Made in Chelsea’s new lockdown format has restored E4 hit to its explosive best

Made in Chelsea series 20 sees the reality show revitalised, says Lydia Spencer-Elliott.

Sam Thompson Made in Chelsea

by Lydia Spencer-Elliott

Advertisement

Just a four-note synth riff from M83’s Midnight City is enough to evoke images of signet rings and Gucci loafers. For nearly a decade, the track has served as the theme song for Made in Chelsea, the reality show centred around the trials and tribulations of London’s elite, now in its 20th series.

From season one, the USP of MIC was exclusivity. Chelsea is the smallest borough in London and one of the most densely populated regions in the UK. As such, it is the perfect pressure cooker for conflict. Cast members literally lived on top of each other—same post code, same social circle. The close proximity made it easy to step on someone’s toes.

Since the show’s launch in 2011, Millie Mackintosh provided some of the most iconic moments ever seen on British television. Whether hurling a martini in boyfriend Hugo Taylor’s face, slapping Spencer Matthews after he cheated on Louise Thompson or publicly thanking Rosie Fortescue for sleeping with her unfaithful boyfriend, the woman provided electric entertainment.

When Louise and Spencer finally broke up it was similarly explosive. “You allow me to cheat on you!” Spencer bellowed. “You’re going to go home after this and cry your f**king eyes out and I hope you do,” he concluded, before mockingly wailing like a baby. 

Then Victoria called Cheska Hull a “f**king fat turkey” over Christmas dinner. It was chaos and it was delicious.

But when original cast members Proudlock and Spencer retired from the show in 2015, the wheels began to fall off the format. New reality stars were found in neighbouring boroughs and counties, the social circle radius spread, and drama levels steadied to nothing more than a simmer.

Without the messy familiarity of people who had been socially intertwined for decades, Made in Chelsea underwent an identity crisis: all that was left were pretty girls and long awkward pauses over cocktails at the Bluebird.

Chinese whispers were the catalyst for every conflict: he said, she said, but nothing actually happened. Fans became so nostalgic towards the golden years that many even acted out their most loved scenes on TikTok.

Yet, when the 20th season of the show aired last week, something felt different and we had the pandemic to thank. In an attempt to film responsibly, producers segregated cast members into different cohabiting ‘bubbles’ situated in country piles across the home counties. Wonderfully stifling and inescapable, the close quarters were spitting with drama reminiscent of bygone episodes.

Verity Bowditch and Tristan Phipps may have broken up over the phone in the privacy of their separate isolations, but their uncomfortable and painful face-to-face reunion played out in front of cameras. In neighbouring country manors, there was nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

The result is Big Brother without the moments of mundanity. And, as pandemic safeguarding dictated members of different bubbles must keep a two-metre distance, flirting has the added thrill of touch being forbidden—a format that already proved captivating on Netflix’s Too Hot to Handle in April.

Master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock said tension is created by the dramatic irony of the audience knowing something the characters don’t: a bomb is under the on-screen table and it’s about to explode. Half the delight of MIC series 20 is it comes with its very own stick of hidden dynamite in the form of Zara McDermott.   

“Lockdown was the best thing that ever happened to us,” Sam Thompson fawns over her with affection and love while viewers cringe in the retrospective knowledge that Zara has been accused of being unfaithful. The horror of it is hypnotising. Will Sam find out she allegedly cheated? When? How? Who from?

Then, in the 41st minute of the episode, just as the suspense becomes almost too muggy to stand, Liv Bentley loses her rag at an insolent comment from Sam and lobs a G&T – lime included – straight into his face.

“You’re a little sh*t, get the f**k out of this house now,” Liv orders in an act so gloriously physical it offsets the vapidity of the prior rumour mill ramblings. A little less talk, a little more action: Millie Mackintosh would be proud.

Advertisement

The latest season of Made in Chelsea airs on E4 at 9pm Monday 29th March. Find out here where the new Made in Chelsea house is located. If you’re looking for something else to watch, check out our TV Guide.