Shopping The Family Review

January 16, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

SHOPPING THE FAMILY, Channel 4, Friday 16th January, 7:35pm  Alert me

As moral quandaries go, it’s up there with ‘If your mum and dad were dangling at the end of a cliff and you could only save one…’ and ‘If your porn collection and your pre-pubescent brat of a little sister were in a house fire and you could only save one….’.

While the likelihood of both those happening are somewhat slight (unless your family name is Bond and you tend to hang around cat-stroking megalomaniacs), and the answers are fairly simple (Dad and porn), the questions that Shopping Your Family explores are becoming increasingly plausible in today’s society.

If you found a family member (specifically, your child) had broken the law, would you shop them to the police?

Using a real radio station phone-in as the narrative conduit, this sombre documentary branches off into the real-life stories of two parents who made the difficult decision to report their brood to the police and condemn them to a stint of hard time, daily shankings and, if HBO’s ‘Oz’ is to be believed, near minutely sodomy abuse.

Carol Saldinak achieved nationwide recognition when she shopped her two sons after hearing that they had stabbed and blinded a man, and left him bleeding in the street. While the victim survived, Carol’s relationship with her children didn’t and so we’re subjected to lots of lingering shots emphasising the hard road she’s chosen for herself.

Here’s Carol eating. Alone. Here’s Carol watching television. Alone. Here’s Carol pooping. ALONE. Listening to Carol’s woes and the ex-communication from the rest of her children can be genuinely affecting, but when the storytelling is so exploitative and obviously moribund, it’s hard not to snigger at the forced seriousness of it all. Another example is the lighting, which seems to have gone on strike prior to filming. We get it – it’s a very dark subject matter, but it would be awfully nice to make out the people we’re being introduced to.

Although with Carol’s face for radio, it’s all probably tactical.

With her case, it’s obvious that any sane person would’ve done the same. Her family sound and react like they were one step away from The Jeremy Kyle show anyway, so as a viewer you almost instantly sympathise and understand, if not approve.

The other example is less clear cut, which is where the programme at least partially succeeds. Neil Metcalfe found 11 bullets in his son’s wardrobe and instantly summoned the cops. Interviews with his ‘less pikey than you’d think’ son and Neil himself are genuinely interesting, while their inevitable prison reunion is enthralling if not a little voyeuristic.

If current affair, real-life documentaries are all supposed to be hard-hitting, Shopping Your Family feels like you’ve been sucker punched by Norah Batty. Limp, but a little interesting at the same time.

By Matt Risley