‘Gogglebox’, The TV Show About Watching People Watching TV, Is Actually A Compelling Display Of The Ordinary

Who knew watching people watching TV could be so much fun?

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[Update August 31: The TV watchers you love to watch on TV will be returning for a second season of Australia’s Gogglebox, which premieres on the LifeStyle Channel on Wednesday September 30, to be broadcast on TEN on Thursday October 1.]

The idea of watching people in their living rooms sounds invasive and creepy. It doesn’t sound entertaining – unless you’re a pervert. We’re rarely privy to what goes on in our neighbours’ homes when they wind down at the end of the day. And why should we be? What they do in front of the television during prime time is their business.

So, naturally, a television show invading homes came to Australia. And it is pretty damn entertaining. Who’da thunk it?

Goggle-what now?

Apart from sounding like an unfortunate innuendo for something else, Gogglebox is a television series that hails from the UK. It began over there in 2013 and since then has won a BAFTA Award and a National Television Award.

Ten groups of people – including families, couples and housemates – have volunteered to have cameras pointed at the furniture that points at the TV in their homes. The cameras record their every move as they plant themselves in front of the box. It’s filmed a week prior going to air, so viewers (in the real world) get to see footage of the subjects watching all the shows they just watched.

In short: we watch people watch television.

Here in Oz, it airs on LifeStyle on Foxtel on Wednesdays, then again on Ten on Thursdays. It’s the first show to be commissioned by both a subscription television broadcaster and free-to-air broadcaster. And it’s the first to be aired on both, with barely 24 hours in between. But you can’t watch it on Tenplay, where Channel Ten preserves recent episodes from almost all of its shows. No, you have to watch it on TV. Talk about meta television.

It launched in the middle of February to a warm reception – pulling a total of 779,000 viewers over its first week on air. (And yes, that is warm. My Kitchen Rules was the only show that week to hit the million mark).

Even though Ten and LifeStyle could have exploited this opportunity to flog their own shows, they don’t. A range of channels, both subscription and free-to-air, get a little bit of extra airtime via Gogglebox.

The show features varying genres too. My Kitchen Rules, I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here, and The Real Housewives of Melbourne are interspersed with coverage of the Liberal spill and the 60 Minutes Sydney siege feature.

The Gogglebox “families” are diverse in every way. There’s Wayne and Tom, life partners and proud parents of three. There’s the Delpechitra family; mum Tracey and dad Patrick migrated to Australia from Sri Lanka 25 years ago “and haven’t looked back”. Adam and Symon are uni students with mentions of “larrikins” and “beer” in their profile description. Angie and Yvie are housemates who bitch about whatever they see on TV. Anastasia and Faye are besties who hang out just to watch TV together. The Dalton family is your typical Australian middle class household – dad Matt is often sitting on the couch in his work suit, and, according to his profile on Ten’s website, regularly takes his daughters to the footy.


Happy families.


They’re normal. Like, really normal. So normal in fact that as I write this I have a never-before-felt anxiety about what might happen if any of them reads it. It’s like when you talk about friends behind their backs and worry they might hear about what you said. I guess that’s what happens when the show has such relatable people in such a relatable situation.

They aren’t fenced off from us here in the real world. It’s not My Kitchen Rules Headquarters. It’s not the Big Brother house. It’s not the X-Factor stage. It’s just…their homes.

Watching me, watching you

The show could be mistaken for marketing research or a strange sociological experiment. The families fit snugly into a range of demographics (age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity), and their reactions are recorded verbatim. It’s a survey without the questions. The networks could even use this for free research. Or just a peep into the lives of everyday Australians.

I think it’s fair to say that Australians love their telly. Australian reality TV shows almost always succeed, and Australian sport is one of the main reasons we plant ourselves in front of the small screen.

We are watching very ordinary Australians – the same kinds of people that we go to work or uni with, that we see in cafés, that we share the road with. They’re familiar. You can watch the show and say, “oh that’s like so-and-so from work”. Which is what they do: Anastasia tells Faye that she looks like Gina from The Real Housewives of Melbourne – even though Gina “looks like a drag queen”.

Even producer David McDonald admitted that “casting” for the show was just so damn hard, because people needed to be so damn normal.

Gogglebox taps into a voyeuristic desire that audiences seem to have with watching people act, well, normal. It’s the same fascination that tugs us back to reality television – close to the highest rated television genre in Australia. It’s the same pull that keeps My Kitchen Rules’ ratings up, even though its format is worn out.

The compulsion to observe others may come from our own distaste for watching ourselves. We don’t want to watch ourselves lying on the couch in trackies and mumbling obscenities through mouthfuls of ice cream.

If we do record ourselves watching something, it’s for shock value (consider the reactionary videos surrounding 2 Girls 1 Cup). But with Gogglebox, we’re watching people as they are – a sliver of their ordinary, even mundane, lives. Instead, we want to be on the other side of the lens. We want to observe the ordinary. And Gogglebox is almost as ordinary as you can get.

Gogglebox ordinary

Yup. Ordinary people doing ordinary things.


The show allows us to satiate this strange need to watch others do the very thing we can’t bear to watch ourselves do. We can forget our own slackened jaws while we indulge in looking at theirs.

It used to be about the TV

Gogglebox also gives us nostalgia for a type of viewing we used to engage in.

Once upon a time, we would gather together just to watch television. Then we would gather with others the next day to chat about what we’d just seen. The television set was the axis of our living rooms. It was strange not to own a TV.

Gogglebox Joey

Growing up in Australia in the ‘90s meant we came home from school and watched Round The Twist. The first thing we watched our parents do when they came home from work was to flick on the evening news. On weekends we’d have the cricket on in the background while we were doing other things. We arranged our lives around All Saints and Blue Heelers. And Daryl Somers and Plucka Duck jumped onto our screens every Saturday.

But now television sales are in decline and no one is watching the same episode as anyone else. The question “did you watch [insert TV show here] last night?” is nary on anyone’s lips. Instead people watch TV not on TV, but by themselves, curled up with their laptops in bed.

But Gogglebox reminds us how fun communal viewing can be. We think about how close we could be with our housemates when we hear Adam and Symon talk about epidurals, or when we hear Yvie ask Angie about her sex face. We think about those ladies we know that are just like Anastasia and Faye. And the Dalton family’s viewing routines remind us of our younger days in front of the telly.

Gogglebox sex face

“Is that your sex face?”


So, is it actually any good?

You wouldn’t think watching people watch TV would be as good as it is. As I said before, I wouldn’t broadcast my own television-watching habits.

When it comes down to it, Gogglebox is just like a reality TV show. The people are selected for their ability to represent “ordinary Aussies” in their television-watching habits. It’s cut and edited so we see the funniest or most dramatic moments – including throwaway comments like “this is like porn for me”.

But there are moments that resonate with modern Australian audiences, like when they try desperately hard not to cry while watching the Sydney siege feature. It’s the same way we might think to ourselves: this is stupid. You can’t cry because of a TV show. And when they do anyway, we see a flash of raw human emotion.

Gogglebox cry



So watch it. Watch them. Watch them cringe at screaming mothers in labour in One Born Every Minute. Watch them bitch about the boob jobs on The Real Housewives of Melbourne. Watch them sing along to Mamma Mia!. And forget that you’re watching. Isn’t that what television is for?

Gogglebox airs on Wednesdays at 9:30pm on the LifeStyle Channel and on Thursdays at 9pm on Ten.

Michelle See-Tho is editor of Farrago, and a freelance writer and journalist. Follow her on Twitter at @stmischa