Frankly, I’m flummoxed by the scheduling of the new series of Ch4’s Four Rooms. The third series began airing on the 29th of April, in an intermittent afternoon slot, which was frequently pre-empted by horse-racing and other such tedious crap. Tonight it moves to a prime time evening slot, for no apparent reason, and the TV guides are tagging it as a “new series”, even though it’s really just a continuation of the series-already-in-progress. I suppose we should be grateful to Ch4 for making such a fun game out of trying to follow the series, but frankly I’m beginning to wonder why I even bother…
As a concept for a television show, Four Rooms is the very definition of a “curate’s egg”: A disparate assortment of Punters enter the building with an item (either an antique, a collectable curiosity, or an original artwork) that they believe is of great value and interest, which they then attempt to sell to one of four expert Dealers, for as much dosh as they can squeeze out of them. The catch is that they don’t know how much each Dealer is going to offer, having only had the briefest communal chat with them over the item beforehand, and if they leave a Dealer’s room without accepting their offer, then that offer dies on the table as soon as they walk out the door, never to return! Dun-dun-dun! Which is theoretically quite dramatic and suspenseful, except for the fact that many Punters choose not to deal with anyone, and just take their item home again, having lost nothing except a few hours of their day. It’s not really a high-stakes, do-or-die situation like in Dragons’ Den… it’s more of a “do-or-die-or-try-again-some-other-day, when-the-item-might-be-even-rarer-and-more-valuable”. Meh. I think it would be more interesting if the Punters were required to reveal how much they paid for an item when they originally bought it, or how much it cost them to make it (for original artworks), so we viewers would have a better idea of how insulting or flattering the Dealers’ offers were, and how well the Punter had done at the end of their run. As it is, there’s a distinct dearth of emotional investment in the negotiations themselves.
In fact, most of the show’s appeal derives from the items themselves, and the discussions they inspire regarding the relative value and worth of material objects. To me, a seat from a famous football stadium that’s since been torn down would be useless junk… but to a fan and follower of the team that called that stadium home, it’s a treasured memento of childhood joy and (vicarious) sporting glory. But what would a Dealer, with one eye on their profit-margin, be prepared to pay for it? (SPOILER: About a tenth of what the Punter was expecting, usually). There’s an awful lot of filler, with items that either no one wants, or items that only stir up a dispassionate capitalist response, but occasionally you’ll get an item that everyone agrees is totally abominable… the prime example being a scale model of the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp, made from gold teeth and fillings (ep #2.7). Shudder. Several dealers tried to convince the artist responsible for this outrage to smash it up (or melt it down) in return for hard cash, but he refused. For all I know, he could have gone to sell it for millions to some equally soulless a-hole, but it was nice to see the Dealers all express their revulsion over the piece, and reject it for moral (rather than monetary) reasons.
Also working in the show’s favour is its regular presenter, the gorgeous Anita Rani, whose warm and friendly demeanour helps to smooth over a lot of the rough edges… even if some of the wordplay they feed her can get quite cheesy at times (“Let’s see if this guitar strikes the right note with our dealers”, etc.). I also enjoy seeing her rather naïve, wide-eyed reactions to the more outré or exorbitant items… and I always get a giggle out of the way she says the word “provenance”, for some reason. (She pronounces it “prov-uh-NONCE”, with a slight French accent, whereas I’ve always pronounced it “PROV-uh-nunce”, in a dull English accent). I’ve also really warmed to Tamara Beckwith, a photography-focussed gallery-owner, who’s joined this latest iteration of the series as one of its twelve revolving Dealers. I can’t say I ever gave her much thought back when she was an “it girl” socialite, and don’t really care how she first came to fame/infamy… all I know is that she seems very sweet and funny and honest on the show, and I always look forward to her episodes. I’m also a big fan of her Annie Hall-esque shirt-and-tie style… she’s a good-lookin’ gal! That said, she still has to come (a close) second to my fave Dealer from the first series, Emma Hawkins, a goth-y gallery owner with an interest in taxidermy. Her on-screen persona was an intoxicating blend of otherworldly-eeriness and coy-coquettishness… like a character from an Anne Rice novel come to life! Loved her.