“Rodney – this time next year, we’ll be millionaires!”
So went the refrain of Only Fools and Horses’ Del Boy, usually to be stifled by chance events that stopped him from making his fortune. But he echoed a human impulse that rears its head every January 1st – just what could we achieve in 12 months to change our lives for the better? Could we make that money, lose some weight, find love or otherwise change our lives?
Now, ITV has a bizarre new series that provides the resolute kick up the arse people need to actually make those dreams a reality, interviewing them about a change they want to make before revisiting them a year later to see if they actually pulled it off. As motivators to stick to your diet go, being embarrassed on national TV is definitely up there.
So in tonight’s first episode we meet a woman who wants to shift some pounds, a man suffering from a chronic stammer and a family looking to have another baby, all of whom step through a door and (through some TV magic that makes the transition seem instant) return through another door 12 months later having failed or succeeded in their plans.
Like host Davina McCall’s other ITV series Long-Lost Family, when we meet the participants it’s pretty emotionally manipulative stuff, with tales of dead relatives, thwarted life ambitions and inspiring monologues about self-belief galore. You might shed a tear, but you’ll be annoyed about it.
With that said, it’s also a terrific concept which must have been a nightmare to organise, and without giving too much away there are some mind-bending physical transformations that could almost convince you you’re actually watching time travel – or that you’ve gone a bit mad. Seriously, the continuity between the two time periods is good enough that my brain sometimes struggled to compute that I was looking at the same people a year apart, such was the difference in their appearance.
Outside that weirdness, though, this series works because it appeals to a very human impulse to follow a story to its conclusion. Normally in reality TV this falls under the category of “what happened next”-s, like when Channel 4’s First Dates lets you know whether participants got together again, but here it’s all contained within one product. You meet a person, find out their problem, wonder if they fixed it and BAM! Here they are, fixed or unfixed, ready to chat to Davina about it. Move on to the next candidate.
It’s slick, efficient stuff, but it’s all packaged into a profoundly odd show. An instantaneous 12-month time-jump was not something human minds were ever programmed to see, but the production team has come along and spited God anyway to let us peer through time – only to turn it into a weepie shiny-floor self-help series. It’s a very strange mix of the high-concept and the low-brow.
Still, with all its weirdness it’s definitely worth a watch, and who knows? Maybe I’ll be back next November with a completely different opinion (and body type) than I do now, and it’ll be my number-one recommendation. Assuming I haven’t already left TV criticism to make my millions, of course.
This Time Next Year airs on ITV tonight (Wednesday 2nd November) at 8.00pm