I love a “dream home” nightmare

What disasters will strike the family next? You almost expect a tsunami

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This article is taken from the June 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.


There are few things I like more than getting home after a long, hard day at work, kicking off my shoes, cracking open a beer and listening to someone talk about their dreadful life.

“Have you ever wanted to start again?” Alice Levine, of My Dad Wrote A Porno fame, says at the beginning of The Price of Paradise. Of course! But I don’t. Because of “responsibilities” and “emotional attachments”. God, I hate them.

If I’m listening to a podcast about someone “starting again”, they’d better have regretted it. I want to hear about disasters. I want to mainline disillusionment. “There will be moments in this story when you want to pull off your headphones and stamp on them,” claims Alice Levine, “And maybe cry out on the bus or in the car: no!” Are you kidding me? Yes. Yes! Tell me about the terrible mistakes they have made.

The Price of Paradise gleefully prepares you for its subjects’ errors. Former Playboy Bunny Jayne Gaskin and her family bought a private island near Nicaragua in 2000, and they took a Channel 4 documentary team with them when they moved. It was a dream home, and if you guessed that it would turn into a nightmare then you’re goddamn right.

Family drama! Drug gangs! NIMBYs!

Levine is a clear, witty and professional host. It is funny that she doesn’t even try to make you believe that it is possible that things could work out for Gaskin and her family. The point is not narrative tension as much as it is pure farce. What disasters will strike the family next? You almost expect a tsunami to arrive.

There are grains of thematic value here beyond sheer morbid wallowing in other people’s misery. There’s a kind of post-colonial undercurrent to the tension between the European interlopers and the unwelcoming machete-wielding locals.

Human rights lawyer Maria Acosta is on hand to put forward the at least somewhat sympathetic perspective of the indigenous people. (They might not have articulated it effectively themselves, given the whole machete thing.)

But the big selling point of The Price of Paradise is voyeuristic glee — and here the podcast becomes as much about the listener as it does about the subject. At which point does the guilt kick in?

It has to kick in sometime. The poor kids didn’t ask to be there. Gaskin’s partner, Phil, is a pompous naïf, but he busts a gut to make Jayne’s dreams come true. And Jayne? Well, it wasn’t for nothing that a contemporaneous commentator observed, “Several hundred years ago, women like Jayne Gaskin would have been burnt at the stake.” But even her quixotic stubbornness has a tragic quality.

After watching Alan Clarke’s Elephant, a 1989 short film which shows a grim series of murders in Northern Ireland, the film director David Leland said that the cumulative effect of the killings was to make one think, “It’s got to stop … Instinctively, without an intellectual process, it becomes a gut reaction.”

For all its early bitter-sweetness, The Price of Paradise inspires the same response. Needless to say, if your erratic girlfriend proposes moving to a desert island, cry, “No”.

Some less guilty pleasures were on the menu. I had completely missed the news that Green Wing, the much-loved sitcom about the anarchic East Hampton Hospital, which ran for two series in the early noughties, was set to return as the podcast series Green Wing Resuscitated.

The series isn’t perfect. The writers seem to think that if they don’t hit the audience in the face with their humour hammer every five seconds, listeners will fall asleep. This makes for a lot of clunkers. “At least I don’t stink of entitlement.” “It’s the new flavour from Hugo Boss.”

Such bad jokes make the good ones less effective. It’s like drinking milk between sips of single malt whisky. But there are a lot of good ones. The insufferable Guy Secretan’s conversations with a psychotherapist are brilliant. “There is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in here.” “What? This is pointless then. How do I win?”

The acting talent is top notch. It’s strange to remember that a short-lived sitcom could feature Tamsin Greig, Stephen Mangan, Olivia Colman and Mark Heap on the same show.

Heap, without whose manic intensity such series as Brass Eye, Spaced, Big Train and Jam would not have been nearly as good, is a highlight. One of the great comic actors of the last 25 years, he could be far more highly rated and he’d still be underrated. Give this man a big role now.

Yet the most surprising thing about Green Wing Resuscitated is that it does not descend into humourless sentimentality about the NHS. I’m almost afraid to finish the series in case it ends with five minutes of clapping for our carers. But I don’t think it will.

I’m glad that it is fairly apolitical not because I’m a right-winger, but because I’m a comedy fan. If there is one thing I know about doctors it is that they sometimes need pure absurd humour — the darker the better.

 

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