How do I begin to describe This Is My House, BBC One’s high-concept game show-slash-nosy interiors programme? A mish-mash of Changing Rooms and Would I Lie To You, with a dash of Through The Keyhole, it’s a format that absolutely should not work - and yet somehow I’m hooked.
In each episode, presenter Stacey Dooley arrives at an enviable property somewhere in the commuter belt, where she meets four contestants: one of them really lives there, but the other three are just pretending. Over the course of the show, they must convince the celebrity judging panel, who are watching from another extravagantly furnished room in an undisclosed location, that they are the one true homeowner.
After a series of extremely low-stakes challenges, designed to test their knowledge of their house, family and local area, or put their improv skills to the test, the judges must come to a decision. If they have picked the real resident, that contestant wins a £1,000 prize. If not, everyone hurriedly reveals their real identities over an awkward Zoom link and we get to watch a montage of the actual homeowner dancing around their house.
It’s a concept that sounds like it could have been dredged from Alan Partridge’s dictaphone, or a W1A pitch meeting. Somehow, though, it manages to be so much greater than the sum of its parts. Perhaps that’s because we’re all so bored of our own four walls that the opportunity to snoop around - and make sweeping judgments about - other people’s homes feels like a treat. It’s so much more satisfying than swiping through Rightmove (there are no depressing price tags involved), with properties ranging from a Grade 1 listed building in Hitchen that boasts, we’re told, a tree listed in the Domesday Book to a house with a cartoonish multi-coloured roof in Farnham, Surrey.
Nosiness aside, the fact that everyone is taking this mad endeavour very seriously indeed gives proceedings an endearingly farcical edge. All the contestants take on the name of the real homeowner, so in episode one, we meet Fern One, Two, Three and Four. Fern One is an American who claims to have bought a barn conversion in “international transport hub” Ashford, Kent, sight unseen after watching The Holiday (which is set in the Cotswolds). Fern Four, meanwhile, is a bloke who says his name is short for… wait for it… Fernando (told you it was extremely Partridge).
Once the contestants have shown Dooley around the property, it’s time for them to head out on a drive around the neighbourhood, where they attempt to outdo each other with bits of local knowledge obviously gleaned from Google Maps on the way to the shoot. The easiest way to spot the real lord or lady of the manor is to look for the one who is putting the least effort into convincing us of their authenticity: when they start pulling stunts like stopping off at a local shop to pick up a print, as demonstrated by one of the Gemmas in episode three, it all starts to look a bit try-hard. Then the group lines up outside the house as Dooley subjects them all to a quickfire interrogation round. Will they crumble when faced with questions like “What’s the name of your electrician?” and “Who are your favourite neighbours?” Or are they quick enough on their feet to come up with a convincingly banal lie at speed?
Perhaps most excruciating is the moment when the real homeowner’s partner is wheeled out to sit on the sofa, their expression inscrutable, as all four contestants attempt to spin a believable romantic backstory to Dooley. Cue episode two’s resident banter king Michael Two attempting to recreate a wedding flashmob dance to Take That’s Rule The World. “He’s one of those people that, when you’re out, he says ‘Come on, we’re staying for one more!’” judge Emily Atack imagines, before fellow panellist Bill Bailey cuts in with: “Then you end up in a cell...” Houseshares don’t seem to exist in the This Is My House universe, though the thought of the participants having to ad lib an origin story for an unimpressed housemate definitely has comic potential.
Fascinating group dynamics quickly emerge. There’s always one contestant who quickly takes against another’s persona (“She’s rather beige,” one Gemma scathingly notes of a rival in a to-camera interview) and one who goes too far in their attempts to prove they are genuine. Some of them, meanwhile, just seem thrilled to be having a nice day out with Dooley. In episode three, the Gemmas’s car trip turns into an impromptu karaoke sesh when I Think We’re Alone Now comes on the radio, and rivalries temporarily thaw as they all lip sync for their lives.
The judging panel, meanwhile, are clearly having a grand old time, commentating from a showhome kitchen drowning in Instagram-friendly house plants and knick-knacks. Atack and Bailey are joined by comedians Judi Love and Jamali Maddix, and a new guest judge tags along in each episode, starting with Changing Rooms’ floral-suited agent of chaos Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen (it’s a perfect fit - who could be better placed to judge whether someone is being genuine about their passion for feature walls?)
There’s plot twists aplenty, too. Things get brilliantly meta in episode two, when the aforementioned Fernando crops up again, this time claiming to be a father of four named Michael Parish. He’s a worryingly good liar - but will we ever learn his true identity, and snoop round his actual house? Forget Line of Duty’s H - I won’t be able to rest until this Home Counties man of mystery is unmasked once and for all.
This Is My House airs on BBC One, Wednesdays at 9pm, and is available to stream on BBC iPlayer.