“Some of them are just delusional!” Ah yes, this is my World Cup. Just a couple of weeks after Ping lifted the trophy, we’re now into the exhibition match that is Celebrity MasterChef (BBC1 Tuesday and Thursday). Don’t worry, laboured football puns will stop here – in the main because I had to tweet just for someone to confirm that “exhibition match” is indeed the term I was searching for. But really, this is as close to TV sport as I get, and I love the conspired jeopardy that is MasterChef. Sophie Thompson’s monkfish dish has to be “served to perfection”. Meanwhile, “on the meat section, Susannah [Constantine] has to make sure her venison saddle is cooked to the right temperature”.
It’s not quite the same as regular or professional MasterChef, that’s true. There’s a slight strained air of everyone flapping around and exasperating their own uselessness, but that is soon dispensed with. What remains remarkably clever about the flame-flavoured version of the franchise is the way the competition sneaks up on everyone – contestants and viewers alike. At the beginning, when Jodie Kidd, Russell Grant, Todd Carty and Sophie and Susannah are rounding the corner into MasterChef HQ, no one – in all honesty – can expected to be that committed. But as the rounds go by, and someone does a tidy julienne (accompanied by a dip in the music) while someone else burns their hand and someone else moves Gregg into a little greedy chuckle, we’ve undergone a process of indoctrination. Before I know it, I’m giving a massive flying fig about whether or not Sophie’s mousse would set in time. That’s despite the fact she always seems to know where the camera is.
At the end of the first episode, Todd was off and I approved. It wasn’t just that he’d used my personal bête noire twice – joshing “no pressure” to indicate the opposite – but that he’d employed shop-bought meringue too.
“No, no, no. I’m speaking. I’m speaking. No, I’m speak… No, I’m speaking. Yeah, no, yeah, no, I’m speaking.” The words, there, of “super-complainer” Ian Walker. Ian lives in Birkenhead and he’s unemployed – something that’s constantly restated over this week’s episode (the third) of The Complainers (Channel 4 Tuesday, 9pm). Ian is on the phone to a utility company he has a quarrel with, and makes a noise about involving his “legal team”. But he doesn’t have a legal team. Ian, remember, is unemployed. Nonetheless, one wonders if his imaginary lawyers are now drafting a stiff letter to the programme makers whose depiction of their not-actual-client, and all featured therein, feels a little contemptuous1. Although Ian, one of three complainants featured this week, is speaking, after the event he’s thoroughly filleted. We first meet him as he’s moving house, loading his “complaints cabinet” onto a shopping trolley. The director assiduously chooses to include every moment the thing crunches at a doorway or a kerb. “Fucking hell!” rumbles Ian, unaware we’re about to cut to a shot showing his boxers creeping out of his trousers.
And so it continues: “Ian is currently unemployed after being fired from nine different call centres. Now he spends his time complaining.” Then: “With time on his hands, unemployed Ian has started complaints with 15 different utility companies.” More? “Ian is still without a job, so girlfriend Holly has applied for a payday loan.”
The big idea of the programme is that “every second in the UK, someone somewhere is complaining”, which is as focussed a notion as saying every second in the UK, someone somewhere is reclining. But that show’s title alone is a gem, and of course we want to observe the likes of Ian and also Chris from Rawtenstall and Gaby from Stamford Hill getting annoyed at people down the phone. However for me, the real interest lay at the other end of the conversation and those call centres. Here there are white boards with buzzwords like “courage” and “openness” written on them. And there are resolution managers and motivational posters – E.ON has one that declares: “We’re making our customers feel good about energy”. So much effort devoted to placation and reassurance. I think that is the more intriguing mindset. But back to Ian. “Recently he’s fallen out with his GP, been banned from his local supermarket and made a complaint against a brand of crisps.”
Was ever a programme as perfunctorily named as Traffic Cops (BBC1 Monday, 10.35pm)? It drops in and out of the schedules, the BBC firing up the blues and twos seemingly on a whim. This episode was called – because they all have titles – ‘We’ve Got Runners’. But I like the show, I like the (bad pun) pedestrianism of it all, from Jamie Theakston’s unfancy commentary (baddies referred to as “the lad”) to the matter-of-fact exchanges between police and public. “Oh, have I taken something tonight?” paraphrases one young woman absentmindedly. “Heroin”. Another guy has hidden drugs up his backside, which are recovered courtesy of a policeman’s gloved index finger. Afterwards it’s: “What drink do you want?”/”Cup of tea, please”.
And then there’s The Mindy Project (E4 Tuesday, 9.30pm), which takes place in a whole other world, one I don’t understand but which Entertainment Weekly leads me to believe is somehow vital. What is the situation underpinning this comedy? I don’t know, but it’s super-perky and actually, there are a couple of great lines – Mindy responding to a wedding proposal with, “I want to Vine this,” and a middle-aged women (I’m sorry, I’m not great with names) venturing: “What’s the big deal? I masturbate all the time. I did during this discussion”. I’ve series-linked.