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Review: Personal Services Required 1x1

Posted on July 3, 2008 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Personal Services Required 

In the UK: Channel 4, 9pm, Wednesdays

Fact: "One in three families use some form of domestic help". This sounds like one of those statistics like "93% of people in Middlesbrough wear Etruscan snoods" that is obviously made up but because it involves some numbers, people blank it out and go "Really? Well fancy that."

One in three families? Across the whole country? Are we including paper boys in this or something?

Anyway, whatever the number, some people have to hire domestic help. How do you go about doing this? In the real world, the obvious answer is to use some form of domestic agency, like you might find in Yellow Pages, that carefully vets all its employees, ensures they have decent qualifications, no criminal record problems, experience and a personality that doesn't make you want to hire Freddie Krueger instead.

But this isn't the real world (or even The Real World): this is Channel 4. More importantly, this is Channel 4 post-Wife Swap. What we want is conflict and if that involves introducing some employers who have the management style of Hitler to some potential employees with the skills of Frank Spencer and the attitude to life of a Big Brother contestant, so be it.

Trouble from the start
Right from the outset, things are obviously going to go wrong. We have two bosses and three potential housekeepers, who all swap around for a couple of days at a time. Everyone gets a go with everyone else. At the end, the bosses decide if they want to hire anyone from the pool, and the potential employees all discuss with themselves what they think of the employers.

However, the employers are all busy business people who want someone to do everything in their lives for them: look after the kids, make food, do the laundry, ring girlfriend number five (of six) to stand her up, arrange international marketing deals, sit in on conferences with Max Clifford and so on.

And because they're busy self-important business people, they're advertising for PAs, rather than housekeepers. Couldn't have somebody who was a housekeeper if you're very very important, could you? In fact, one of the business people has actually advertised for "a platonic wife". Can't imagine the problems with that…

So oddly enough when a bunch of secretaries go in, expecting to be PAs, they're very surprised when they're asked to make lunch, look after the kids, etc, like a housekeeper would.

However, the PAs themselves have a few issues, too. One's been told from the outset that she's going to have to get a home business up and running, but can't cope when the mobile phone doesn't work and the computer network turns out to be a network cable running out of a window and downstairs into the garden.

Another is the biggest South African stereotype imaginable. All she'd have to do to confirm the stereotype completely would be to admit to having been a mercenary at some point.

She turns up late, lies about her experience, insults the bosses and tells them how to do their jobs, and when there are complaints, she tells them it's all their fault and they need to lighten up. Then she storms out and later says she fully expects to get the job, but won't take it.

Too personal?
Into all of this comes former chef Mikey, the world's least enthusiastic, most transparent Generation Y slacker imaginable.

He has no experience as a PA or a housekeeper, yet the woman who's a self-employed PR (who doesn't know what an NDA is, despite this) thinks he's the bees' knees since he brought his own notepad. Maybe it's the fact that he looks like her husband did, owns the same hat as her husband did and she feels like she's slept with him that endears him to her. Plus her daughter fancies him. Still, her "energy advisor" (no, not the PowerGen kind, the crystals and dumbness kind) suggests there may be problems. And he was bang on about that South African woman having the wrong kind of energy, wasn't he?

Still, both Mikey and she are worried that it all seems too good to be true. It's just so perfect between them. Got to go now though. Bye. And Mikey legs it out the door at 90 miles an hour. PR woman is less impressed by that, but is still in something of a haze.

The man with six girlfriends is equally impressed in a very straight and not at all gay way. However, given he did advertise for a "platonic wife" he is concerned that Mikey might think he's gay, particularly because Six Girlfriends has "a camp voice". Much of the initial interview is clarifying that he's not gay, despite his voice, and he might have issues with hiring a male housekeeper, but that's his issue and he'll have to deal with it.

Mikey wanders around all this witlessness, amiably doing everything required of him. He has no boundary issues.

Come the end, everyone wants to give Mikey a job. Six Girlfriends, clearly having got over the whole "male housekeeper" thing, decides to offer Mikey a £40k job in marketing, no doubt based on Mikey's ability to answer the phone. He's even written the contract.

Unemployed Mikey, with zero experience and skills in marketing, looks as enthused as if he's been offered an invisible pet octopus. It's in the tank, you just can't see it. What do you mean you don't believe me?

Mikey's really, really glad to have been offered the job. He really is. Honest. No, really. It's great.

Then scary PR woman offers him a job, although she's still grousing about that insincere goodbye. She's never heard a more insincere goodbye in her life. (How long's she been in PR?)

Mikey is glad to accept. Ever so glad. Even if he does look like he's been offered a second octopus for his tank.

Unfortunately, despite his extreme gladness, he and PR lady can't seem to work out terms and now, he's still looking for work.

The message
If there is a message to this, it's that if everyone's rubbish, a great big cock-up will occur. A minor message might be that if you have no skills and are a general directionless slacker, you're more employable than a psychotic South African or a secretary who thinks washing the boss's underpants might be crossing the line in terms of boundaries ("And that's why I'm not employing you," says Six Girlfriends).

This is effectively "sneer TV". It doesn't tell you anything about anything. It's absolutely worthless as a documentary on housekeeping and the process of hiring housekeepers, beyond what it demonstrates about the average business person and their lack of understanding of basic HR principles. It's simply a way for the viewer to have a good sneer at the idiot employers and the idiot potential employees.

Is it good television? Pretty much. But don't you think you're better than this? 

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