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.