TV review: Benefits Street final episode

Eat, drink, smoke, repeat – it’s the beginning of the week and it’s time we settled in with the daily cycle of our favourite benefit-dependant gang on Britain’s most talked about street.

White Dee, the ‘mother’ of the street who dishes out advice on dodging housing benefit cuts
White Dee, the ‘mother’ of 'Benefits Street'

Those canny Channel 4 producers behind Benefits Street have continually succeeded to toil with our emotions throughout the hit series, getting us shouting down the TV at the welfare hand-outs and pulling out the tissues over the life-changing impact of alcohol and drug abuse.

And last night’s curtain show-down of the series set in Winson Green proved no different as we were taken along newcomers Simba and Tich’s journey for paid work.

Just as the Star’s own reporter Adam Thompson struggled for pennies as an undercover car washer, these new characters appeared to be in the same predicament, with Simba chasing a job as a chef and Tich as a scrap metal dealer.

While Simba can no longer claim benefits due to the expiry of his visa, Tich, despite having his own white Transit van, was also facing the strain because of domestic problems with his housemate.

But as the programme attempts to pull at the audience’s heart strings, you wonder at the strength of sympathy as Simba, although claiming to be hard-working, appeared dragging back on a rolled up cigarette in every screen shot.

From Zimbabwe, he can no longer get benefits and at one point he tells the TV reporter he has 24p, but he still manages fund his drinking and smoking lifestyle.

Tich comes across more likeable, but after a fall-out with his departing flat mate, he appears more interested in sticking his nose in Simba’s relationship affairs than bringing in much-needed cash.

And so it goes on, and it suddenly feels like the producers, who claim to have been following the residents for a year, have exhausted their story lines.

We’ve hit half way through last night’s programme and it’s the same old story of looking for work, and failing to find work.

That is until we’re introduced to Ewan - a quiet, if not boring man who is among the five per cent of people in the street who have a job. “Thank heavens for that,” I hear the audience cry.

“There is hope in James Turner Street.”

But the problem with IT worker Ewan, who I am sure is a really nice person, is that he seems as desperate and sad as all the ‘job-seekers’ around him.

You can sense the producers madly trying to find a storyline out of him, and then eventually give up as he flicks through his Billy Idol music and James Bond film collections. And so, apart from a brief cameo toward the end where he picks up a few bottles as part of a litter-pick, he is gone from screens.

Cue the return of Fungi. I hope the alcoholic and recovering drug addict got a fair whack from this show considering the generous air-time he received.

This week he was seen talking with mother-of-the-street White Dee about his swollen right breast – thank God the producers had it in their heart not to show us that.

He fears it could be cancer and then tells us, quite emotionally, that his mother died only six months after being struck by the condition.

But all is not lost – the rather awkward-looking doctor tells Fungi he has nothing to worry, but they cannot treat it.

Walking home, Fungi tells White Dee this is the chance to change his life. That’s until he gets nicked walking out of Ann Summers with the latest silk bra.

And this is not the last we’ve seen of Benefits Street - next week the film crew returns to look how things have changed since they shot the series.

Alex Ross