We’ve all done it, right? Gotten a cold UberEats meal, copped some attitude from a service worker, had an appointment rescheduled at the last minute, and taken to social media to vent our fury with a one star review.
“I would have given no stars if I could!” we thumb into our smart phones. We feel righteous; we’ve gotten a bit of our own back, called out a dodgy business, and warned other innocent consumers of the bad time that awaits them should they ever contract the services of the vendor who has crossed us. Never mind if the food wasn’t that cold, the waiter not that rude, the appointment unavoidably changed – it’s so easy to forget that there are human beings, not faceless corporations, on the receiving end of our one star wrath.
Vice’s Taji Ameen hasn’t forgotten. In fact, reminding us of the human element in the online rating economy is the raison d’etre for his wildly popular show, One Star Reviews. Spinning out of the Vice web series of the same name, One Star Reviews sees the skateboarder turned shooter, producer and host actively seeking out some of the worst-reviewed businesses on the internet and finding out for himself if what they have to offer is really as bad as their most disgruntled customers would have you believe.
Sometimes, those reviews are on the money; in the fourth episode when Ameen takes a driving lesson from of the worst-reviewed instructors on Yelp, you get the feeling that he’s really taking his life in his hands getting behind the wheel with this person calling the shots. That’s not the only time Ameen has had skin in the game either; on one memorable occasion, he ventured into a poorly reviewed wellness centre for a colonic irrigation treatment – an act of courage on par with the 'Charge of the Light Brigade'. On yet another, he literally risked disfigurement visiting a tattooist who had attracted a hoard of one star ratings.
That one actually turned out okay; Ameen was happy with his ink and gave the tattoo parlour a five star review. And this is what’s key to the show’s appeal; One Star Reviews isn’t an exercise in “gotcha” journalism, but a genuine effort to cut through the online/real world barrier and give businesses who have copped a run of bad reviews an honest go. Not everyone manages to prove that they’re better than their online reputation would indicate but they all get the chance to, with Ameen taking the time to ask them about various poor reports and hear their side of the story. For his part, Ameen remains resolutely upbeat, maintaining an optimistic, glass-half-full approach even when he’s risking life, limb, skin, or bum. “Take the most charitable interpretation” seems to be his motto, and there’s rarely a situation or experience he can’t wring something positive out of. Yes, even the driving lesson.
What that means in effect is that rather than an exercise in cringe comedy, One Star Reviews is instead a celebration of compassion, empathy, and understanding. It’s a show that asks us to look beyond our immediate dissatisfaction with people who have disappointed us and take a more holistic, measured approach to our interactions. Or, at the very least, to not fly off the handle the next time the Thai takeout is missing a spring roll.
Season 1 of One Star Reviews airs on SBS VICELAND in double episodes from 11.50pm on Fridays. The entire first season is now available to stream at SBS On Demand.