Bad Habits, Holy Orders: How did a show about naughty nuns end up so dull?

A new Channel 5 documentary about sending hard-partying young women to live as nuns seems designed to be debauched. Instead, it's disappointingly devout, says Frances Taylor

Bad Habits on Channel 5

Five twentysomething girls who live for hard-drinking and hard-partying are sent to experience life in a convent in Swaffham, Norfolk for four weeks.

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There’s no booze, no TVs, they have their phones confiscated off them and all the skimpy clothes in their suitcase are rendered useless, because for a month they’re being forced to live as nuns. On Channel 5.

Not only Channel 5, but Channel 5 at the ‘anything goes’ time slot of 10pm! So we can cue the screaming, crying and maybe even someone yelling at a nun to eff off. Right?

First up the girls – who say they can’t live without Instagram and spend up to £40k a year on clothes and make-up – have to get used to their surroundings: bedrooms yanked fresh from the 1940s with all the pre-war mod-cons you’d expect like pale blue lino, walls the colour of pink wafers and sinks barely big enough to hand wash a habit.

But the girls seem only mildly aghast at the lack of mirrors, TVs or anything that remotely resembles the 21st century in their very modest bedrooms. One girl says, “I’m not sure if I’ve got the wrong reaction, but I feel like I could make myself at home in this bedroom. It’s very calming, very relaxing.” Oh, right.

Bad Habits on Channel 5

That’s all well and good, but the nuns dictate that it has to be lights out and silence at 10pm every day. That’s when this lot normally start applying the hair extensions and vodka Red Bulls! One even says she goes out six nights a week and says she only ever remembers three of them.

“I hope they’re going to be peaceful,” says Sister Francis. Ha! What does she know? These women won’t give a monkey’s for the ‘rules’. They’ll surely put skimpy dresses on underneath their PJs, ‘pretend’ to go to bed and then sneak out as soon as the nuns pipe down. Now we’re going to be in for a row of Biblical proportions…

At 9.30pm, Francis goes up to check on the girls and finds them all… brushing their teeth, sat quietly in their pyjamas. “I didn’t think you’d all be ready,” the Sister gasps with genuine surprise. This is the first time she’s has been shocked at the girls’ behaviour – and it’s because they’re so sanguine.  

What in God’s name is this?

Where’s the debauchery? The shots of the girls downing shots in the convent, passing out in the pews?

Bad Habits on Channel 5

It’s more watered down than Communion wine; a bit like turning up to a lecture by Richard Dawkins to have him say ‘that God bloke – he’s not that bad, really’.  

The one saving grace in Bad Habits, Holy Orders comes in the form of 19-year-old Rebecca. Billed as a “notorious Newcastle clubber” who doesn’t hold back in pulling indignant ‘WTF is going on?’ faces in the chapel, says the experience was “all bullshit” and within five minutes of being in the convent is trying to unbolt the windows to make her escape.

But by the end of the episode, even she starts to have an epiphany, carrying out selfless acts for the nuns and promising to put her family first from now on.

It’s almost inconceivable how a premise such as Bad Habits, Holy Orders could result in TV duller than a four-hour sermon. But somehow, Channel 5 managed to break their vow and achieved the seemingly impossible. Which in itself is a minor miracle.

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Bad Habits, Holy Orders airs 10pm Thursdays on Channel 5