I can’t say a word against MasterChef (BBC1, Wednesday, 9pm – continuing Thursday and Friday). I’m devoted to it. I’ve seen every single episode of every branch of the UK franchise since the thing returned in 2005 (yes, even Junior). There is sometimes provocative talk of the Australian version being the best – but I won’t hear of that. For me, John Torode and Gregg Wallace host the mother sauce of TV cookery competitions. Everything else – from The Taste to Food Glorious Food – is a derivation, with needless extra seasoning in the hope some new flavour will emerge.
And so here we are again with a new series, the 10th, and the programme back to determinedly do what it does. Knocking out enjoyable, satisfying episodes time after time. [Hopefully, you’ll have heard that sentence as if read out by voiceover woman India Fisher]. Aside from a slightly ill-advised grapple with an ‘open audition’ format some years back, MasterChef doesn’t ever shake it up too much. The audio cues, in particular, remain as fixtures (hello, tracks from Music for Sport – Uplifting Strings and Beats), as does the edit suite trick of slotting in the clunk of a knife as a moment of percussion. Oh, and while we’re at it, those shots of people walking slowly in formation around the corner that leads into MasterChef HQ; they’ll never stop either.
But there are always some slight refinements. The opening episode of this series strings together a ‘signature dish’ kind of task (now named the Calling Card round) with The Invention Test and – yes! – a critics segment, albeit one in which former MC champs and finalists pass judgement. I’m not doubting these challenges are legitimate ways to test someone’s culinary prowess, but they’re also, let me tell you, fan favourites. Over the years, there have presumably been post-series debriefs. Discussions that led to the production team ditching the bit where the hopefuls go shopping in Borough Market, and the subsequent chopping of the ‘is it chervil or parsley?’ ingredients recognition bit. Now, more than ever, the show is about the cooking. This is where the tension and adventure lies. “I’m fearing at the moment he’s not going to get his ravioli done,” frets John. “I wouldn’t ever try and deconstruct a beef wellington,” scowls Gregg.
These two work brilliantly. So much so, it’s easy not to notice anymore. John provides the grit, whether that’s counseling contestant Holly not to fidget with her food or tartly putting away another wannabe: “I do worry, James, it’s my job”. Gregg is emollient; chuckling, jigging and embarrassing everyone by chanting Sumera’s name over and over. Together they form… well, with his crunchiness and his dairy charm, they form the show’s buttery biscuit base.
I’ve written enough about MasterChef. Too much! It’s back, and I’m delighted. I’ll be there for every instant John’s teeth clamp down on a morsel, through every massive pause prefiguring the revelation of “our second quarter-finalist”, and even to the dispiriting bit where someone paints a stripe of jus across an oblong plate. Time after time.
Rev. (BBC2 Monday, 10pm) returns for its final series. It’s a quality product – you can tell because there’s punctuation in the title. I tried Rev. for a few episodes during its first run, and while there was nothing that offended me, I didn’t laugh. But people are really, really pleased to see it, aren’t they? I’m still not getting it. Putting aside my facetious comments about that full-stop, I recognise there’s something of worth here. The fusion of urban squalor with the olde worlde fustiness of the church and a “diocesan secretary” is novel. I liked Alex Smallbone’s line about delaying her baby’s christening because “I’ve already lost you [Adam] to Him”. The performances are all great, plus there’s confidence in the underplayed humour. And yet. Still not getting it. There’s an assumption in the show that we’re invested in the characters, but I’m just not a believer.
Two documentaries to finish. The more I think about Storyville: Shooting Bigfoot: America’s Monster Hunters (BBC4 Monday, 9pm) the more deflated I become. It didn’t start out like that. Sure, for filmmaker Morgan Matthews, Bigfoot hunters in the American south were always going to provide easy, amusing, unselfconscious footage, and there’s tons of stuff to quote. In fact, let’s do that while we’re still enjoying ourselves: “We’re trying to educate the public about the probability of the Bigfoot existing. Which is 100 percent.” Then there’s the militaristic Tom Biscardi who, after falling out with Matthews on camera, storms off shouting, “Joan, get me a Snapple!” Or this exchange: “Can you get a qualification, Rick, on being a master tracker?”/”Can you can a qualification on being an ass-hole filmmaker?” It all seems like fortuitously cherishable stuff, as men in leisure wear jump into trucks festooned with decals and inadvertently let out the emptiness of their lives.
It all ends in the woods, Matthews merging together three hunts where skittish trackers hear and see Sasquatch with every leaf rustle and twig crack. Out of the darkness comes the creature itself, knocking down the filmmaker, and, indeed, the whole venture. This sequence is patently staged, either by Matthews or the aforementioned master tracker Ricky Dwyer, or perhaps by both. No context is given. This is playful, it’s maybe even challenging, but it undercuts everything All that good stuff? Was that equally concocted? It might be the intention to leave the viewer asking questions, but all I wanted to know was just what had I been watching? Could I take any of it at face value? Had I, in fact, been wasting my time?
A more meaningful hunt was examined in The Missing (Channel 4 Tuesday, 1opm) which followed three people searching for vanished loved ones. The feeling that a huge chunk had been taken out of each was brilliantly communicated. Terrie – whose husband Tim jumped in the car one morning while she was in the bathroom and never returned – talks about how he liked to mow straight lines into the lawn. Esra, meanwhile, makes regular trips to Ireland. “I hate putting these pictures up,” she says. “I see lampposts with missing dogs and cats…” and here she is, sellotaping on images of her sister Uyrun. And Steve? Everywhere he goes he’s keeping an eye out for his brother Mark. “You can’t not look.” For those who remain, their lives have been disappeared, lost by the need to find resolution.
Something of that does come for Steve. Mark is discovered sleeping rough and we hear him on the phone, placidly refusing offers of money but promising he’ll come home in a couple of days. He doesn’t. Mark wants to stay lost. We’ll never find out why.