“In Ascot, if you’ve got it, you’ve got it. If you don’t, you’re fu***d.”
And so begins Absolutely Ascot – ITV’s new structured reality show. The series follows the “amazing world of bling and bunting” in Ascot, trailing a motley crew of young things aged from 18 to 22 as they break up, make up and… well, you know the drill.
Episode one introduces us to the boys and girls in the lead up to Ladies’ Day – the number one event in the Berkshire town’s calendar – as they have suit fittings, try on dresses and spray Prosecco over one another in a hot tub. Standard stuff.
The main players are wideboy Henry – a Lamborghini-driving teen who likes nothing more than to talk about driving his Lamborghini – and Courtney, the childhood sweetheart with whom he has recently split.
With the big day approaching, the shock news is that despite it being just days since Henry and Courtney broke up, Henry will be going to Ladies’ Day with new squeeze, Leah.
All everyone can talk about is how much drama this is going to create and how gargantuan the fallout is going to be when Henry and Leah make their debut as a couple at Ladies’ Day.
“My life is always dramatic,” says Courtney. “My biggest drama in life is me and Henry’s drama. Our lives are a drama. We’re not even together and it’s still drama.”
Henry, meanwhile, is wistful about the unspecified drama that is about to hit Ascot like an asteroid. “I don’t want girls arguing,” he notes at the prospect of his ex and current girlfriend coming face to face at the races. “I like no drama.”
In another scene, Leah’s friend Ellie offers her thoughts on the new couple going together. “Oh my god Leah, do you know how much drama this is going to cause?”
“I’m a drama-free person,” insists Leah, as Ellie then retorts: “Well you know that it’s not going to be a drama-free day?”
Well, Ellie, that’s where you’re wrong. Because despite said drama being hyped up to the nines and the entire cast harping on about it for the best part of an hour, the result of Courtney and Leah coming face-to-face at Ladies’ Day is …well, not much at all, really. There’s a vaguely tense conversation between some of the cast (kind of) but essentially everyone keeps their distance and goes their separate ways.
This ‘climax’ is a big damp squib in more ways than one. Courtney, Henry, Leah et al are highly anticipating Ladies’ Day and yet they only ever seem to make it as far as the ‘Ascot Bar’. This is a marquee on a patch of astroturf, penned-in by crowd control barriers that aren’t dissimilar to a nightclub’s smoking area, which is situated on the High Street right next to an Esso garage, Boots opticians and a Budgens. Oh, the glamour.
Coincidentally, the only people at the ‘Ascot Bar’ appear to be the cast of Absolutely Ascot.
This starts to make far more sense when you see that back in August, newspaper Local Berkshire reported that the show was denied permission to actually film at the racecourse itself. Right.
So in a programme called Absolutely Ascot, there’s scant little – if any – Ascot actually in it, with the cast instead made to loiter around the entrance, pressing their noses against the glass.
There are a few questions you find yourself asking when watching this. Firstly, why commission a show about a thing you can’t even film in or at. Secondly, how the hell are they going to fill seven more hours after using up Ladies’ Day in episode one? And lastly, haven’t we all moved on from this stuff?
Reality TV has evolved. While Love Island and Celebs Go Dating have become successes in recent years, The Only Way is Essex and Made in Chelsea limp on – now mainly continuing to survive on viewers’ goodwill. Many fans continue to watch purely out of a sense of loyalty and habit rather than genuine enjoyment.
Shows like TOWIE and MiC felt fresh and de rigueur in the early 2010s, and almost a decade later, they’re looking decidedly tired. Viewers have become fatigued with series of this ilk, and the last thing TV needs is yet another structured reality show that was seemingly commissioned off the back of the tabloids’ annual obsession with publishing unflattering pictures of racegoers at Ladies’ Day.
The odds aren’t exactly in Absolutely Ascot’s favour. As it limps meekly from ITVBe’s stable, let’s hope at the end of this eight-part race, the kindest decision will be made and the show will be put out to pasture.
Absolutely Ascot airs Sundays at 10pm on ITVBe