Watched #11
It happens sometimes in police dramas. At that bit where the detectives are really making breakthroughs and the information is flowing thick and fast, the whole artifice becomes strikingly apparent. These are characters who’ve been strung-along up to this point by the writer who is now – because it’s time – allowing the plot to start settling itself. Ah, so A actually did B, because of C. And we now know that thanks to X precipitating Y, which in turn has led to Z.

Getting the illusion of real weight behind such revelations – albeit revelations that were always set to resolve – is the thing. Line of Duty (BBC2 Wednesday, 9pm) faced that challenge this week. I’m not sure the programme was in the very greatest form as it bore up to that. The previous couple of episodes, while still hugely entertaining, had started to feel a bit ragged – particularly the continual exposés of Steve’s love life, which positioned him as the central ring in a Venn diagram linking all the guest female cast. And then there was the video footage of Dryden and Prasad nattering at a cocktail party while being served by 15-year-old “misper” Carly Kirk. As though Jed Mercurio’s hand had entered the picture, making a fist around the primary and secondary storylines and scrunching them up together.

This week? Line of Duty took a deep breath, and then brought the plot crunching down on top of everyone. It was brilliant.

Most of our attention, of course, will be spent on the final sequences, but before we get there, some more words about Keeley Hawes as Lindsay Denton. This is a character who, despite being the focus of the show’s most dramatic peaks, remains insular bordering on the anti-social. Finally back home, albeit on bail, she sighs to discover the fridge is empty and moans that no one’s popped the heating on. Her horizons continue to be unexpanded. Similarly the loss of her mother is a humdrum kind of death, in TV terms at least, where the passing of an elderly parent offers the least in terms of pathos. And we don’t even get that. Just Denton and an empty bed. When Steve leaves her, there’s nothing brave about the sounds of sobbing – almost babyish – emanating from the room.

But, watch out, here comes the plot. The arrest of Dryden and his interrogation by Steve and Kate was impeccably played out. The formality of police procedure chippily and efficiently eroded. “I need a definition of ‘sexual relations’,” says the Deputy Chief Constable in intimidating fashion. And gets chapter and verse from Kate, who refuses to be pushed off course. “The politicians and PCC don’t like me telling the truth about service cutbacks,” he ventures. Steve asks him what that’s got to do with anything. It’s relentless. It’s that weight, I mentioned before. The revelations brutishly pushing their way through, as if they can’t be denied, rather than everything has been written to end up like this. When Dryden finally breaks down – or at least appears to, Mark Bonnar, like everyone else, plays it slippery – it’s a story victory that’s been well earned. This has been proper, satisfying policing.

There will be no Baftas for You Saw Them Here First (ITV Wednesday, 8pm), it’s not that kind of show. There isn’t an ounce of originality in the ‘before they were famous’ format, or even in Robert Webb’s hopefully-droll commentary. But, it has to be said, the research is seriously impressive. When Alison Steadman is invited in to sit in front of the green screen and look at old footage of herself, there’s a commendable flippancy, a real knowingness, in the way the show dispenses with the obligatory Abigail’s Party clips. Yes, she was in that, but, look, here she is in a tuppence ha’penny sketch on Frost’s Weekly! And now here she is stealing a 20-year march on Anna Friel by portraying a lesbian kiss in a 1974 Second City Firsts. When Lesley Joseph later takes up the seat, she – of course – screeches in delight at everything. But how wonderful to see her buried in murky footage among the extended cast just visible in a 1969 TV documentary about a production of The Bastard King. That’s not on her IMDb page. A spotting of Brian Blessed in Space: 1999 perhaps feels less instructive, save for his appraisal of his character: “You see, he wants to be a god! It always happens like that.”

This isn’t a boast, but I was at the press launch for The IT Crowd whenever that was, and I remember it barely prompted a laugh. I don’t know why. Poor acoustics? Things can go wrong viewing good comedies for the first time, so perhaps something similar happened to me again when I tried The Walshes (BBC4 Thursday, 10pm). Written by comic group Diet of Worms and Graham Linehan, I could almost feel the shape of something funny here… just couldn’t quite find it. Even when there were good lines like, “It’s like a rubbery M&M behind my scrotum”.

Perhaps I couldn’t get past the uncomfortable merge of (yes, I’m going to say it) Father Ted-type characters filmed in the style of something desperately ordinary like Heir Hunters. Hmm. I’m fudging. I didn’t get it.

There’s no such confusion with Collectaholics (BBC2 Wednesday, 8pm), which, from the moment it arrives, gets busy explaining itself. “We’re a nation of collectors!” says bottled-perkiness Mel Giedroyc, peddling a slightly spurious raison d’être. But it’s reason enough for she and man in a look-at-me-hat Mark Hill to visit three people all of whom have “collections in crisis!” (good old alliteration). Despite all that, despite the oompah incidental music, this isn’t an aggravating hour at all. The fact the on-screen location captions have been artfully made to blend into the landscapes – following the parabola of a road, being subtly reflected in a river – speaks of a certain pride in the production. When antiques expert Mark appraises someone’s hoard of 1940s paraphernalia, words float around him (“Major brands – £5-£20 each?”) like he’s Sherlock Holmes.

Yes, there’s the inevitable patter, the “full steam ahead” when talking about someone’s passion for railway signage, but there’s never an attempt to labour on the eccentricity or the weirdness of someone like Nick, who has 7,185 beer cans. Instead, Mark marvels at the fact he owns a Somerfield Better Value Lager tin. Probably the only one left in existence.

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Watched #10
A long, long time ago I wrote what turned out to be a middling book on British comics. If that endorsement of my own work has excited you, you can purchase it here. Comics are something I’m interested in (that, and I do this TV blog, plus also write about Doctor Whomy wife’s one lucky woman) so my spider sense tingled when I caught sight of this instalment of What Do Artists Do All Day? (BBC2 Scotland Tuesday, 10pm) which will be screening on BBC4 – assuming it’s still around 1 – in a couple of weeks. It spent a day with Vincent Deighan, a highly-gifted comics illustrator who works under the name of Frank Quitely. An intimate, nighttimey kind of programme, we saw him drawing page 13 of issue four of Jupiter’s Legacy. Quitely (we’ll call him that), as his fans will know, is in the premier league of his industry, so it was instructive to see him working out of an almost hovel like studio on Glasgow’s Hope Street. “No puke today,” he observed as he stepped through the door. The place is situated opposite the city’s profoundly depressing Central Station, wherein the artist sometimes showers after pulling an all-nighter.

He made for a terrific companion, happily absorbed in what he does. He talked of the various characters he’s drawn – all your DC Comics big-hitters for one – as sharing an inevitable likeness, like a group shot at a family wedding. His Superman, he says, “has a hint of Desperate Dan to him”. Seeing Quitely toiling nocturnally over a detailed cityscape, well, it was satisfying. The  sheer work that goes into that. “You do a lot of thinking in order for the reader not to,” he explained. And then later, he cleared some space on the studio floor and stretched out for a nap with three volumes of Akira under his head.

There’s been a lot of internet hate for Jonathan Creek (BBC1 Friday, 9pm). Which surprised me. I didn’t realise the series was genre, fit for ‘non-spoiler’ (p)reviews and then the one-minute-past-end-credits ‘spoilery’ review. But in these relatively quiet TV times – because The Musketeers isn’t quite there – it’s hauled in and roughly interrogated, addressed as if it considers itself the be-all, rather than the quirky, ramshackle, unassuming TV survivor it actually is.

That it’s now perpetually also under an ‘it’s back!’ cloud doesn’t help. Jonathan Creek is a lot of things – funny and clever and diverting – but it’s not event TV. Which is all the more reason to cherish it. It’s also obstinate and counter-intuitive, David Renwick dismantling all that once made it feel heightened. Thus as this three-part series begins, Jonathan is married, doesn’t live in a Windmill, doesn’t wear the coat and there’s no nefarious murder plot to be unpicked, instead it’s just a confluence of circumstances. The character of Creek, as he ages, is being normalised. When we last saw him, he was besuited and working in marketing. It felt like a tease, as if this was going to be exposed as some kind of ploy. But, that reveal never came. In this story – ‘The Letters of Septimus Noone’ – Jonathan’s wife, Polly, talks about “creative input for the rebranding exercise”. And it’s not the set-up for an under-cutting punchline. This is the new world of the show.

Perhaps Renwick himself is performing an impossible crime, continuing this still successful series while also vanishing it. Creek, himself, is a background character for most of the story, pointedly remarking, “What’s that about the torch being passed to the new generation? I think I may be getting very old.” We’re privy to what could have been the central mystery, the ‘delayed’ stabbing of a musical star, from the moment its perpetrated, and another – Hazel’s mum’s disappearing ashes – is thrown away in the most disdainful but brilliantly funny fashion. Even the much remarked upon jibes at Sherlock feel part of the plan; Renwick grumpily acknowledging you can get these kicks elsewhere. So what is the business of Jonathan Creek now? I think, at its core, the writer is still whittling out a wonderfully crafted creation. It’s all in the small strokes, the different ways the phrase “under the third bedroom floorboard” can be interpreted, the fantastic sight gag of Jonathan in a massively oversized riding helmet, the foreshadowing of ‘RIP’ Ripley’s penchant for carving phrases in wood. For me, it remains a puzzle box of a show. It’s just that there’s something different inside now.

The following evening brought us another ‘it’s back’ programme: Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle (BBC2 Saturday, 10pm). It’s beholden upon me to draw some link between this and Jonathan Creek. If I can do it, it’ll make my thoughts look connected, as though we’re heading purposefully towards the formation of some kind of impressive theorem. And I can. Because both programmes, in addition to featuring a greying and now more soberly dressed protagonist, hang heavily upon structure.

I’ve talked a bit about how Renwick has rejigged the one underpinning his series. I don’t need to talk at all about what Stewart Lee is doing – he does entirely that in this opening episode. But he does it really well, stepping outside his stand-up to provide study notes. Lee has a genuinely good gag that ends “…try explaining that to the your mother-in-law on Christmas Day,” to which he then appends: “It’s like a Lee Mack joke.” Later, he keeps flitting between an old-school socialist dogma (“How are my kids supposed to grow up to be campaigners for social justice…”) and the reality of his, and his audience’s, current-day comfy middle-class obsessions (“…without the benefit of educational privilege?”). He even has the audacity to labour on a deconstruction of his own already laboured delivery style (“By the seventh ‘Shitbottle’ sign I started to find it funny again”) and gets away with that too. It’s only while taking an imaginary phone call in the final section he becomes a little too self-serving, telling his fictional caller he hasn’t really worked out an ending. As a faux shambles, it just feels too crafted. Much like the bits in between, Lee in a mist talking to Chris Morris while the camera roves and cross-pans reverentially.

There’s nothing wrong with Brian Conley’s new game show Timeline (Challenge Thursday, 9pm), other than early rounds infuriate me in their wilful ignorance of maths. The premise is to put items in chronological order using draggable tiles on a screen. In the first scenario, you have five variables (such as ordering the release date of Mr Kipling’s Cakes, Birdseye Arctic Roll, Sara Lee’s Cheesecake, Ambrosia Rice Pudding and Wall’s Viennetta), which means you can only ever score zero, one, three or five 2. If a tile is in the wrong place, then so is another. QED. So, please, Brian, stop trying to tease out the possibility of a further right answer when someone has scored just one and there’s a final tile to reveal.

That’s a tiny criticism, right? A really banal, nerdy one too. But I had to say it. Otherwise, the show works. Conley chats gamely with the contestants, it’s a shout-alongable format, and the Pointless-like banality of some of the questions (ordering desserts, I ask you) appeals. It nearly didn’t happen, though. Conley initially trialled something else for the channel called Brian’s Big Van, set in a shopping centre. From the name alone, I wish that had gone to series too.

  1. SATIRE
  2. Or possibly not, see Simon Fox’s remarks in the comments field

Watched #09
What is it like to be featured on the news and see oneself captioned as ‘witness’ or, worse, ‘victim’? As if that’s what it’s all been leading to. However many years you’ve had, whatever philosophies you’ve cultivated, however you part your hair – this is what you are. That thought occurred while watching Permission Impossible: Britain’s Planners (BBC2 Tuesday, 7pm) because here’s tenant farmer June Reed, ‘objector’. And her husband, David Reed, ‘objector’. Frodsham siblings Dennis and Liz Rowley, who think modern architecture is better suited to Altrincham – ‘objector’ and ‘objector’. Ellesmere Port pensioner Graham Penness. ‘Objector’.

You can’t blame TV for boiling lives down to one line, because we’re not really in this for Graham Penness’  story. So instead he becomes a supporting character in a more interesting (sorry, Graham) scenario as the documentary series picks at the tension between the government’s drive for the UK to build itself out of recession, and our own resistance to backyard developments. More people require more homes, but where? The overlaps in the argument are succinctly summed up by Steve Morgan, the chairman of property developers Redrow: “We build homes for the objectors of tomorrow.”

The stars of this show are, as you would expect, the planners, whom we follow on their day to day. No one can rival Stroud’s Phil Skill, who not only comes equipped with an awesome name, but acronyms too, hitching up a foot and looking out over an AONB. Nial Casselden in Cheshire tries to jolly car journeys along by musing that Cheshire cheese is “not my home cheese, my home cheese is Stilton.” Plus there’s Graham Boase, fighting to save Denbigh Hospital. He tells us: “The reason we carried out those urgent works was for that very reason – they were urgent”. MI:BP is full of these low-density pleasures. An additional thrill is the bit in every instalment where councillors trot onto a mini-bus and go on a field trip to see a contested plot. In Frodsham, they’ve brought wine gums.

The hour culminates in the final council judgement on the episode’s three dilemmas. There’s normally no theatre in this; short perfunctory statements, a show of hands. It’s the fall-out that’s the thing. “You have to move on with grace,” says Liz Rowley when her objection is ruled out. “We’ve had our Neil Armstrong giant leap for Frodsham’s architecture,” reflects Dennis.  But in Little Sutton there’s something more stirring. “The National Planning Policy Framework,” sighs councillor Armstrong, taking one small step towards drama, “it virtually takes the legs away of all of us… it’s a tragedy we have to live with”. The result is, the land tilled for 22 years by June and David Reed is to become 1,500 or so new homes. The couple are now no longer farmers, or indeed ‘objectors’. What will they become?

These words, I have learnt, are an after-the-event rationalisation for a biased decision I took in mere moments. A decision that was both quick and lazy, based more on prior experience and prejudice than anything else. It’s my System 2 cognitive process footing the bill for my System 1 automatic mode of thinking.

Horizon (BBC2 Monday, 9pm) outlined these gears in an episode titled ‘How You Really Make Decisions’. Thanks to the Nobel prize-winning work of Professor Daniel Kahneman, in the last few decades it’s been revealed that when it comes to making choices “we are stuck with our intuitive inner stranger”. This stranger is reactionary, even knee-jerk. He or she can’t be bothered to think things through and instead draws a little on experience and confirmation bias to offer up an easy answer. At which point System 2 then has to improvise a more joined-up sounding rationale to justify System 1’s thinking. Various simple experiments proved this, including asking passers-by if a hypothetical shy and retiring man called Steve who lived in America was more likely to be a librarian or a farmer. Most answered librarian. There are 20 times the latter in the US.

As with all good factual broadcasting, this simple premise was allowed to branch out in complicated ways – we saw how it may lead to huge oversights in US intelligence and cataclysmic fails in the financial industry (Kahneman’s Nobel prize was for economics). The thesis was fascinating, the pictures sometimes less so. It’s a cliche that when TV thinks deeply we end up having to look at slow-motion shots of passers-by. Such was the case here. There’s a lot of footfall outside Benugo.

With the cruel certainty of a twist-in-the-tale, I’m getting around to writing about Inside No 9 (BBC2 Wednesday, 10pm) just at the point this impressive series hits a dud note. Nonetheless, the fourth episode, ‘Last Gasp’, still showed that Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have a gift for details – the No 9 being a beige, suburban dwelling where the beigely-named Jan and Graham (I know) offer coffee with a Canderel “she nicked… off a train.” But while the core premise – three parties arguing over a balloon that seemingly contains the dying breath of a famous crooner – comes from a sturdy line of fiction featuring miscreants coming a cropper when it gets to sharing out the loot, it lacked accompanying tension. The characters didn’t really go anywhere. Even their eventual conspiring in murder didn’t feel at all transformative. In the end, daughter Tamsin opened the window and set the balloon free. All the way along there was just too much air in the story.

Consistency is at the core of Chris Lilley’s TV series. His mock-docs We Can Be HeroesSummer Heights HighAngry Boys and now Ja’mie: Private School Girl (BBC3 Wednesday, 10pm) all feel of a piece, to the point that even the title sequences are comparative – like a picture forming over the spines in a DVD box set. The result of this approach is real polish. Ja’mie’s series is meticulously cut together, saccharine high-energy pop music playing over sped-up montage footage, fading through a shock of white back into the narrative.

Lilley will turn 40 in November, but the fact he’s playing the 17-year-old title character seems like the least of the show’s novelties, so nuanced is his performance. Ja’mie’s life is one of constant high-stakes pivots, where one moment she’s “so devo” [devastated], the next she’s jumping up and down in excitement about the prospect of outraging her school by turning up in “like, slut socks”. There perhaps aren’t many surprises in an episode, but the way it’s been honed (Ja’mie’s bedroom wall is festooned with photos of boyfriend Mitchell, until he dumps her, at which point we see just blu-tack marks), and the sheer belief that underpins it  makes it a continued, reliable pleasure.

Watched #08
In its earlier incarnations, the BBC’s Film programme (how to refer to the franchise as a whole has never been satisfyingly resolved) didn’t do much for me. With either Barry Norman or Jonathan Ross delivering carefully composed essays, there was a lacquer to the show that protected it from the rough and the tumble of spontaneity. Although I have a suspicion the general consensus is we’re all supposed to furrow our brows at the current incarnation, Film 2014 (BBC1 Wednesday, 11.05pm), I much prefer it. The programme has a nervous energy which brings with it the impression of vitality. Claudia Winkleman narrows her eyes and nods frantically as resident critic Danny Leigh machine-guns his way between his prepped-up zingers – “It’s like Schindler’s List being interrupted so Liam Neeson can have a can of Lilt”. As each review continues, the tension rises, Claudia looking for a way to break back in and, perhaps, express an opinion, or – more often – wind the thing up to keep the show to time.

It’s a strange position she finds herself in, playing third fiddle to Danny and the guest critic. This week that’s Kevin Maher who, to his credit, seems happy to listen when someone else is talking. But poor Claudia, who tucks her thumbs into her sleeves. Talking about Only Lovers Left Alive, she takes issue with Danny’s lukewarm appraisal. “Oh! It’s much better than fine!” she says. Is it? Danny ignores that cue for discussion and continues with his own thing.

There is also a further tension – the disconnect between the EPK-like interviews and the studio discussion. They still have that whiff of preservative, as if Tom Brook-in-Hollywood was continuing to facilitate our access to the stars. It’s sensible, of course, to keep the critics separate from the interviewers, but it does feel like one half of the show isn’t talking to the other. However, it’s all of the above – all of these rough spots – that keeps me interested. Some of my viewing choices have even been influenced by Claudia and Danny. Neither Barry nor Jonathan, with their unruffled contemplation, ever got so close.

The Hotel Inspector (Channel 5 Thursday, 9pm) is a programme I refuse to stop watching, even though, on its 334th series, it’s now put together by cut and paste. “Enter, the Hotel Inspector,” says Mark Halliley in the commentary booth, and there’s the shot of Alex Polizzi’s stiletto touching down on tarmac. About seven minutes later: “And the remaining rooms fail to meet the Hotel Inspector’s high standards”. Into the break with a swell from the theme tune: “But the worst is yet to come.” Here’s the turn: “To help, Alex will restyle [insert communal area, or guestroom here]”. More jeopardy to buoy us through the next lot of commercials: “Can Alex get the troubled hoteliers back on track?” and then, before we finish, at the bit just after the bit where Ms Polizzi has arranged an open day for local businesses to inspect the hostelry’s wares: “Alex calls an emergency meeting.” There’s a reassurance in all of this, we know every stroke the show will play, but it remains enjoyable. That’s mostly due to the effervescence of the inspector herself, wide-eyed, punchy, enthusiastic and a posh swearer to whom everyone is a “darling”. She doesn’t nab the best line in this week’s episode, though. That goes to B&B owner Lynne (whom you may recognise from Channel 4’s Four in a Bed) who has one issue with the new branding Alex’s team have concocted for Eden Lodge guest house: “Dandelions are associated with wetting the bed, aren’t they?”

There’s a parasite – a flatworm – that lives in a snail, but in order to complete its life-cycle, it has to end up being eaten by a bird. At a given time, the creature travels into its host’s eye-stalk, swells up, turns on an array of colours and wiggles like a delicious caterpillar. But that’s not enough. It also takes control of the gastropod’s brain, instructing it to venture out in the daylight away from the safety of the shade. All so that a predator will swoop in and have it. A gruesome tale, one of many told in the excellent, three-programme-titles-in-one Michael Mosley: Infested! Living With Parasites (BBC4 Wednesday, 9pm). As is his wont, Mosley gets immersive and travels to Kenya to hunt down infected beef, whereupon he locates three tapeworm cysts… and swallows them. All in the name of science. Well, science on TV, but that takes little away from his heroism. He incubates the worms for weeks, and there’s jeopardy here. How many will hatch? Mosley is jubilant when, weeks later during an Indian meal, the mini-camera traveling through his gut – he has a mini-camera traveling through his gut! – catches sight of a long white parasite which has set up home in his intestines. It’s all thoroughly, grimly fascinating.

And did you know that malaria engineers a human’s body odour to make it more attractive to mosquitoes?

Equally beguiling and gruesome was Dissected: The Incredible Human Hand (BBC4 Tuesday, 9pm), a TV programme with a splendidly simple premise. One, in fact, laid out in that title. Fitting, isn’t it, that another journey into the human body is also bisected by a colon? Dr George McGavin is our host; like Mosley someone who – to coin the Danny Baker phrase – “also entertains”. He’s a likeable almost avuncular presence, who’s able to underline the excitement of stripping down a corpse hand rather than the yuckiness. And the magic floods in when, with the skin peeled back, George’s lab-coated friends gently tug on a tendon and a finger crooks. Kate O’Mara once warned us that the crook of a finger isn’t always the promise of happy times. But here, with the dead flesh on the table, it actually is.

Watched #07
Lindsay Denton is a blank slate. One of those people you might work with who, if she ever is in conversation, and you ever do listen in, it’ll be about something disappointingly routine like her commute or Argos. She’s the perfect focal point for the second series of Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty (BBC2 Wednesday, 8pm) which returns minus its leading man, Lennie James. Whereas his DCI Tony Gates was luminous like a firework, DI Denton is a troubling kind of calm. A bleakness. It’s an excellent contrast.

That nonsense I extrapolated about the kind of things she might talk about comes because I believe in the character. From the off Mercurio’s script presents concise details; Denton responding to a crisis, zeroing in on protocol, a colleague sighing: “There she goes.” And in extremis she’s on an unheroic autopilot. Following the opening hijacking sequence, we see her in hospital (that neck brace a perfect metaphor for her constrained personality) sat impassively while out-of-focus chaos continues around her. When her boss asks who the protected witness is, she replies: “I’m not clear that’s something I should be divulging yet sir,” blandly quoting the rule book.

This is a career best performance from Keeley Hawes, who’s measured out the role meticulously. She rarely makes eye contact, continues to talk as if by rote (“Akers, or the individual identifying herself as Akers…”) and even assaults her noise-pollutant neighbour with a calm precision. There’s absolutely no release of tension here – when she does finally go up, it’ll be a far bigger bang than Tony Gates.

In many ways, Denton personifies what’s best about Line of Duty, that the explosions are ameliorated by bickering and politicking. Mutterings about chains of command, someone dropping someone else in it and “non-priority missing persons [who] are being down-processed”. It’s that stuff, plus the lived-in detail – Vicky McClure’s Kate arriving at her lover’s house and wordlessly hanging her bag up behind the door, like she always does – that buys our indulgence of this episode’s preposterously exciting final scene. I mean, that wig…

Suspects (Channel 5 Wednesday, 10pm) followed straight after. A police procedural of the most procedural fashion, its real point of difference is something the programme mostly attempts to obscure – that it’s shot at great pace (an episode every two days),with wholly improvised dialogue and camerawork. The effect on screen is a strong degree of verisimilitude, particularly in the op-doc direction. The effect off-screen is a huge saving in cash, making the project feasible in the first place.

Masterminded by Brookside and The Bill producer Paul Marquess, he’s said he thinks there’s a future in this approach, indeed, an ongoing soap could be made in exactly this fashion. It’s not the first time he’s implemented it. In 2012 his ITV daytime drama Crime Stories starred Ben Hull, real-life former detective Jane Antrobus and a lot of guesting ex Brookside and The Bill cast members all making it up as they went along. The end result felt a bit slack, sometimes a bit directionless. Suspects is far more purposeful, everyone minded they need to be serving the story. It means all the dialogue is functional – no-one daring to weave in a character quirk or some small eccentricity – but that keeps it focused. The three leads (Fay Ripley, Damien Moloney and Clare-Hope Ashitey) are clearly match-fit. Some of the guests less so, often paraphrasing back a feed line as they find their way in, but never so much to be distracting.

The only time the MO really gets in the way is when we have scenes of the police mobilising as a group, with fellow officers having to mouth silently lest they become a speaking, rather than non-speaking, background artiste and bump up their fee.

Woolworth’s! It still exists. In South Africa, anyway. My brother Jack has some weird remit to prove to me the other international versions of MasterChef are superior to the UK original. But he’s wrong. At his request I tried MasterChef South Africa (Watch Monday, 7pm). Perhaps it wasn’t the best way to start – this iteration goes with the ‘open audition’-style season debut which the British version sensibly scraped into the offal bin after one year. So it’s probably not indicative of future instalments, and certainly I didn’t get the feel for judges Andrew Atkinson, Benny Masekwameng and Pete Goffe-Wood, each of whom did that thing of making smouldering eye contact with the contestants while silently popping their wares into their mouth. I found those moments to be uncomfortably intimate. Afterwards, returned to their seats in “Shine Studios at the fashionable food distract of Braamfontein” (where there’s a Woolworth’s) they would then give judgement. “Beans: crunch. Mash: smooth. Chicken: moist. Sauce: tasty”. There were a lot of croquettes. 

It just didn’t feel like MasterChef to me, one successful chap running to report back to his family, “I’m going to boot camp baby!”, another providing her own commentary: “Here’s my big cheffy move.” Although, granted, in next week’s episode, someone will vow, “I’m here to change my life,” and there is indeed a lot of that too in the UK series. Enough, in fact, for me.

Airing, now, one day after its US debut, The Walking Dead (Fox Monday, 9pm) continues to be its own thing, and brilliantly so despite the fact its zombie scenario is one of the most played-out in recent fiction. You never know what shape an episode will take, this one focusing on Rick and Carl, and, in a separate strand, Michonne. It’s weird, but true, that for we regular viewers, undead beheadings are now just a punctuation point in the narrative, with fettered blood flying in between the moments of real import. Something the show continues to do well is the feeling of life having just departed, so when Carl goes hunting for food in an empty house we see boxes stacked on the stairs, as if a family were intending to pack up before fleeing. Another, a sign scrawled in an abandoned shop, is half a story on its own: “Please do what I couldn’t”.

Will Rick (Andrew Lincoln so absorbed into this role I finally no longer see him as ‘Egg’) and Carl find baby Judith? In this series – based on Robert Kirkman’s comic book which regularly and bravely hobbles its main characters – perhaps not. Things really could go anywhere.

Watched #06
Emma Willis and Marvin Humes host The Voice UK (BBC1 Saturday, 7.10pm). I know this because I read the blurb. However, watching the programme – which just starts, no ground-rules – the duo disappear. If you know who to look for, you might spot them in the green room, contorting and cajoling along with the well-wishers. Impotently calling out to Kylie et al to slam that stopper. “Come on!” At this point in the show’s process (‘The Blind Auditions’), it makes for the weirdest presenting job on TV.

It’s not snobbery that prompts me to say this, just context; but I haven’t followed a Saturday night talent show since the second series of The X Factor. But I was challenged to review The Voice UK by Ian Jones (and, yes, I do take requests). I’m a little off the pace – there’s some chat about how many acts each ‘coach’ has acquired, but I’ve no idea how big their final roster needs to be, or, indeed, the deadline for that. As a result, this episode felt a bit formless, it didn’t really resolve itself into anything, other than some stuff that happened. Not that I have a problem with the programme. A lot of things I recognised and enjoyed, such as the montage heroics with all sorts of different simulated film grades and loads of lens flare. Likewise the musical stings that round off each auditionee’s segment, laser-targeted for pathos. Other elements surprised me. Pleasantly. The unusual feeling of loneliness as singers find their way through seemingly deserted backstage corridors before stepping out onto a silent stage – save for some throat-clearing and microphone rustles – was interesting and quite at odds with the usual bombast of these things. Similarly, the loose chat of the coaches, deemed so important, so jewel-like, it is punched up onto the screen in subtitles. “Great”. “There’s two”. “What about Tom?” I was also taken with the audience’s arbitrary support for Kylie, or Sir Tom, or will.i.am, or Ricky at various points when someone has a choice of all four. There seemed no wisdom behind who was winning the swell, like The Price is Right studio suddenly fixating on the correct value of a microwave oven.

In one of those weird past-tense segments on bleached-out video, will.i.am talked to somebody stood to the side of the camera about how the show was about all music, the blues, opera, folk; at which point a stream of contestants representing each failed to win any sponsorship. But still, everyone leaves The Voice UK happy, and that’s the best thing about it. It’s a build ’em-up sort of show. “You were made for the stage,” enthuses Ricky to Leanne Jones whose performance of Skyfall has turned no heads or buttocks.

Now clocking up its 21st series of – as Noel Edmonds would say – its ‘modern era’, Top Gear (BBC2 Sunday, 8pm) returns doing what it does. The sheer confidence remains impressive, the programme never looking for a cute rationale to do what it wants to. Tonight, there’s an item on “hot hatches” which straddles the whole episode. The usual hi-jinks and explosions result and a smashing sequence of Jeremy Clarkson trashing a supermarket – the show, as ever, exploiting TV’s profligacy. These things are possible simply because it’s telly. It’s true the banter between Clarkson, Hammond and May can pall, the news segment often resulting in three mediocre wits attempting to upstage the other, and so many of the show’s ticks rely on age-old references (Clarkson’s: “Run away!” is a mildewy lift from The Holy Grail), but it is what it is and it does what it does. “Back in your box, Hammond!” roars guest Hugh Bonneville, tapping correctly into the abrasive, clubby ethos – to the point of even wearing an appalling sweater.

Ho ho! The final episode of The Route Masters: Running London’s Roads (BBC2 Sunday, 10pm) finally showed up, seven months behind its preceding instalment. This, presumably, was for legal reasons, as this reliably terrific hour was devoted to ‘Fighting Crime’ and criminal cases that perhaps weren’t resolved last July. Twinkly piano music and beautiful, dusky aerial shots of London ceded into astonishing CCTV footage of violence on board the buses. A man being kicked out of a top deck window alongside Finsbury Park was the most horrific scene. The rich seam, however, remained the staff connected to the transport system. Sgt Darren Birmingham, with glasses camply resting upon his forehead, policed Brixton streets with humour and good sense. “Be lucky, son!” he bellowed, having stopped and searched a group of teens. “Stay safe!” Later on, he showed us how to spot a junkie simply by the way they walked, before invading a drug den, jumping upon his quarry and declaring, “Alright son, nice to meet you!” Elsewhere, softly spoken Scot Lyle talked us through a pickpocket steaming pensioners on a bus. “Quite brilliant”, he whispered.

I wasn’t being willfully obscure in watching Diary of Britain (BBC Alba Friday, 9pm). Honest. I saw it on the iPlayer and thought it sounded good. This was a slightly repackaged repeat of an episode from the 1978 series, which followed a week in the life of various UK towns. So here we were in the Highland town of Newtonmore in a September, 36 years ago. The commentary by Finlay J MacDonald is sparse. “One of [the town’s] preoccupations is a kind of warfare – a team game called shinty”. In an inversion of our assumptions, we discover – thanks to a 2014 update appended to the start – that back in those days, the high volume of cars and lorries were a massive burden on the town, something that has since been alleviated by the building of a by-pass. Despite the dedication to arcane sports and poaching, this isn’t a bucolic, now-vanished paradise. “The traffic noises on the main street dominates the village. Everyone lives within the sound of it”.

So many of the sequences are functional. A Leyland lorry delivering Mother’s Pride, or sport try-outs on the hill. “An old cottage is demolished” says Finlay J MacDonald, and so it is. No one actually speaks on camera for 10 minutes, and when they do, it’s in a series of manufactured encounters. Billy, who’s Shell petrol station is nine days from closing, chats to a barman (in a blue overall, of course, fag on the go) about his situation. Bob, the owner of another garage, is worrying about being left in the lurch now one of the contractors working on the new A9 has gone out of business. “On Monday morning. I had a Laird in…” he confides in another staged chat to one of the local governors. The Laird has told him he’ll be taken care of.

This is a programme that feels clear-headed with acres of space, room for traffic noise and these conspired conversations. It ends with the “needle match” between Newtonmore and Kingussie, which is brutal. The goalie steals an opposing player’s shinty stick and they brawl. We’re told the match ends in a draw, but Newtonmore would go on to win the league and the Scottish Cup for the 24th time.

Watched #05
My flat is quite small. Nonetheless, I was able to run the vacuum cleaner all around it during the third episode of The Jump (C4 Sunday, onwards) in between two skeleton time trials. And that included me unsheathing the nozzle and getting in at some corner bits. This is a show with a strong premise – celebrities undertake Alpine sports – but, unlike the events themselves, there’s not a huge amount of momentum. That’s because, due to logistics, all the racing bits have to happen in the past tense, robbing them of any immediacy. A hunching-from-the-cold Davina McCall links into the clips, and even Barry Davies’ perfectly compiled commentary has a slight shopworn tinge to it. In the show’s opening episode there was a lot said about the importance of aggression on the slopes, but there was not so much in the production. At the end, Ritchie from 5ive was left facing the jump. Which of the three would he select? “I’m only signed off for the small jump”, he said.

But, to business: Dragons’ Den (BBC2 Sunday, 9pm) and TV’s most preposterous title sequence is back. Five middle-aged superheroes (“Telecoms expert, Peter Jones!”), assembling on green-screened rooftops to survey a composited-in later cityscape. Meanwhile somewhere below street level lurks Evan Davis, ready to lean into the pro forma script he’s been delivering since 2005. “Cash-hungry entrepreneurs,” he says. Actually, I paint the picture as though Evan’s in situ on the same day as Peter, Duncan and the rest. There’s  no evidence of that whatsoever. He now has no interaction with any other person in the programme. For him it must simply be a weird day at the BBC studios in Salford, talking about stuff he wasn’t there for, then jumping into the voiceover booth to deliver a script that presumably doubles-up for whomever is signing for the deaf.

Despite the disconnection in the Den, the programme is fun. The Dragons themselves aren’t especially witty, more frumpishly fussy (“I’m irritated! Yes, I’m blinking irritated!” rails Deborah) and even relative youngster Piers seems like a fogey when he tries to celebrate with his new, twentysomething business partners. “Party on!” But the whole conceit of who will win, and how well they negotiate, will work forever. Plus, and I might be going out on a limb here, there always seems to be fastidious chat about poo. Perhaps I’ve just zeroed in on that since, some series ago, Peter shared the info that when he does one he calls it “big toilet”. Tonight, Deborah drilled down into the details of dog mess. “Often the consistency is not as tidy as you had down there,” says the leisure and marketing expert referring to some shit a cash-hungry entrepreneur had just pooper-scooped up from the Den floor.

The Restaurant Man (BBC2 Wednesday, 8pm) is another winner. Reminiscent of C4’s excellent but generically named Risking It All from about 10 years ago, this sees restaurateur Russell Norman advising folk who are attempting to open their own eateries. This week that was the pleasant duo of Rich and Matt who were launching an upmarket burger restaurant – 7Bone – in Southampton. “If we get the concept right,” reckoned Rich, “I personally think we can open up 10 units within five years”. But before that, there was the concern of whether or not the people of the Solent were ready for a place with stripped back walls.

Part of the strength of the programme was the way it presented a thoroughly unromantic view of the industry. When moustachioed Matt was taken for a stint at the grill in Byron Burger, London, head chef Fred revealed his secret to managing multiple beef patties: “You’ve got to be like a robot”. There was also a fascinatingly detailed discussion about the kind of ‘grind’ Rich and Matt were using on their mincer (10mm, in case you need that detail). In  Norman, the show has a winning focal point. Tanned, wiry, permanently adorned with a satchel, he felt like a TV natural – someone expert and efficient, who just happened to have ended up in front of the camera.

On 7Bone’s opening night, all was fraught. By this point Matt was looking physically frail, his Dali ‘tache even losing its loopiness. To see him and Rich clashing over the inevitable mistakes that come on such an evening was a little harrowing. But it looks like the business is going to do well for them, and further ‘units’ will surely  stalk the south coast.

Here’s a programme title that leaves no room for ambiguity: Hidden Histories: Britain’s Oldest Family Businesses (BBC4 Wednesday, 9pm). Like The Jump, it’s got a great premise, but in practice it’s… well, it’s a bit dull. The final episode in this three-part series traced the lineage of the Durtnell family of builders, who first got into the game in the 16th century.

But it’s full of horrible TV contrivances to try and manufacture some sort of through-line. We meet Alex Durtnell, who’s recently become the company’s chairman and chief executive and now – according to Margaret Mountford’s commentary (in which, slightly irritatingly, she delivers every sentence with a primary school teacher intonation) – “As he tries to come to terms in his new role as head of the business, Alex now wants to find out about its past.” Bet he doesn’t. I bet he’s just been approached by the production company and thought it would be a good thing to do. It gets worse. “Alex wants to find out how his grandfather Geoffrey got the business through the Second World War.” Maybe. “So he’s arranged to talk to Battle of Britain historian Robin Brooks…” He did? “…Who has told Alex to meet him at a wartime aerodrome called Detling.” Seriously?

There are some fascinating details within – the Durtnells failing to get into brick and mortar following the Great Fire of London, or the plight of Richard Durntell (the second) who nearly killed the business in the 18th century – and Alex himself is a likeable chap, albeit one who seems underwhelmed by every revelation. But, oh, still the tacking-together continues. “To get to know his grandfather better, Alex has found an interview Geoffrey made for the BBC 40 years ago. Alex has never listened to it before.”

Actually, I undersold Alex’s enthusiasm. There was a great bit where he found a manhole cover with the Durtnell name on it. He took a snap on his phone. It’s going to become his wallpaper.

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Watched #04

The sets for The Musketeers (BBC1 Sunday, 9pm) have been built in a former monastery 30 miles north-west of Prague, and the hope is they’ll stand for at least three years. They probably will. There’s a feeling of prudence behind this 10-part drama series, a kind of show that’s been built – maybe even focus-grouped – specifically to prosper. This means, as ever, a ‘bromance’ underpins the narrative, there are bad baddies, sexy heroes and those women who aren’t lucky enough to be a fusion of both – a sexy baddy – are just ballast; things to be conquered or fought over. Poor Constance first has to submit to D’Artagnan’s overtures, then the boys have her dress up as a prostitute to distract some other boys. I liked the theme music a lot.

Mr Selfridge  (ITV, Sunday 9pm) is quite different in its take on gender politics. Although Jeremy Piven’s orthodontically impressive shopkeeper is the marquee name, characters such as Aisling Loftus’ Agnes and Polly Walker’s Delphine are allowed to be far more interesting. The arrival of Aidan McArdle, all but reprising that nasty piece of work he played in Garrow’s Law as the formerly errant Lord Loxley, curbs the autonomy of Lady Mae, but that feels like a temporary dramatic barrier, something that will prompt her to exercise her considerable powers.

I hadn’t watched the show before – it’s one of the ways  this weekly review affects my habits. I have to notch up things to write about. Maybe, then, it was all nuance for the knowing, but there seemed to be little or no incident. Lots of portentous lines: “These are uncertain times…” and: “Trouble’s brewing, all this talk of war”. A very wise-after-the-affair remark too: “The power has shifted to the captains of commerce.” And then a newspaper headline: “Archduke Franz Ferdinand Assassinated”. What could this all be leading to?

My rule about sitcoms is no character should ever be considered funny within the fiction of the comedy. It’s why I could never take to Paul in Ever Decreasing Circles or Chandler in Friends. Andy Samberg as Detective Jake Peralta in Brooklyn Nine Nine (E4 Thursday, 9pm) considers himself a laugh riot. Every zinger dispatched with a wide grin. It’s not as annoying as I make it sound, though. Only on its second episode, the series has a loose confidence that makes it feel like it’s been around forever and now everyone’s up for messing about. In addition, Joe Lo Truglio, as Detective Charles Boyle, has been precision-built as a flat-faced comedy foil. True, there is a predilection for the current stand-by of characters setting up their own punchline by queuing a comic ‘flashback’ clip, but it’s an easy watch, which, mostly is enough for me. A handy show to fill in a gap.

It’s always fascinating when a TV show comes along that’s molded in the inverse shape to another programme. The Taste is an example of that, its UK producers having to continually ask the question, “What wouldn’t MasterChef do?” Now there’s The Great Interior Design Challenge (BBC2 Monday-Friday, 7pm) which continually looks over its shoulder – a long way back – to Changing Rooms. One way it steps out of the shadow is in employing Tom Dychkhoff as host. A former lieutenant to Kevin McCloud on whatever that More4 Grand Designs fanzine show was called (I know, the thought of that now seems incredible), he provides an essence of credibility, even though in the actual process of amateurs redecorating other folks’ homes, he’s a ghost who pops up only when no one else is around. Monday’s episode, set a couple of streets up from Dennis Nilsen’s old home in Muswell Hill, saw Tom materialise on stairwells and in doorways using fun words like “mullions” and “pargeting”. But when the action got busy, judges Daniel Hopwood and Sophie Robinson rather let the side down, using the language of Graham Wynne and Linda Barker before them, talking “on trend”, “pelmets” and “up-cycling”.

While would-be designer Helen offered up a hand-painted MDF headboard as “a little bit of me”, she did that standard generic designer-y thing of framing a piece of sheet music. Plus she unveiled her mood board for a new bedroom as “this is your ‘ta da’ moment”. James, though, proved more persuasive. The 38-year-old asset manager was interviewed in his own home, in front of a fireplace, adorned with logs wrapped in a bow-tie. Unlike his rivals, his ‘scheme’ (that’s what you call them) was presented on a paper board with the smallprint ‘James Gostelow Design’ and when he arrived to do the business, he was wearing a gilet with the collar turned up. Despite giving “edge” to a chandelier power cable by wrapping fabric around it, he – and Helen – lost out to Sarah, despite the fact she didn’t manage to get the seat cushions completed for her window seat. That, the judges said, was “tragic”.

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Watched 03

So, yes, I was expecting Sherlock (BBC1 Sunday, 8.30pm) to revisit the fall at some point over the remaining two episodes. I liked the tease, but begging the question of how he survived did, it seemed to me, create an obligation to definitively answer it. Ah well. Not that I feel especially miffed. His Last Vow was a terrific final episode, all over the place and packed with invention. The final feint, of running, then not running the closing theme, felt Python-esque.

“I was the one who was responsible for making the mask of the Hound of the Baskervilles”. It’s at that point you lean in. Timeshift: How to be Sherlock Holmes: The Many Faces of a Master Detective (BBC4 Sunday, 10pm – and apologies for the double-colons) was a beautifully made documentary. I’m no Holmesologist, so it may be the case that props maker Margaret Robinson is a regular on the convention circuit with her Great Dane hood, but I thought it was thrilling that, during a discussion about the effectiveness (or lack of) of the eponymous canine’s realisation in Hammer’s 1959 film, she suddenly popped up to take the blame. This is someone who could reasonably be considered incidental to the story of the Great Detective on screen, and yet there she was. Evidence of the sheer love poured into the project.

In truth, I had my suspicions from the beginning; a lovely sequence featuring the giant faces of Christopher Lee, Benedict Cumberbatch and Douglas Wilmer addressing the camera with Conan Doyle’s description of his character. It’s that extra dab of colour, that extra touch of care. As were the multiple dissolves between old footage or illustrations and the documentary’s contributors, conspired into similar poses. Lee, in particular, was a glorious talker, versed and enthused – like a fan – in his subject. Mark Gatiss was there, despite a poorly eye, and shockingly generous in his declaration: “My version of Mycroft is entirely extrapolated from Christopher Lee’s version”.

And meanwhile, in the voiceover booth, Peter Wyngarde’s million-year-old tones added both an instant gravity and a slight eccentricity. He, like Churchill, speaks of the “Nazzis”.

The Taste (Channel 4 Tuesday, 9pm) again, because last week’s episode didn’t really count. Scored like Inception, rumbling along full of its own importance, I still like it. Although it is kind of stand-offish. Judges promenading out grandly (and by the way, what is a “maverick food writer” – someone who does it from the back of a motorbike?), the plebs expected to show due reverence. On top of that, extra-reverence – gasps, hands flap to self-ventilate – for guest extra-judge Richard Corrigan. I’m sure he’s good, but why venerate him above Nigella, Anthony and Ludo? Richard, like most chefs, references himself in his first two utterances; talk of “my classic food” and “my humble seafood cocktail”. But once we get going, everything loosens up and it’s fun. Nigella has a  catchphrase, “Please answer me!” Anthony wafts around like a fart for a bit, before turning on his heel: “We can drag this out, but I know what I’m gonna do. It’s on you dude”. Ludo freaks constantly.

The only moment where I felt it came undone was the final – and let’s not shy away from the language, here – elimination. The apparent purity of the blind tasting is betrayed by the judges then coming to a consensus on who’s leaving the competition, now in the knowledge of who cooked what. Nigella scolds departee Barry. “You abandoned the concept of taste and went for the concept full-stop.” But Nigella, you and your colleagues abandoned the concept.

This week I only watched shows about Sherlock Holmes or cooking. “It’s time to grease your muffin tray and grab your jugs”. Ah, The Great Sport Relief Bake Off (BBC2 Monday, 8.30pm). And then, in a less perky intonation: “And Olympic boxer Nicola Adams will be in South Africa exploring how the money raised is really making a difference.” These gear changes work absolutely fine, we’re now well used to light fun equaling famine relief on TV. Similarly, we accept celebrity versions of shows aren’t as good as the regular ones, but we love Bake Off so we’ll take the crumbs. Even if it means Johnny Vaughan in a hat he presumably brought from home desperately trying to provide value for money in terms of chat. “Yesterday, where I messed up was really all day.” After sandwich biscuits, tarte tatin and novelty cakes, it ended in sweet form, with the celebs taking phone photos of themselves posing with Mary Berry. As anyone would.

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Watched 02
I didn’t really enjoy Sherlock (BBC1 Sunday, 8.30pm) it’s plot mostly pertaining to John and Mary’s marriage. This was a story that meant a great deal to the characters (and probably the writers) but not to me. I don’t feel sufficiently invested in any of them to care as much as I needed to. That’s okay, though, I’m not saying either I or the show  committed a crime. Although I do wish more scenes would just end gracefully, rather than flouncing off the screen yelling, “BYEEEE!” with a look-at-me wipe.

There isn’t a lot that’s pretty in The Bridge (BBC4 Saturday, 9pm), one reason why this most preposterous of Scandinavian imports also works out as the most satisfying. With everything tinged in slate grey or, at best, a mossy green, there’s a kind of industrial estate lack-of-allure that works very well contrasted with a plot wherein “someone’s trying to cause an outbreak of pneumonic plague,” and the baddies leave a calling card. This house style, unlike Sherlock‘s, contains the excesses of the story. But that’s not to say it has to mollify the writing. The opening double-bill superbly portrayed Martin’s continuing grief following the death of his son. He’s a man who’s been calcified by the trauma, almost physically: he’s gone shockingly white.

It also helps that in Kim Bodnia the show has a true acting great who has created an unusual character for TV – someone who radiates both actual ordinariness and kindness. So many of his lines are delivered through laughs as he responds to the antics of the birdlike, almost sociopathic Saga (Sofia Helin, who’s also terrific, once you realise where she’s going). Meanwhile, it looks like this year’s story will play out as some kind of weird parable about shopping local, or, as someone says, “pathos-driven eco-terrorism” and I think that will be the least interesting aspect in all of this. But Martin and Saga and the lovely audacious turns in the tale will keep me happy.

Two of the shows I watched this week sported the P-within-a-P symbol, meaning I’ve been subjected to covert selling, although of what I’m still not quite sure. Dancing on Ice (ITV Sunday, 6.15pm) was one, but it was more plagued by another small on-screen graphic, namely that revolving inverted-comma that’s waving-in the commercial break. It felt like the whole programme was under the yoke of this angry punctuation point, Christine Bleakley forever telling us what’s “coming up” before it brought down the curtain. In fact, the production was so geared towards selling the future it began with a routine put to The Best is Yet to Come.

Despite that, there was also a lot of looking back. Plenty of noise was made about this being the last ever series – although why that should be was never explained – with old contestants returning and their various histories elucidated. I like all that sort of stuff, programmes getting into their own mythology. The result being, I felt more engaged by the potential last dances of Bonnie Langford and Joe Pasquale than Mr and Mrs Watson’s first waltz back on BBC1.

Another constant joy of Dancing on Ice – Christopher Dean’s continual drive to sound excitable. He deployed the phrase “tearing it up” twice over the evening. Much racier was Simon Reed in the commentary booth describing the moment Andrei Lipanov elevated Bonnie by means of a hand on her gusset as “something we’re calling ‘Too Hot To Mention’.”

Second sighting of that PP was The Taste (Channel 4 Tuesday, 9pm). Every food competition on TV, for me, is tested against MasterChef, as I run all the decisions the production team have made on a notional MC logic diagram. A kind of ‘what would John and Gregg do?’ One year, they opened their contest with an ‘auditions’ round, as if it was a requirement to show their working. Few people seemed to like it. The Taste‘s debut felt a bit like that, as if – again – the best was yet to come. I still quite enjoyed it though and in particular the tension between judges Nigella Lawson, Anthony Bourdain and Ludo Lefebvre which – in as much as these things aren’t real – felt real, specifically the bits of grumbling that crept in after the obvious edit points. I’ll watch again next week, but I do reckon this is programme that’s been polluted by the aphorisms of other similar endeavours: the bit where the camera whips around then slows up as our trio are introduced, contestants pledging their “heart and soul”, a Dragons’ Den-style montage of those contributors who weren’t interesting enough to merit their own three minutes, plus talk of ‘mentors’, ‘auditions’ and ‘locking in’ decisions. This fidelity to those cliches meant the coining of the phrase “final 12” to describe next week’s participants. The rules actually state it must only be the final five or four who are celebrated. Because of the alliteration.

The same rules dictate any review should now exit on some kind of wordplay about the sort of flavour this show left us with. Can’t think of something, so instead here’s Richard Osman’s terrific pun from Pointless Celebrities (BBC1 Saturday, 7pm) about the “sequels” to erbium (erbium on a Saturday night!): Erbium Rides Again and Erbium Goes Bananas.

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