Wife Swap: Brexit Special review – a predictable episode full of caricatures and Nigel Farage

The most stereotypical remainer and leaver imaginable switch lives – and the outcome is as you'd expect, writes Frances Taylor

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A recent meeting between Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker reportedly did little to progress talks over Brexit.

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So perhaps we’re going about this all the wrong way. Maybe a one-off special of long-gone controversial reality TV show Wife Swap could help move the conversation forward?

Well, no, of course it couldn’t. And it didn’t. This is Channel 4 after all.

This episode signed up the single most stereotypical remainer and leaver imaginable – almost as if they’d come fully formed out of a TV producers’ machine – to lay bare the divide in the country.

Kat is a Green Party counselor originally from Germany. She campaigned heavily in the lead-up to the referendum, and cried a lot on the day of the result. She lives with her partner Roger and 17-year-old aspiring actress daughter Sophie on a 150-acre family farm outside Nottingham, reads The Guardian and states that one of the family’s favourite dishes is beef bourguignon.

Pauline lives on Canvey Island, Essex with warehouse worker husband Andy and 14-year-old daughter Katie. She works behind the bar at her local social club and has St George’s flag bunting displayed from the windows of their semi-detached house alongside copies of The Express. Andy’s dish of choice is pork belly slices with roast potatoes.

“Andy doesn’t eat vegetables…apart from one Brussel sprout at Christmas,” explained Pauline. Perhaps he’s put off by the EU connotations?

For a week, the couple swapped lives: homes, husbands and friends. As you would expect, there were plenty of gimmicks smattered about: a debate over erecting EU bunting to replace the St George’s flags, an unnecessary VE Day celebration and more Nigel Farage memorabilia than a UKIP rally.

It was hard not to be amused by Brexiteer Pauline as she waxed lyrical and extolled the virtues of the former UKIP leader.

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“He’s eloquent, very smart, he’s a very well groomed gentleman,” she enthused. “I’ve met him. Very charismatic man.” Personally we’ve never pondered Farage’s level of grooming and we certainly don’t wish to start now – but Pauline wanted his image framed on the mantlepiece and even hid a gnarly gnome of the politician in the garden for Kat to find later. 

Not to be outdone, Kat succeeded in training dog Mylo to take a dump on Farage’s photo in the Daily Express. Touché. 

In its heyday, Wife Swap was compulsive, argumentative television at its best. Producers sought out the most controversial and feisty contributors with staunchly opposed views, forced them to share a kitchen sink for a week and threw a cameraman in to fend for himself.

Even before you brought the topic of politics into it, the arguments sometimes nudged into Jeremy Kyle territory. 

In the Brexit special, Kat’s husband – and fellow remainer – Roger was so laid back it was up to her friend Helen, who came round for a dinner party, to cause the obligatory shouting, tantrums and clash of opinion.

Everything was fine for about a nanosecond when no sooner had the bourguignon been divvied out than Pauline was getting a grilling on why she voted Leave.

Her answer was “political correctness gone mad,” which caused outrage. Helen jumped up, face full of beef and somewhat ironically motioned to leave. “No, no, no – that is banned at this table,” she shouted.

Meanwhile, it took one glass of wine, a can of Carling and less than five minutes of Kat being in Andy’s home for a fight to start. They hadn’t even done the niceties before he uttered the phrase “they come here…”. They both rebuffed the others’ arguments, neither side was left happy and Kat ended the conversation with: “Anyway, nice meeting you Andy.”

Amongst the melodrama and daft situations (Andy looking terrified at the prospect of going to a Polish restaurant, for starters) there were a couple of more poignant moments.

Kat cried after encountering hostile opinions while pulling pints on Pauline’s pub shift and explained that she no longer feels welcome in this country. Meanwhile, Pauline spoke about how she found herself homeless and housed in a B&B 15 years ago, and that some of her opinions stemmed from the fact she believed EU migrants were given housing priority over her at the time.

But largely, this Wife Swap was just so predictable. The caricatures were all there: tick, tick and tick. Even down to the clothing: Pauline had a St George’s manicure; Kat wore a peace and wind turbine t-shirt.

There was nothing new that we haven’t already seen during endless news vox pops from both sides of the debate. If only they’d gone for the unexpected. A less stereotypical – or less extreme – leaver and remainer might have made for more enlightening and interesting TV.

Unsurprisingly, the only thing that both couples could unanimously settle on during the obligatory end-of-the-week pub meet-up was that they would have to agree to disagree. Surprise, surprise, neither wanted to budge an inch.

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Perhaps the PM might have better luck with a peace t-shirt and some EU bunting on her next sojourn to Brussels?