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Faking It (2000-05)

Courtesy of RDF Media

Main image of Faking It (2000-05)
RDF Television for Channel 4,
3 x 90 min; 21 x 60 min editions in five series, colour
Executive ProducerStephen Lambert
Series ProducerJoanna Crawley

A series of contestants are given one month to learn a challenging new profession, and to convince an expert panel that they are the real thing. Leaving their homes and work, they are fully immersed in their new world, getting expert coaching round the clock until the big day arrives.

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Emerging at the height of the late-90s/early-2000s 'reality TV' boom, Faking It matched the best of that genre for sheer compulsive watchability. But where its peers were frequently dismissed as shallow voyeurism, Faking It offered genuine social and psychological insights and an honest-to-goodness life-changing opportunity to its participants.

Though its premise was simple, the challenge was far from it. Subjects had to learn not only a new set of skills, but all the other characteristics of their given profession - jargon, dress, behaviour. In one short month - condensed into less than 90 minutes of television - they were required to undergo an almost complete identity transformation.

Despite the diversity of tasks, the participants displayed a surprisingly consistent sequence of feelings - apprehension as they approached their challenge, excitement at their early successes, frustration and anger as their early progress falters, near despair as the deadline loomed, then jubilation when they (nearly always) succeeded.

Like much reality TV, Faking It aimed to reveal human behaviour under pressure. But what set the programme apart from the pack, and from predecessors like In at the Deep End (BBC, 1982-87) and Back to the Floor (BBC, 1997-98), was the unusual good-naturedness of its approach - producers, coaches and audience alike all urged the contestants to succeed - and the genuinely positive and worthwhile opportunities it presented. As much as it provided voyeuristic pleasure for its audience, it offered a richly satisfying voyage of self-discovery to its participants.

Standout challenges included an ex-Navy officer who became a drag queen, and a middle-class black lawyer, adopted by white parents and almost entirely detached from his black roots, who successfully made it as a UK Garage MC. The series provided its participants with tasks carefully, and often poignantly, chosen to challenge attitudes and preconceptions - of both subjects and audience - in the process raising serious questions about identity and social status. What would appear to be vast differences between professions and lifestyles were revealed as comparatively small and - although the point was implicitly rather than explicitly made - ones determined more by issues of class, upbringing, race or just plain chance than by innate talents.

But while such points suggest a subtle critique of social inequality and the denial of opportunities, perhaps Faking It's greatest achievement was its profoundly optimistic assertion of humankind's extraordinary adaptability.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. George the lawyer (2:23)
2. First dancing lesson (2:36)
3. Out with the crew (3:05)
4. 'He's gettin it!' (1:00)
5. Final rehearsal (2:44)
Complete edition: 'Garage MC' Part 1 (11:46)
Part 2 (09:53)
Part 3 (17:44)
Part 4 (18:58)
Part 5 (18:23)
Driving School (1997)
Going Native (2001)
In at the Deep End (1982-87)
Channel 4 Documentary
Social Experiment TV