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?”