Staying In(stant): The Hills With A British Accent

essex
Full disclosure: We love TV. So much so that sometimes we'd rather spend a whole weekend in front of the tube than dancing in da club. Is a lack of television service holding you back from feeling our joy? No problem! You can get by just fine on Netflix, Hulu, and the myriad other streaming services rapidly taking over the home-entertainment industry (thank you, Internet!).
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Some shows are just better when binge-watched. Whether it's the latest BBC comedy, a PBS miniseries from the '70s, or just that cultish show prematurely scrubbed from a network, we're hooked on the stream. Staying In(stant) is your guide to the best of streaming content. Each week, we bring you a show we're obsessed with and think you should be, too.
This Week:The Only Way Is Essex, which is sort of like The Hills meets Jersey Shore, but British.
Where To Watch: Hulu Plus
How I Got Hooked: Since the heyday of the Spice Girls and S Club 7, I've always had a strange preoccupation with all things British. In retrospect, it's not very surprising: As demonstrated by my long-standing, unabashed love affair with The Real Housewives of New Jersey, there are few things that light up my life more than a strong accent and a wide selection of bizarre, almost incomprehensible regional slang. So, when I saw the trailer for The Only Way Is Essex, which was marketed as a sort of tacky British knockoff of The Hills, I knew that this would become my new (non-)guilty pleasure.
It’s incredibly difficult to describe how I feel about TOWIE. This is mostly because I don’t have the capacity to phonetically spell out all the words (okay, “words”) and verbal mannerisms for which I have fallen totally head over heels. Of course, it's not just the dialogue — from the fashion (a delightfully tacky take on "Hollywood glam") to the plastic surgery ("racehorse teeth" — pronounced "teef" — are a hot commodity among the women of Essex) to the very particular shade of Oompa Loompa orange that is meticulously applied from head to toe by every member of the cast (including Mark and Jess' octogenarian grandmother, Nanny Pat), the show is a visual odyssey as well as an auditory one. Honestly, Jersey's got nothing on Essex.
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Best Episode: I can't in good conscience advise anyone to start with any episode but the first, as you will be left hopelessly lost among the many twists and turns of the characters' love lives. Luckily, the first episode happens to be completely wonderful. Just one of many highlights: A three-minute conversation on the pros and cons of "the vajazzle," then a new import apparently beloved by "all the Hollywood stars."
Why You'll Love It: At its heart, TOWIE is a character drama, much like the so-called reality series that spawned it. Shows like this live or die by their casting decisions, since their success hinges on whether or not we care about these people and their lives for the long haul. Luckily, while the drama itself is kind of a yawn (Will Lauren get back together with Mark for the 12,398th time? Will Arg finally get to the gym on tonight's episode?), most of the characters are pretty darn compelling. There's Gemma, the sensitive, romantic, life of the party, who struggles with her weight and self-confidence in a society obsessed with skinny women. There's Chloe, the former Playboy model, who's been Botoxed within an inch of her life and whose lips deserve a casting credit all their own. Her cousin is Joey Essex, whose real name is not Joey Essex but who does his best to live up to his moniker in his strange uniform of short shorts, aviators, and a metric ton of hairspray. There's Nanny Pat, who is five feet tall, adorable, and serves as the voice of reason, frowning adorably every time her grandson Mark talks about his sex life. And, then there's Amy, who I can barely understand, but who has this bizarre childish giggle and runs what seems like a business built entirely around selling "vajazzles."
But, maybe the best part of TOWIE is its self-awareness. Every episode begins with the same wonderful disclaimer: "The tans you see might be fake, but the people are all real — although some of what they do has been set up purely for your entertainment." Which, of course, makes it slightly easier to see the show for exactly what it is: a glossy, bubbly, cheeky, exceedingly British depiction of reality, one that is infinitely more entertaining than our own.
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