Channel 4 has realised something, and that is: Anna Richardson giving people a firm, fair talking to makes for great TV. That explains the enduring success of Naked Attraction, which arrived five years ago as a sort of Eurotrash-style curio – “Really?” we said. “Cocks out and everything?” – and has evolved into a fixture of ambient, late-night, “no-don’t-turn-it-over” TV. Now she’s back, telling kind British families with credit card debt to stop spending £1,300 a month in Tesco, and guess what: it’s good TV again.
At first blush, How to Save a Grand in 24 Hours (Monday, 8pm, Channel 4) promises to be head-spinningly erratic: domestic British families with comfortable mortgages tell Anna Richardson how their spending habits have got out of control. “We like a takeaway, Anna.” “You’ve spent £400 on takeaways this month alone.” “Oh.” So Anna gives them a DIY expert, a cheerful Welsh cleaner, and a chef for a day to help them learn how to cut costs. Lean in closely and it’s a supermarket-value version of Netflix’s Queer Eye – people whose lives are treading water ask for a very understanding kick up the backside, and in response they get some new shelves and a slightly-too-handsome-to-be-doing-this man teaching them how to make chilli. At the end of the month, Anna Richardson puts her enormous glasses on, peers through their credit card statements and tells them how much they’ve saved. Normally: about a grand.
The concept is slightly bizarre (“Nine grand of high-interest debt, you say? I’m going to make you make a shoe rack out of a pallet!”), but it does feel like the start of a certain moment in television. This week’s couple – the incredibly likable Matt and Neil from Blackburn – got married just before Covid hit, then got rinsed by the pandemic: wedding debt mounted and Neil lost his job, but their comfort spending remained the same. It’s sort of an unasked question throughout all this: even with government grants and furlough and test and trace support payment, how did ordinary people actually survive? You wonder how many other Matt and Neils, and how many other glowing-hot credit cards, are supporting people on the back of 17 difficult months indoors. Is some advice about how to pad out a chilli with some beans and reuse the leftovers for ragu tomorrow what we need right now? Maybe.
This won’t be the last programme over the next two years to tell people to make a list when they go shopping, but How to Save a Grand … is done well. The best 8pm-slot do-your-house-up shows tell a story – here’s a couple, here’s their problem, we’re going to force them to clean an oven until they learn something. We get enough Matt and Neil that we have time to actually warm to them as people, rather than nameless pawns being barked at about bicarbonate of soda. I actually said “Wow” out loud when I saw how clean their oven got. I also now have some open tabs with “useful, money-saving gadgets” that Anna says will make my life easier. Not in the history of this column has a TV show made me buy a reusable lint roller – until now. Perhaps How to Save a Grand in 24 Hours is more groundbreaking than I thought.