Tv review: Eye Spy | Don’t Call Me Crazy

In Channel 4’s new hidden camera show EYE SPY, Stephen Fry sets a number of staged scenarios upon unsuspecting members of the great British public ™.

Don't Call Me Crazy. Picture:  Simon Pantling
Don't Call Me Crazy. Picture:  Simon Pantling
Don't Call Me Crazy. Picture: Simon Pantling


Thursday, Channel 4, 10pm


Monday, BBC 3, 9pm

His stated aim is to restore our faith in human nature, as selfless, stout-hearted citizens do the right thing in times of need. In episode one alone, we witness diners standing up to an outrageously racist waiter, watch passers-by help a teenager in a wheelchair up a flight of stairs, and marvel at humankind’s innate ability to avoid cycling off with bicycles which don’t belong to them.

Like an elaborate Beadle prank with a civic duty twist, its an entirely pointless experiment in which the notion that some people are prone to helpful intervention, while others aren’t, is held up as astonishing insight. Insufferably condescending and pleased with itself – Fry, who narrates like a cosily omniscient God, presumptuously refers to the viewer as “you” and “we” throughout – it’s a heavily padded, repetitious jumble of shallow positivity and censorious tutting.

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For a programme purporting to celebrate human nature, it takes a notably dim view of its audience’s intelligence: it even goes out of its way to point out that the actor playing the racist waiter isn’t actually prejudiced in real life. Were they worried that pitchfork-wielding viewers might accost him in the street?

Aside from its tacit suggestion that the people of Manchester are less bothered by racism than their London counterparts – if that wasn’t the intention, that’s how it comes across – Eye Spy’s nadir is an experiment involving young children resisting the urge to eat a marshmallow. This is used, with stunning lack of tact, as an analogue for the London riots of 2011. “See? Britain isn’t all about smash, grab, gimme gimme!” chortles Fry, as if he’s somehow solved the complex issue of disaffected class revolt with a wave of his pampered hand.

Incidentally, the supposedly life-affirming Eye Spy is produced by Objective, who, despite having many fine programmes to their name, also delivered the notorious Kookyville, a truly hateful comedy pilot in which ordinary members of the public were held up to ridicule and the audience roundly insulted. We shattered few who witnessed it will never forget, Objective. Never.

Far more sensitive and sympathetic is DON’T CALL ME CRAZY, a three-part observational documentary focusing on patients and staff at Manchester’s McGuinness Unit. One of Britain’s largest teenage mental health units, it’s home to troubled kids with a variety of debilitating issues, ranging from eating disorders to self-harm.

Poignant but never cloying, it’s a candid study of fragile young lives: as one staff-member puts it, adolescence is a form of madness at the best of times. The recurring visual motif of depressed patients slumped in corridors may linger for some time.

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