'Man Up' And The Male Identity Crisis

Man-bashing has become a reliable meme within reality TV. And a new show takes it to its cruellest limit

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Kris Ellis is a mess. Unemployed and confined to his sister’s box room in Leeds, the wispy-bearded slugabed hasn’t had a date since 2008. Despite vague dreams of being some kind of writer, the 28-year-old’s main ambition is to “get through life without being noticed.” Which makes you wonder why he volunteered for Man Up, a new show that seeks to instill self-belief in hapless blokes via an arbitrary five-step programme of ritual humiliation.

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Presented by Olivia Lee – essentially a patronising set of teeth in day-glo garb – she admits that Kris’s case is a tricky opener. A shambolic forum-dwelling creature, he speaks almost exclusively in a nervous laugh, apart from when he chillingly gives himself two out of 10 on the happiness scale. Assuming a base level of one for simply being alive, it’s debatable where the second point has come from.

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Not to worry. Decamped to the so-called Man Up flat in “that London”, the theory seems to be that spending a week in Patrick Bateman’s apartment will lift him out of his self-inflicted trough of despond.

There’s little time to admire the artwork on the walls however, as step one of his entirely non-scientific treatments sees him whisked to a nearby spa where he is required to don a robe and give massages to three scantily-clad women. Some distance out of his comfort zone, his reticence is matched only by his tumescence.

The humiliation continues when a psychologist confronts him with a cardboard cut-out of his naked self and makes him identify his key body image issues. It’s cruel stuff, particularly as his life is blighted by an unseemly scar due to a childhood heart condition, which is then dissected in depth with obligatory furrowed brows and cod theorising.

Thankfully now with clothes on, Kris is then sent to work as a doorman at a smug hotel, an experience that the layman might assume would actually be detrimental to his self-esteem. It’s around this point that you start to warm to him as, to be honest, festering in your bedroom doing nothing is arguably more dignified than greeting tourists while dressed as a toy soldier.

Not suited to life on the front line, he even has a stab at cleaning rooms, proving only that he is as incapable of changing a pillowcase as he is his existence.

Moving swiftly on, in an attempt find his “true purpose in life” he is then booked to read his sub-sixth form poetry to a pub full of hipsters. It’s a task that he bravely performs to a muted response, despite his sopping armpit increasingly resembling a map of Africa.

With the psychological makeover having produced mixed results, Man Up eventually resorts to an old school TV makeover. As Olivia helpfully points out: “You look like a tramp.”

Cue a tape measure-wielding harridan who miraculously transforms our Kris from High School Shooter to Suburban Estate Agent, with the camera hovering over the brand name just long enough for the PR to give it a tick. Olivia, who by now has been getting stuck into the cocktails, is hugely impressed with Kris’ new look, albeit not enough to stop talking to him like a four-year-old or give him a hug without obvious revulsion.

Despite its sweeping blurb about man’s place in 21st century society, the opening episode of Man Up is nothing loftier than a mish-mash of cruelty-voyeurism genres. Cheap television that victimises anyone who doesn’t subscribe to a predetermined set of values, it’s presumably designed to make the viewers feel better about their own moribund existences as they sit on their sofas and mock the weak.

And so it is, that with seemingly nowhere else to go, the newly shorn Kris is sent on an inevitably painstaking date, which we are almost certain doesn’t end in penetrative intercourse. Then, just like that, the week’ is over, and he’s back in the box room in Leeds, minus his beard. It might have been easier for all concerned if they’d simply sent him a razor. Man Down.

Man Up starts tonight at 9pm on FOX

 

This article first appeared in Esquire Weekly, our new iPad-only edition. Containing 100 per cent new and original content, it’s published every Thursday on the Apple Newsstand.

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