homeless for 10 years, has been to prison on several occasions - the first for armed robbery - and is receiving help to treat a chronic case of drug addiction.

Of course everyone makes mistakes and falls into a trap, a vicious circle, but it seems for Fungi he's doing too little far too late. Promise of a meeting with his son never happens and the sense of hopelessness comes over him like a Tsunami. Regardless of his troubled past, it's tough to watch.

One generation offers a glimpse of the potential future for the off-spring of those living in this welfare state dependent honey trap in the form of White Dee and Fungi.

But White Dee's daughter, realising her mother can do little all day but puff at a small white cancerous stick, has other plans - determined to get a job and realise her aims.

Initially shocked, White Dee backs her venture - going against her own strict moral code which seems, on the clip-based evidence, to get away with doing as little as you can for as much as you can.

Just when you are offered a little chance to become sympathetic with the plight of Fungi, it's the mother hen of the street that reminds you not to count your chickens before they hatch.

While James Turner Street is a brand of Britain that baffles - it's perhaps nothing compared to American's much satirised Mormon community.

Step forward, the creatively-titled Three Wives, One Husband, which, highlights the quite bizarre practical implications of polygamy.

Cast aside the emotional balance here - there's so much I could say that's wrong we'd be here all night - and let's just consider some facts and figures.

For one family, their washing had to be loaded into the machine 32 times a week on average, they guzzle 12 gallons of milk and go through a staggering 15 dozen eggs. Their weekly shop - due to the baby factory working overdrive - costs a mine-boggling 9,000 dollars.

Sharing wives? A permanent wife swap? Something here, and it's not just the money, does not add up.

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