Review: Channel 4's new reality TV experiment The Simpler Life is a laughably thin rehash of programmes we've seen before. And don't get me started on people like Penny

Sometimes, people just rub you up the wrong way – there’s no real rational reason for it, some people just get on your nerves.

By Philip Cunnington
Friday, 25th March 2022, 6:00 pm

People like Penny, for example, one of the participants in The Simpler Life (Channel 4, Tues/Weds, 9pm), the latest in a line of reality TV pseudo-psychological experiments in which ‘ordinary people’ live their normal lives behind to live as Victorian slum-dwellers, or island castaways or, in this case, Amish farmer-folk.

Right from the off, this ‘experiment’ struck a false note. The psychologist wheeled in as an expert claimed “nobody’s done anything like this before”, something any casual viewer of TV over the last four decades could tell you is not the case.

From 1978’s Living in the Past (Stone Age) to Castaway in 2000 to 2016’s The Victorian Slum, TV has often taken people out of the hurlyburly of modern life and into a new way of living – often involving severe discomfort – on the pretext of learning something about ourselves, but always finding conflict for the viewer to gape at.

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The Simpler Life was no exception, and footballers’ PA Penny was a one-woman moan machine. Missing her mobile phone, reluctant to put her new community first, and seemingly last in the queue to do the washing up, she was a reality TV maker’s dream.

The problem is, Penny dominated everything, and it was difficult to make out how this experiment in back-to-the-land living was really affecting our 21st century boys and girls.

The only thing you’ll learn about having a simpler life from this laughably thin show is to make sure you steer clear of people like Penny.

This week, the nation’s living rooms were once again filled the phwoars and qwoars of gurning Gregg Wallace and his mate John Torode, as Masterchef (BBC1, Weds/Fri, 8pm) returned. This time, not content with the complex foams and dusts on the plates, they’d over-complicated the entire format. At least the food looks nice.

Much like Masterchef, in which tinkering with the format is used as an excuse for a new series, Killing Eve (BBC1, Sat, 9.15pm) has added characters and storylines to the mix in an effort to stretch out the action. This fourth series is the last, and I think we can be glad about that.