Watched #41
“Has it really been 30 years since Bouncer’s dream?” wondered aloud the chap in the Channel 5 voiceover booth. Well, no. It hasn’t.

I remember when it was announced C5 had nabbed Gotham and someone on Facebook observed: “Well, that’s that ruined”. There is a genuine perception that the network – until recently draped under the cloak of Desmond – stinks up everything it touches. But they didn’t get all that much wrong when it came to celebrating Neighbours‘ 30th.

There’s a winning self-awareness about the soap, always has been. It knows its place. And so no one, over here or over there, ever seemed to contemplate it laying on an EastEnders-sized bash. Instead the celebrations were annexed off to one evening – Wednesday. Well, I say that; it might be the case regular daily episodes of the show are going nuts, but there hasn’t been any communication of that. The highlight for this receding telly nerd was obvious: Neighbours: The First Episode (11.55pm).

Just to make things tricky, Neighbours isn’t actually 30 years old over here, which might be why you’re not quite feeling the synergy between that and any residual Walford nostalgia. The show debuted in the UK in October 1986, and with a first episode that doesn’t initially feel much like Neighbours. The rolling Grundy icosahedron1 arrives accompanied by a BBC Video-type sting and then we’re into Danny Ramsay’s dream. Surreally shot and seemingly scored by John Carpenter, it’s indicative of absolutely nothing that’s to follow – except maybe Bouncer’s own nocturnal visions (which first aired in Australia in 1990 and over here in ’91, Channel 5 Guy). It’s a weird way to introduce us to the neighbourhood. Max grabs Danny’s neck as if to throttle him and breaks into maniacal laughter, then Shane tumbles from the high board, vapour lifting divinely from his torso.

We catch up with Danny the next day, and returning from a fruitless visit to his GP (Mum and Dad are getting worried about his night terrors), the camera settles on the street he lives in. This is positively the dullest moment at which to raise the show’s logo and bleed in the tune. A Breaking Bad tableau, it’s so lacking in romance. Half the screen, tarmac, the other defined by a lonely power line and an abandoned car.

But then we meet Anne Haddy’s Helen Daniels, who’s brilliantly Helen Daniels-ing from the off. Cut to Paul Keane’s Des Clarke and, in a scene pretty much about nothing, he beats out a little drum solo on a car chassis while yakking to one of his mates. For no other reason than that’s the kind of affable bloke Des is. Later, Julie Robinson (in her original Vikki Blanche incarnation) demolishes Lorraine’s regard for the poor guy, whom she’s due to marry in the morning. “He isn’t really a spunk, is he?” And during the bucks’ party, across the way the Robinsons are keeping vigil, the stripper music preventing anyone on the street from getting some sleep. Little Lucy Robinson (Kylie Flinker) emerges from that door, as she so often will: “I heard Paul telling those dirty jokes again.”

I’m not over-egging it. There’s real gold here. And it can’t just be the writing. It’s doubtful Des’ finger skiffle was in any script. And how could stage directions conjure up Helen so forcefully? Our conclusion must be that, wibbly-wobbly dream aside, Neighbours had a doubty confidence from the off. Its pretensions were merely towards being plain (“Produced in the studios of Flinders Productions” say the end titles), but plain connotes honesty. We went nuts for Erinsborough in the ’80s, I think, because of that, and because it never tried to convince us it was of much consequence.

I’m travelling backwards through Wednesday night. Here’s Neighbours: Scott & Charlene Get Married (11.30pm), about which we already know everything, except, maybe, what else happened in that episode. Like Brookside‘s Lesbian kiss in 1994, it feels like the programme makers didn’t quite realise what they were getting. In that other instance, no one from Mersey TV thought to capture the moment with the obligatory ‘episodic’ photo-shoot2 and so it must forever be illustrated with a screen grab. That’s not quite the case with Scott and Lennie (the chummier nickname never quite supplanting the formal ‘Charlene’ as was obviously intended). But it’s weird that the wedding isn’t placed as the culmination of the episode.

But what a wedding! Dismissing soap orthodoxy, there isn’t a parallel element of tragedy trying to hone in on the action, even when the bride-to-be baits fate: “This is going to be the best wedding ever!” Instead it’s just a lovely sequence, wherein the couple charmingly steal glances at each other, while around the church the peoples of Erinsborough are allowed micro-interactions that writ their characters large. Mrs Mangel looks hopefully at Harold. Gail gazes wistfully into the middle-distance; Paul turns briefly and catches that, an expression of guilt touching his face while he considers their sham marriage. Madge dabs a tear.

Back at the Robinsons’, the soap opera rolls on. Mrs Mangel catches Harold embracing Madge. “For heaven’s sake we were engaged!”/”But after the accident, she probably doesn’t remember.” Also, Lucy’s pet mouse has escaped. The episode was written by Ray Harding and directed by Rod Hardy, suitably utilitarian sounding names.

Unsurprisingly, that episode (#532) was voted fans’ favourite in Neighbours 30th: The Stars Reunite (10pm). The 90-minute celebration was helmed by Stefan Dennis, who was pragmatic enough to explain the backstory of the character played by his co-host, before bringing in Tim Phillipps. And this was fun and admirable, the big guns like Kylie Minogue, Guy Pearce and Margot Robbie seemingly happy to chat about those days. What pleasure there was in the pop princess once again uttering the phrase: “Plain Jane Super Brain”. It was absolutely implicit that the show’s glory years lay in the 4:3 era. Only one of its top five moments broke out into widescreen, but no one seemed too fussed. Craig McLachlan still had oodles of charm, insisting on a recording break while he donned Henry’s dungarees, and later wigging out as he played his own electric guitar version of theme. “This one’s for you Bouncer!” he declared, before noodling a final solo.

And then, here was where the evening started. With our regular visit to those Antipodean… [clunk] Neighbours (5.30, repeated from 1.45pm), where for no reason, they’re celebrating Erinsborough with the inaugural Erinsborough Festival. Old pictures of Ramsays and Robinsons (are both still on the street?) and a trivia quiz about the recent history of the area (“Anyone remember the name of Helen Daniels’ car service?”). Here’s Harold, who moves – with sure practise – from pathos to bathos and back again, crashing his van into one of the fete stands, and then hallucinating up his dearly missed Madge. “Oh, Harold, what have you done?!” she hisses.

Earlier on, Mayor Paul Robinson announced that someone called Reg Watson had won the quiz. It was the soap’s own ‘Julia + Tony’ moment. Done in the customary style, playing down any real piquancy.

  • This will be the last update to OTT for a couple of weeks, while I knuckle down and complete some things for Doctor Who Magazine. But I’ll be back. And in the meantime I’ll keep slinging stuff onto my vanity site: www.gk-w.com
  1. Thanks, closinglogos.com
  2. I know this, I’m sad to say, because that was one of the many snippets I had to lose from this

Watched #40
One thing I’m certain about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix, from Friday) is that’s a killer theme tune. We’re just on the other side of the whole Songify – umm – craze1, but – to nearly quote Walter Bankston – dammit, it’s alive! The kind of silly, funny, tuneful opening that sets off a drip-feed of dopamine in your brain. It’s designed (by the Gregory Brothers) to be an earworm, and worm it does.

So do elements of this comedy. Someone on my timeline, apropos of nothing, tweeting just yesterday: “Troll the respawn Jeremy.” Bits wriggling free.

Created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, it feels right that it’s sat on a server, 13 episodes waiting to turn viral, rather than air weekly on NBC (which was the original plan). At the time of writing, I’ve sat through nine of them and I’m not sure how much I like it.  That’s weird, because nine episodes in a week should be an indication of devotion. But, instead, for me, it’s more a testimonial to the form. Short US half-hours, which are there immediately on my telly or tablet. Designed to fill in the gaps between other things.

How can I quantify my regard? Well, I feel assured there’ll be at least one good line per episode2 and it doesn’t go too heavy on that current trend in US comedy – a set-up which pays off with a snappy flashback to some surreal happening. Also, I like the cast well enough. But I like the whole package less than its obvious comparison point, 30 Rock. Where that had a kind of anything-goes mentality with members of the wider ensemble you’d be hanging on to see (specifically, Dr Spaceman) this is more contained. A more left leftfield premise, but relatively conservatively realised.

That said, I’ll be there through to the end of the 13 – and the next too. There’s story development which I really didn’t expect (certain characters who seem created as off-screen foils then joining the story) and, it remains, short, likeable, accessible. Ask me again in a year, and I’ll probably be nuts for the whole thing. That’s gonna be, uh, a you know, uh, a fascinating transition.

Much of my life is spent thinking about MasterChef (BBC1 Tuesday, 9pm – continuing Wednesday, Thursday) so forgive me as I zero straight in on the details as the show returns for its 11th run. What are the tweaks? As ever, tiny, but it’s like julienning a carrot; these are deft and meticulous cuts. After having John Torode conduct last series in his chef whites, he’s back in civvies. That visual demarcation between he and Gregg Wallace is apparently no longer important. As it mostly hasn’t been over the last decade.

But loose chat! Between rounds, right from the off, we’re privy to contestants’ conversations on the shop floor. It may sound patrician, but I don’t want to hear from the folks yet – not until they’ve earned my regard. Right now, I see them as troops, and they should bear that with dignity. Yes, Olivia, we can see that all you’ve managed to get up is a green stripe on a plate, but face front and continue with the competition. Don’t share that stress with Robert or Tony or whomever 3. Of course, this is actually a production choice, not a reflection of a new more voluble intake. Like Robert considering his meeting of minds between cranachan and panna cotta, one should always be given leeway to “riff”, so let’s allow it this year but hope it’ll be put in a cupboard alongside John’s uniform and the (at last!) canned edit suite trick of dropping a clunk of a knife into the soundtrack as a moment of percussion.

It’s because I adore MasterChef I can be mean like this. I’ve still never missed an episode of it or its variants. On the Wednesday , John said, “Let’s rock!” and later on he and Gregg fist-bumped and I didn’t hate it.

The first indication was that something could come of this. An early moment in Boy George and Culture Club: Karma to Calamity (BBC4 Friday, 9pm) saw the quartet reunite in George’s North London kitchen, all becoming animated about his juicer. But when the work began, it became clear why they don’t work. George seemingly more focused on delineating his separateness from the group (as implied by his billing in the title of Mike Nicholls’ exemplary film) then truly participating. As they began to riff – a phrase I employ here in its rare non-culinary form – George thumbed and thumbed and thumbed through his iPhone. Mikey, Roy and Jon left. “I’ve just had to spray chakra spray on myself,” sighed George, mustering up the most damning indictment imaginable.

“Back in the day we did everything 25 per cent,” he said, referring to royalties. “That ain’t going to happen now.” But over the course of the documentary, it became clear George was still, in truth, on a one quarter-share. The geezerish three men (Jon: “The word ‘styling’ when you’re over 50 can wreak fear in your soul”) making a solid 75 against his minority share (George: “When I’m dressed up it seems to bother them”). Although the chameleon saw himself – and probably rightfully – as the senior partner, every interaction strained with that tension. He’d walk out of conversations and photo shoots seemingly so he’d somehow ‘won’. “It’s not about you, it’s about them,” he moaned in reference to fans requesting selfies. It’s easy to criticise, but then one feels George wants it.

When he’d succeeded in fragmenting Culture Club once more, and their comeback tour had been cancelled, he went to a fish restaurant in Hampstead with some devotees who’d come far for the gig. It was a very sweet thing for him to do. Not that he’d want you to think that. Winding up the evening, he bustled out and turned to camera: “It really got on my nerves, I just want you to know”. Then he jigged off up the road.

Sex, Lies & Love Bites: The Agony Aunt Story (BBC4 Tuesday, 9pm), presented by The Guardian‘s Philippa Perry was full of commonsense. “Good advice is what you know anyway,” and that’s true. An industry that seems genuinely founded on solid intention, its best embodiment was surely Claire Rayner. Son Jay (also seen on Thursday’s MasterChef demanding a pud to appeal to his “greedy inner child”) leafed through her ‘standards manual’. Under ‘C’: “Circumcision, contraception, climax, crabs, cross-dressing…” I didn’t know Graham Norton practiced the art too, for The Telegraph. Did he always offer his counsel solemnly? “Sometimes. But sometimes I don’t, because who cares, really?”

  1. Was it a craze, or does that make me sound like a very old man?
  2. From the first: “It’s Buckley’s birthday tomorrow so you’ll need to make a cake that’s cute and also Paleo”
  3. I forget, because at this stage I have no interest in them as people

Chris Chibnall
Broadchurch
is back and, defying detractors, you can feel its instant fascination once more drawing viewers in once more. It’s also prompted me – perhaps cynically – to dig out a transcript of an interview I conducted with the show’s writer, Chris Chibnall, on 4th April 2013, between the broadcast of series one, episodes five and six. Read More →

22 episodes of Pointless
I’ve got 22 episodes of Pointless sat on my digi-box. I’ve been chiseling away at them as much as possible. I’m defined by the fact I’ve never missed a single one. There was a week where that stack towered above 30, all of them a ‘do’ on a to-do list. A couple of nights purposefully Pointless-ing back-to-back helped.

TV-watching can be stressful. But I believe that can be made worse by Twitter. At times, I feel like it’s trying to micro-manage my viewing. I was watching a show the other week and when it came to the first break, I looked online. Scrolling back, it turned out that a minute earlier someone had posted a screen-grab of a scene from the programme, with a line to the effect that here was where the episode pivoted. Scrolling further, the same person had preceded that with a remark teeing up the fact we were about to get a scene where, yes, the episode pivoted.

It made me think about the mechanics of this. A  journalist with access to a preview copy, who’s watched it, enjoyed it, grabbed an image to deploy – just so – upon transmission. It took some forethought and organisation, certainly. Some imagination. One could argue they were using Twitter with panache. But in addition to trying to steer (or maybe even trump) discussion about the programme, it was also a tacit way of communicating their privileged access to it.

That’s a fussy detail I’ve spent two paragraphs outlining. But it was the thing that set me thinking about writing this post. The last two or three years have seen the rise of the ‘non-spoilery’ preview followed by the instant ‘spoilery’ review upon transmission of hot-button TV shows. I have to confess, I find it a bit wearing. The sheer acquisitiveness. As if websites are trying to plant their flag in these programmes. As if we can’t be afforded the space to make up our own minds first. As if we need another bit of admin to  take care of after watching something. The counter-argument to my gripes, of course, is that I’m under no obligation to read either the ‘non-spoilery’ or ‘spoilery’ variants. Which is true, but I’m still being nagged to do so by My timeline. Unfollow, then? Even though I feel that’s actually the passive response, it’s still not considered to be very friendly.

But while I wag my finger, I should confess I’m a sinner too. Look at this…

What exactly did that tell the world? Only that, yes, I’d managed to get along to the preview screening and – nnerr! – I’d seen Capaldi’s debut before you. I was simply boasting. Planting my flag. A  friend rightfully stopped following me for that. By coincidence, I spotted that and managed to persuade him back. I’ve checked; he’s still with me and he’s a useful presence out there, sat in my notional audience. In my mind, he will sometimes shake his head ‘no’ before I hit the button.

Today’s blog post has been prepared in advance, like that screen-grab tweet, because I’m currently taking a fortnight off. But I still wanted to provide something to read on OTT on a Friday when I would normally be punting up my review of four shows from the week. Those reviews go online with a good deal of space – hours, mostly days – between the end credits and my opinionating. Maybe that space means I’m sacrificing vitality, and that I’m not taking advantage of the online form. But I’d still rather you had time to gather your thoughts first before I pushed mine at you.

  • Graham Kibble-White is on holiday. Normal service will resume next Friday.

Re) Watched
Buried on this server is the old version of OTT, the one that ran from 1999 to 2010, and was written by many hands. I counted, and there are in the region of 670 TV reviews sat in the archive.

This is the first week of my fortnight off writing about the last seven days of telly, but I wanted to maintain some reason for folk to visit the site of a Friday. And so, I’ve taken a brisk trawl through that 670-or-so pieces to pick out 10 of my favourites. This isn’t a definitive list, please don’t get grumpy. I’ve been working backwards from 2010, and only got to 2005, so there’s still plenty more to do.

Until then, why not have a look at…

Richard and Judy (Watch, 2009) – Ian Jones demolishes the duo’s last ever episode after their unsuccessful move to the higher numbers on the EPG. I particularly like the way he employs quite a lofty metaphor: “There is a Sispyhean air to proceedings.”

Grange Hill (BBC1, 2008) – And here’s Ian again marking another, equally unloved and now forgotten, ending as the once seminal school saga flounced off our screens forever.

Noel’s HQ (Sky 1, 2008) – Jack Kibble-White gets to the nub of what’s wrong here: “Right from the outset… it presumes the viewers share the programme’s central thesis – that red tape (and by extension political correctness), is suffocating this great country.”

The IT Crowd (Channel 4, 2007) – TJ Worthington communicates real joy and excitement at the comedy’s second series. “The IT Crowd has gone beyond the novelty value of being a breath of comedic fresh air, and is establishing itself – or in fact probably already has – as a great series in its own right.”

Tycoon (ITV1, 2007) – Okay, I wrote this one, which is bad form. But I link to it more because the world deserves to be reminded of Peter Jones’ ill-fated South Bank-based assault on Alan Sugar’s empire. That and Frukka.

It Started With Swap Shop (BBC2, 2006) – Steve Williams captures a more pleasing side to Noel, and manages to quantify the sheer excitement of Saturday morning telly.

Prime Suspect (ITV1, 2006) – It’s another last-ever episode. It must be Ian Jones, then, and this time he’s impressed: “This was television drama of the highest and noblest of orders.”

The Outsiders (ITV1, 2006) – Remember this one? Rob Buckley is, it has to be said, terribly kind to something that was a monstrous misfire.

The Apprentice (BBC2, 2006) – Series two, in case you need some orientation, and Chris Hughes responds to, and writes brilliantly about, the show. And that’s how you build to a neat closing line. [NB. Also see Chris’ take on The Apprentice USA]

Cheers (Channel 4, 2004) – Cameron Borland always wrote the most scathing, acerbic reviews. But also the most joyous.

  • Next Friday: I write a grumpy post about a thing. And it starts like this…

22 episodes of Pointless

sherlock
With trailers now airing for the third series of Sherlock, here’s something to shamelessly cash in. But something old.

This is from a set visit in June 2011, before the start of the second series, so nothing spoilery or embargo-baiting here. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss took journalists around the interior of 221B Baker Street in Cardiff (including one funny old boy who, later on when interviewing the cast, referred to the leads as ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Watson’) and chatted about… Well, here are some bits.

On the show’s immediate success

Moffat: We joined Twitter to try and popularize it. That it was a hit was a big relief.

Gatiss: Really, within the space of the first episode we seemed to develop an enormous fan base.

Consolidating on the strengths and weakness of series one

Moffat: I don’t know how to put this well, but I’m not sure what didn’t work. It did seem completely successful and charming and lovely. There was a point at which I thought this was our vanity project. Our special little world. But when you’ve done something so nakedly ‘fan fiction’ as this and everyone loves it too…

Gatiss: One thing we discovered, to our surprise, was how much people love the relationship between Sherlock and John. We shouldn’t be surprised, that was the idea – to get back to that central friendship. There’s no formula to Sherlock. The approach has always been to rethink it. Not just modernize it, but look back at what Doyle did and think, “That’s why it always worked” and get excited about that again. A lot is to do with the pace of the storytelling, and the thing that makes it exciting is to be very cheeky with it. So there’s a lot of cheek. Probably even more than last year, in terms of accepted things about the characters we all think we know.

Moffat: One of the big differences from last year is that I no longer even think about the updating thing. Last year we thought about it all the time – now everyone’s bought it, we just think about it as working on Sherlock Holmes. I go for days without thinking this is different from any other Sherlock Holmes.

On nearly doing a Victorian Holmes

Moffat: It was at the very last minute when we were having lunch, I remember thinking, “Is this just a thought experiment? Should we just pitch it as a Victorian version?” Was it just a useful exercise in clearing away the debris? And then we thought, “No, let’s do it modern, ‘cos that’s cooler…” In a weird way, stepping away from the originals allows you to be more like them. The Rathbone versions have more of the original stories than the rather arid, two earlier adaptations. My favourite movie in the world is The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which is a comedy. It’s the best Holmes film ever made. By being a comedy, by stepping away from what the original was like, it almost finds more of it… Something we’ve noticed – and a lot of people don’t – is that the original Sherlock Holmes stories are also very funny. A lot of Holmes films haven’t been. The recent one, the Downey Junior one is – and a lot of those jokes are taken from the books.

On the Jeremy Brett series

Moffat: Oddly enough they took a lot of liberties in that series. You have to. Some of the best ones they did are the ones where they took more liberties. Their thing was to fetishize fidelity. But what saves them is Jeremy Brett is, in a way, saying, “I’m just going to make this my star part”. So his Sherlock – as all the great Sherlocks are – is not quite the original. He’s a much madder more manic creature than the original. But it’s a great series. It sort of resurrected it, didn’t it, from it being something about to expire, and suddenly it’s back again.

Gatiss: It’s a wonderful series. One thing they did quite a lot of is give endings to stories that Conan Doyle couldn’t be bothered to finish. He used to write them at parties and quite often you’re waiting and waiting and then it’s: “But we were never destined to find out because the ship sank.” You go, “What?!”

Their respective visions of  Sherlock

Moffat: We sync like iPhones.

Gatiss: That’s how it started – on conversations on trains to Cardiff for Doctor Who. So it was that initial dance around admitting the modern Rathbones were our favourite – a slightly heretical thing to say. But once you sync on that…

Moffat: We might disagree a little bit. But only on a detail. But even on quite small things were pretty much in accord.

Gatiss: Also, Doyle contradicts himself a lot. Sherlock does – Lestrade changes a lot. So you can’t really be consistent in that way, except as a fan you want to have the details at your fingertips! So, it’s always a fun thing to play with and try to find a detail that someone might have missed or has never been done.

Moffat: We had one of our most traumatic conversations when we said, “They have to call each other John and Sherlock”. Because if they call each other Holmes and Watson that means they’re a particular kind of person in modern day terms, because you have to be public school boys to do that, and that’s not what they are. So we couldn’t do that.

Gatiss: We got used to that very quickly. It was a tough sell to the crew.

Moffat: And a tough sell to each other! I feel as though, with Benedict’s delivery, we’ve been able to be a little bit more like the original sometimes. I can almost imagine him saying, “Elementary” now. Not quite. But almost.

Did Mark feel self-conscious playing Mycroft?

Gatiss: Utterly! I was forced!

Moffat: He was actually more intent on playing all the parts.

Gatiss: It actually came about because I’d auditioned to play Peter Mandelson for something, and then we had a script meeting and Steve Thompson said, “You should play Mycroft”. And, actually, that was when we crystalised the idea that, what would be really good then would be that if we could try and convince people that – of course – the only person I’d ever play was Moriarty… and it absolutely worked. Which is why I wasn’t credited or anything – because we didn’t want it to leak out in advance. But it was lovely.

Moffat: It was a really good reveal, that. But it was the fact that you were demonstrating what made Peter Mandelson what he is – you were doing the body language and all that and Steve was saying, “You look a bit like Benedict, you should play Mycroft as Peter Mandelson”.

Ends

Sam and Jacqui

Okay, so like I said, I’ve been rewatching The Restaurant.

I freely admit to being obsessed with the show. At the time, friends and I would merrily chat away about it in the office, or pub, or over dinner. Months later, we might still pass a little time by trying to list all the establishments across the three series (“The Treacle Well, Sorbet and Seasons … Nel’s”). Years on, though, I’m still devoted.

Why? Those first two runs were beautifully made, ambitiously staged productions. The third, less so.  Plus, there was something satisfying about the scheduling (a ‘regular’ episode followed the next day by ‘The Challenge’ – a real treat) and the fact the couples featured in the programme were mostly likeable.1 The drama didn’t lie in skewering people (although, see footnote). It was in the rigors of running an actual restaurant in a competition overseen with smiles and benevolence by Raymond Blanc.

And then there was the title sequence. Series one’s is replete with pleasing, resonant soundbites: “To start a business with someone you don’t bloody know – it’s a bit daunting!”… “They really, really have to sort that kitchen out”… “Where’s 6, guys? Come on!”… “If I feel I’m having to fight you as well!”/”You’re being so stubborn”.

I’m up to episode four at the moment. I’d say  to this point it’s all been about  Sam and Jacqui and their ambition to mash “hospitality and humour” at The Ostrich. I’d love to know where their story went after this. She, the likeable but wired American front-of-house, he, the pouting jazz drummer, forever going AWOL from the kitchen and messing about with those sodding drums.

I’ve condensed their time in the show into a little under three minutes. I think it gets all the salient points.

Love the “Woo” at 1 min 41 secs.

Ends

  1. Chris and Jade, excepted, perhaps – when their restaurant is closed in episode two, the show very deliberately and brutally makes time to point out that, as Laura says, there isn’t anything about them anyone will miss.

The Restaurant
What have I been doing since I mothballed the original version of this website back in 2010? I’ve been doing a lot of freeze-framing and Google Mapping to identify the locations of all the eateries featured in the first two series of BBC2’s Raymond Blanc-helmed The Restaurant


View The Restaurant’s restaurants in a larger map

Look how close Studio New York (series 1) was to The Blue Goose (series 2) – and how the M40 is a kind of Route 66 through ex-Blanc establishments…

The Restaurant ran for three series over 2007 and 2009 – the first two being perhaps the most sublime British example of the reality show genre. By the third, the programme had relocated to Bristol, with fewer actual restaurants opening, the separate ‘Challenge’ episode  ditched and Raymond ultimately going into business with the culinary-clueless barmen JJ and James. It made for comparatively unsatisfying television, but one can perhaps respect M. Blanc’s reasoning for his decision. Which goes like this…

I had a bunch of people that the BBC found for me, who were pretty useless. Pretty dismal. What was missing? Love! What was missing? Interest! Curiosity! Basic ability to cook! Knowledge of produce! A lot was missing. And I was looking at a bunch of misfits and thinking, “Oh my God, I’m going to lose another £200,000!” And then I looked at the CVs and there were two boys called JJ and James. One kept winking at me, and the other kept flicking his hair back all the time, thinking he was Apollo. But on their CV: the best mixologist in Great Britain. That changed everything. So instead of doing a restaurant with them, we did a cocktail bar. Now JJ and James are opening their third cocktail bar in London. They’re hard working, they’ve stopped winking at me… they may not be able to cook, but my God, they can do the greatest cocktails.

For the umpteenth time, I’m rewatching the series and, oh look, in episode one, there’s Nigel Leck (the project manager in BBC2’s The Million Pound Property Experiment, 2003) having a bad time in Studio New York…

Nigel Leck in The Restaurant

“..the chips were just frozen chips; not very well cooked. And the bun was burnt.”

Ends