Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: September-October 2016

Who'd have guessed that the biggest story in British TV over the summer would have revolved around a TV baking contest?  Since its humble beginnings 6 years ago, "THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE-OFF" (BBC1) has gone on to become one of this country's biggest ratings smashes and the format has been sold all over the world.

It was all good news for the BBC then, or so you would have thought.  Only problem is that the BBC didn't own it - an independent production company named Love Productions did.  And then, this September, they sold it to Channel 4 for a new 3 year deal...and all hell broke loose.  It turned into a Twitterstorm and a media frenzy.  It wasn't just about a TV show moving to another channel: it was a story of loyalty, and principles, and dough.  Hosts Mel and Sue, who are a huge part of the show's personality (and of course the all-important innuendo) have chosen to stay with the BBC and in their words, not to 'follow the dough' whilst judge Mary Berry is also staying at the BBC.  Her co-judge Paul Hollywood is however going with the show, and the dough, to Channel 4.

It's highly unlikely that the show will have the same level of success after its move to Channel 4: with the break-up of the winning formula of presenters, judges and - crucially - no ad breaks - it's hard to imagine anything else but an inferior product.

In the meantime, the 2016 series (the final one to be broadcast by the BBC) was another massive success. As with every year's intake, it featured an incredibly talented group of bakers who were all winners in their own way.  But the visually inventive bakes by Candice - she of the eye-catching and ever-changing lipstick colours - reminded me a little of the baking creations by Frances Quinn who won the 2013 series, so I wasn't all that surprised when she took the title.  That's the thing about GBBO - it's a feelgood show, gentle, charming and warm, where each weekly elimination is almost apologetic.  In an increasingly nasty world, we need all the escapism we can get.  Whether Channel 4 can replicate that atmosphere of warmth and mutual respect, well I guess we will have to wait and see, but I fear the worst.....

Whilst I'm on the subject of GBBO, and TV reality/talent competitions....Of course a staple (and tedious) cliche of the reality TV genre is "the journey".  But in the case of last year's GBBO winner, Nadiya Hussain, it turned out to be very appropirate,  When Nadiya first appeared on GBBO she was a shy and uncertain baker who didn't know just how talented she was.  You'd never have believed that she would turn out to be such a natural TV presenter.  "THE CHRONICLES OF NADIYA" (BBC1) - love that pun, by the way - was a very interesting two-part documentary which saw Nadiya take a trip to Bangladesh to explore her family's roots, traditions and of course, food.

Nadiya is an articulate, charismatic and likeable young woman, and a particularly positive role model.  So I wasn't surprised to see the BBC signing her up for more TV work.

If I was inventing my own ideal TV presenter, likeability would be near the top of the list.  Yet it's a very rare aspect of many of those overexposed TV presenters who dominate so many of our shows. How many of them are really likeable and approachable?  Hmmm....let's think....

While you're thinking I'd just like to suggest that Si King and Dave Myers a.k.a. The Hairy Bikers are two of the most likeable TV presenters of the last few years.  Their latest cooking travelogue, "THE HAIRY BIKERS' CHICKEN AND EGG" (BBC2) did what it said on the tin and sought out recipes and cuisines from the UK to France, Morocco, Israel, the USA and back to the UK, exploring along the way how chicken is becoming the world's most popular meat (and the only meat which your almost-vegetarian blogger still eats).  Watching their show is like hanging out with a couple of warm and funny old friends who are talented cooks too!

Since the demise of TV Burp and the failure of the Stars In Their Eyes revamp, we Harry Hill fans have been waiting for the great man's return to our screens.  "HARRY HILL'S TEA TIME" (Sky 1) is a spoof cooking show and let's face it, you wouldn't be long for this world if you took some of those "recipes" seriously!!  Each week features a special guest star (GBBO's Paul Hollywood, pictured above with Harry) .Whilst I'm very happy to see him back on TV, I continue to have mixed feelings about this show.  It's packed with a lot of the surreal comedy, daftness and songs which made TV Burp such a hit - a trio of Delia Smith lookalikes singing a Smiths song every week, for example! - but this show also misses and misfires as much as it succeeds, and I find it funny and infuriating in equal measures.

Needless to say that after that referendum, there were lots of programmes over recent months about Brexit.  But notably most of these ignored the fact that the majority of Scottish voters chose to remain in the European Union.  Until "SCOTLAND AND THE BATTLE FOR BRITAIN" (BBC2) in which Andrew Marr finally had the opportunity to explain our political differences to the rest of the UK.  That situation is so complex that it would take much, much more than an hour's TV to explain, but Mr Marr did pretty well to at least go over the basics.

Now on to something a bit more frivolous....autumn means the return of "STRICTLY COME DANCING" (BBC1) and it became very clear, very quickly, that there is a very high standard this year. But Strictly being Strictly, the headlines are often made by those with two left feet.  This year's John Sergeant/Anne Widdicombe is the former Labour MP Ed Balls, who has also achieved notoriety in the Twittersphere over recent years thanks to "Ed Balls Day" which commemorates him tweeting his own name.  Yes. But Ed is also making some progress - yes, it's that "journey" again! - and he is actually learning to dance.  On the other end of the Strictly spectrum we have Hollyoaks star Danny Mac who is putting his previous dance experience to good use; TV presenter Ore Oduba is a strong contender (that jive was one of my favourite dances of this series), and Louise Redknapp is also very good although her dancing is still lacking in personality.

So far, no fauxmances/showmances to speak of, which I'm sure must be a major disappointment for the tabloids, but there has been plenty of controversy in the early weeks of the show, such as the departure of Will Young who had been one of my favourites to win.  My own personal favourite at the moment is little Claudia Fragapane, the Olympic gymnast.  I expected a lot more from her fellow Olympian, long jumper Greg Rutherford - he just needs to loosen up, lighten up and let go, and he could become a contender.  At the moment though it's hard to see past Danny Mac for the win.

Forget X Factor - the highlight of my Saturday night is catching up with the previous night's "DOOBIDOO" (SVT) which recently came back for another series and continues to do very well in Swedish TV ratings.

It's a very simple format.  Swedish singers/actors/TV personalities compete in teams of two in various rounds of music questions interspersed with archive TV clips and the whole thing is held together entertainingly by host Lasse Kronér (pictured above).

Another new show which recently caught my attention was "EN KVÄLL I NEW YORK" (SVT), a 4-part series where several of Sweden's best-known singers took a trip to NYC to perform at the world-famous Apollo Theatre, backed by a top gospel choir who also perform on the Late Show.  So, no pressure then!

Week 1 featured Roger Pontare, Darin, Titiyo and Sweden's latest worldwide sensation Zara Larsson. It was a very entertaining hour: special mentions to Roger's encounter with a stylist, and Darin's reunion with Kat DeLuna ("Breathing Your Love") along the way.  Oh, and on a shallow note here, Darin is still hot.   It was funny though, seeing the choir's reaction to the "murderer" lyrics from the choir in "Lovekiller"!

In week 2 it was the turn of Sarah Dawn Finer, Andreas Lundstedt and Linda Pira to meet the choir and band.  For Andreas it was a new take on "Crying At The Discotheque" whilst Linda chose "Knäpprar Mina Fingrar" and Sarah interpreted "For A Friend".  Unfortunately I didn't see the rest of the series as I had discovered it pretty late and by the time I got round to the remaining episodes they had been removed from SVT Play.  Well done SVT for bringing this new fresh musical format and giving these very talented performers their moment on that iconic stage.  I can only envy Swedish TV channels for trying out music-themed TV formats over recent years, which don't just involve the talent-option (apart from TV4's Swedish Idol).

Talking of which, I haven't been following Idol this year: I have too many other things to watch, and too much to do. The show's had a revamp with an all-new jury of Fredrik Kempe, Nikki Amini and Quincy Jones III (pictured above).

It was time for another episode of "THE PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF POP" (BBC4) an occasional and very enjoyable series which takes a look at a particular 10 year period through the experience and anecdotes of the people who were there - the fans.  The latest episode covered the period from 1976 to 1985 - personally a very exciting and incredibly diverse time for music from punk, new wave and 2-Tone to the new romantics and The Smiths.  In the same way that BBC Radio 2's "The People's Songs" played the longer game in exploring the soundtracks of people's lives, so there was potentially a longer and more detailed story to be told; this series could potentially have focused on a different year rather than a decade for every episode, but I suppose we should be grateful for whatever we get.

Another terrific recent documentary which should probably have been watched in conjunction with "The People's History of Pop" was "BOY GEORGE'S 1970s: SAVE ME FROM SUBURBIA" (BBC2), another very personal look back at an influential decade, which was not perfect; industrial unrest, unemployment, economic gloom, and an EU referendum.  Sounds familiar, but at least the music was a million times better than what we have to put up with in the "tens".....Anyway it was very entertaining and it was interesting to see George catching up with a couple of old friends, namely Marilyn and Martin "Sigue Sigue Sputnik" Degville.

BBC1 had a little nostalgia trip by reviving a few classic sitcoms and bringing them up to date. "ARE YOU BEING SERVED", that classic department store-set slice of innuendo and double-entendres, didn't really float the critics' boats.  But it was very well cast, I thought, and in a time when Mrs Brown's Boyd is so popular (although the critics detest that too!) maybe it could have succeeded with a longer run?  But the very old fashioned setting of Grace Brothers suggests that this sitcom should just have been left in the 70s after all.

However the most successful revamp was "PORRIDGE" which will now get a new series.  Glad to hear that, as the pilot was pretty good.  This time round, Fletch's grandson (played by Kevin Bishop) is in prison, and it will be interesting to see where they take the character from here.

As I said in a previous TV review post, I'm watching TV a bit differently these days and take a long time to get round to watching series!  So I have still to see the revived series of Cold Feet, series 2 of Humans, 30 Degrees in February and The Code.  I guess that's my homework for the next few weeks then...!

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