Monday, October 27

Review: Autumnwatch

Autumnwatch is so British it might as well be smashing up a Belgian piazza, says Mark Lewis

It’s a programme so parochial it makes you want to turn off your TV*, drink a pint of regional bitter in your local pub, and have a bit of a cry over a 1st class postage stamp.

It has that weirdly British combination of impossible ambition and a cosy lack of any at all. Making it live flies so far up the nose of every notion of good natural history programming procedure that it is almost laughably industrious. But then they front it with a man wearing a fleece.

And then make that man Bill Oddie.

Autumnwatch (Monday, BBC2, 8pm) is dripping in British peculiarity. Only in Britain could we imagine that we could somehow sex up the natural history format by inserting the interminably geriatric twittering of man who was incomprehensibly popular 40 years ago. Only in Britain would his meandering verbal links, which invariably wander into the next segment, be considered comforting. And only in Britain would a barn in Brownsea Island in Dorset truly be considered “glamorous”.

This is primetime telly. And yet in one segment, Oddie is allowed to take his camera down to Hampstead Heath to film ducklings frolicking on his local pond. Had it been in Italy, a man in a sparkling suite would have been hiding in the pond on Hampstead Heath filming Bill Oddie being fellated by a dancing girl.

But this is not a programme which will be sold overseas. The only thing likely to be cheered in the United States are the forcefully anthropomorphic reminders of how much tougher the North American grey squirrel is than the rather more effete British red.

The sense of British inferiority is so palpable that Oddie might as well stop stumbling through presenting a live nature programme and start comparing his love making skills with Giacomo Casanova.

Even the brief flicker of excitement at the hint of ‘good ol’ British’ bedroom deviance is quickly extinguished when we discover that “rutting stags” is something to do with fighting deer. Admittedly the rutting stags proved to be a fairly compelling, dramatic piece of television.

But only by British standards. Had it been in America, the stags would have been shooting one another with big fucking laser beams.

*Sentence could equally stop here

Monday, October 13

Review: Dispatches: The Trouble with British Airways; and Wired

Dispatches was lightweight. ITV's latest drama was surprisingly heavyweight, says Mark Lewis

Dispatches: The Trouble with British Airways (Monday, Channel 4, 8pm) highlighted what I have now discovered to be The Trouble with Consumer Documentaries.

Why is it, I wondered, that I almost invariably take the side of big business in the consumer disputes contained within them? Could it be that the neat corporate PR which bedevils me whenever the ad breaks are on, has blinded me to the ills of the companies’ crimes? Perhaps. But marriage-threateningly incessant channel hopping has almost eliminated their power. Is it some idealised vision that everyone – even big companies - means well, really? Maybe. But really, I’m not that nice.

Of course! the trouble with consumer documentaries is that the case studies they unearth are invariably so objectionable.

I know it’s not right that I take arms against the underdog. If I deconstruct my reasoning, I’m aware that it doesn’t quite stack up. I know that, if wronged, a person should not have to write 18 letters of complaint just to get fair compensation for his loss.

But really! What sort of person writes 18 letters of complaint?

British Airways loses more baggage than any other European airline, it cancels more flight than any European flag carrier save for Luxembourg, Croatia and Greece.

And it is impossible to feel fiscal sympathy for a company so big that it can swallow a £121m fine for colluding to fix prices with Virgin Atlantic.

Nevertheless, it is impossible not to take its side when your thoughts on the underdog range between indifference and contempt.

One woman, who had her bag lost, and was sent £250 for her trouble, wrote a letter to the chief executive accusing him of theft. And was utterly incredulous that the company should close the case of her missing bag after a mere 90 days of searching. How could they stop looking for her bag after a mere three months when they kept on looking for the Yorkshire Ripper until they found him?

Andrew Gilligan – as desperate to sex up this documentary as he was to accuse Alastair Campbell of sexing up that Iraq dossier – does his best. He even goes to the lengths of interviewing Scootch, Britain’s cabin-crew-themed novelty entrants to the 2006 Eurovision song contest, with Flying the Flag, for some reason.

But to no avail. The problem, really, is that the trifling inconveniences of ordinary people just don’t merit the hour long honour of as primetime Dispatches programme.

The same – and I find it hard to believe that I am writing this – cannot be said of the latest ITV drama, Wired (Monday, ITV1, 9pm). As strange as it is to report, ITV has produced a programme with pace, intrigue and passable performances from the whole cast.

The bad guy is suitably nasty. (He runs a club so exclusive that it has a French name and a long queue in the middle of the day). The main protagonist is attractive and engaging. And the set up is pleasantly smooth.

All of which risks damning with faint praise. But with two more instalments still to come, the channel which just keeps on bringing you X-Factor, has ample time to mess it up.

Tuesday, May 6

Reviews: Age of Terror - The War on the West; Natural World - Spectacled Bears; Amy Winehouse - What Really Happened

Three documentaries of spectaculary different scope served up fear, concern and contempt says Mark Lewis

If you think that making fun of a marmalade-munching, raincoat-wearing, geriatric, tube-tramping, imaginary, vagrant bear isn’t funny, then try finding a joke in The Age of Terror – the War on The West (Tuesday, BBC2, 9pm). Beyond, say, spreading the rumour that Osama Bin Laden is gay. Or Jewish. There is very little humour to be found in the last of this impeccably researched four-part documentary series. (Or a transsexual).

The story of the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, just weeks after Bin Laden sat in front of a video camera and said US target would be hit soon, is a tale of missed opportunities and appalling morality. The maimed, blinded, weeping people with crippled bodies and ruined lives tell a spectacularly morbid tale.

Let us just hope that this most modern and merciless form of terror will fade out as surely as those which the series maker, Peter Taylor, has already shown preceded it.

At around 50 years old Bin Laden, like Paddington Bear, should be reaching about the right age for gentle removal from our memories and popular consciousness.

Paddington has been around for over 50 years. But like the Peruvian, Spectacled bear on which he is based, Paddington is less popular today than he was.

Even in my day, Paddington was little loved. In the 1950s he only had to compete with grainy Pathe film clips of Fidel Castro speeches and powdered egg rations. But by the 1980s Ronald Reagan and The Thundercats had come along.

It was a daft, thoughtless time. I regret to say that as a pre-pubescent boy, I didn’t even think about the anthropomorphic implications of there only being one female on the Thundercats planet. Or that she was a different species from the only males. It’s difficult and terrifying to imagine the progeny of a half woman/half cheetah and a half man/half panther.

But not nearly as difficult, apparently, as the thought of a bear eating a cow. This was the sub-text of the first in this series of Natural World (Tuesday BBC2, 8pm), where belligerent, biologists dismissed the eye witness accounts of Andean locals with eye wateringly colonial disdain. But, despite the patronising certainty of one biologist, Rob Williams, that the bear eats nothing meatier than tree bark and marmalade, we actually see footage of Paddington gorging on a cow.

The problem is that proof that this endangered species is a carnivore might make him very unpopular indeed. And this – as tedious though this programme largely was - is the nub. The spectacled bear is so cute, and Steven Fry narrates with such gently, aching concern that you’d really rather they weren’t shot. So given that saying what really happened could get these buggers killed, how about we just agree that what really happened was we saw the Peruvian spectacled bear eating nothing worse than a ratatouille?

It would be no less improbable than the latest in Jacques Perretti’s What Really Happened series. Amy Winehouse – What Really Happened (Channel 4, 9pm) followed the standard trajectory of Perretti conducting telling interviews with in-the-know interviewees so far out of the know that quotes from Dr Raj Persaud would have looked like a coup.

Hold the front page! Journalist, Sophie Hayward tells us Amy's not very good at accepting compliments. Exclusive! Journalist, Gordon Smart explains husband, Blake, is not very popular on Fleet Street. Scoop! 'Friend', Joe Mott who last saw Amy when The Thundercats were popular, says Amy is partial to a hit on the crack pipe.

At least Perretti has the decency to preface everything he says with, 'it seems to me.' 'It seems to me,' he says, 'that it was about this time that her life began to change.' 'It seems to me,' he goes on, 'that her fantasy has become a reality.'

It seems to me, that What Really Happened is a fanciful name for an hour of strung together library shots.

Tuesday, April 29

Reviews: Dispatches Undercover, Embarrassing Bodies

Making money out of selling vaginas is pretty tawdry stuff, says Mark Lewis

Mobile phone shops are selling vaginas to unsuspecting punters who only came in to get a pay as you go Nokia. That’s was the shocking finding of Dispatches Undercover (Monday, Channel 4, 8pm) which didn’t really find out anything nearly as interesting.

Rather, the hour-long show got a chap who looked a lot like Jeff Goldblum, to talk interminably about how phone shop salespeople try to up-sell customers more expensive deals. Some 20 minutes into the show, we were still being told at excruciating length that sales staff get a bigger commission for selling a contract deal than they do for selling a pay as you go.

‘Few customers are told that 18 month contracts are lengthy commitments,’ intoned Goldbum gravely. The Independence Day star didn’t spell out that 18 month contracts probably last around, ooh, 18 months, because, well, it does say so quite explicitly.

One interviewee told us that Carphone Warehouse and Phones 4U, ‘want to sell you the highest value contracts, and lock you in as long as possible,’ because – you’re not going to believe this – a higher yielding deal will earn the salesperson a higher commission. What next? Someone selling plutonium to terrorists earns more cash than someone selling classified advertisements in the Thomson Directory?

There is nothing inherently wrong with this kind of consumer champion programme, the real problem is Dispatches uses the same production devices and portentous music for explaining the difference between a pay-as-you-go and a contract tariff as they would the sexual abuse of orphans, or the alien invasion of Guildford.

The faces of whistle blowing sales staff are blacked out, and their voices disguised as if they were Iraqi double agents revealing the location of those missing WMD. Rather than explaining that selling an 18 month contract is worth £15 in commission to the salesperson.

For sure, the phone networks have some questions to answer. Customers, for example, are often sold new contracts over the phone by companies claiming to work for Orange and promising the customers their original contracts will be terminated. They are not. And Orange shamefully refuses to terminate the original contract, leaving customers with two expensive and lengthy contracts rather than the one they can afford.

But this is largely just a polemic about companies trying to make money, when companies all over the world will do almost anything top do that.

Public Relations firms are famous for dreaming up campaigns for companies to sell unsuspecting consumers products under the guise of some spurious national celebration. So we have National Bed Month which encourages people to sleep more, National Greeting Card Week which encourages people to thank friends for unwanted gifts with jokes that someone else wrote. And now, according to Embarrassing Bodies (Channel 4, 9pm), National Vagina Day, for that half of the population which has never really considered getting one.

The three quacks rolled out for Embarrassing Bodies Week (the manky cocks are here on Thursday, girls!) talk about everything with such Jamie Oliver-esque chipper enthusiasm that you almost imagine that it’s rolls of pukka monkfish volauvents you are looking at rather than skanky rolls of extra vaginal skin.

And look, there isn’t a television reviewer in the country who isn’t wondering why someone with an illness too embarrassing to go to the doctor in their local clinic about, would go to see a doctor on television in front of millions. But it’s an unavoidable observation, so here goes.

There is no doubt that there is a freakshow fascination to Embarrassing Bodies. There shouldn’t be anything compelling about watching a doctor sticking her fingers up the anus of a giant women, who was made to feel ‘very embarrassed even now’. But when she says, ‘I’m growing old and I don’t want to be alone anymore,’ there really is. Even a negligent doctor might be able to advise a woman looking for a man to avoid having anal tags removed from her anus on television, but these docs are downright immoral.

One poor man who had lost 12 stone and was left with tits the size of beanbags was made to feel like, “I don’t want to show [the millions of viewers at home my horrendous tits] but I know I have to.”

This alas, is the sad state of confessional television.

And it’s on all week folks, so get your fill.

Friday, April 18

Reviews: Come Dine With Me; The Graham Norton Show

Come Dine With Me is strangely compelling because the guests are so compellingly strange, says Mark Lewis

When you ask a bisexual man with a 550 piece Barbie collection to explain the difference between having sex with a woman and a man, you don’t necessarily expect a solemn response. But when Brian was told the main difference was the absence of a cock, he contrived to be offended anyway.

“Lee did not conduct himself with dignity tonight,” he said, before going off to plan a dinner party which included a dessert of bananas, tinned tangerine and whipped cream, in a room with a framed picture of Margaret Thatcher on the wall.

It was the first in the latest series of Come Dine With Me (Wednesday, Channel 4, 8pm) and a microcosm of the whole concept: weirdoes trying to outdo each other in the classnessness of their dinnertime.

It is one of Channel 4’s format documentaries. But where - especially in the early series’ - Wife Swap gave us drama and personal realisations of Shakespearean pathos, Come Dine With Me offers nothing deeper than a dented roasting tin.

It’s cheaper than a 12 pack of own brand, low alcohol lager from Lidl, but it’s still weirdly compelling in a Victorian voyeuristic kind of way. Four unusuals spend consecutive nights hosting dinner parties for each other for a prize of £1,000.

This week it was Brian, the local conservative councillor wannabe with a face like Eamonn Holmes and a picture of Maggie Thatcher in his living room; Lee, the drunk bisexual with a sinister collection of Barbie dolls; a third woman too non-descript to even remember her name; and Brenda, the retard.

I’m not a fan of freak shows per se. But Brenda belonged in a cage. She was a gobby, boxing Geordie with much to say and little to impart. She insisted on putting litres of Tabasco sauce on all of her meals, then complained to Brian that his food left her in the toilet all night. She wouldn’t eat red meat because “it rots and purifies in the gut.”

She meant putrifies. Which is rather what’s been happening to Graham Norton since his big money move to the BBC. He was poached from Channel 4 because of his success as a chat show host who gets his researches to scan the internet for features to mildly embarrass his guests while he says oooooooooh to the audience.

The BBC scratched around for a format to match his talents, before coming to the conclusion three years later that he was best suited as a chat show host who gets his researches to scan the internet for features to mildly embarrass his guests while he says oooooooooh to the audience.

The first in this series of The Graham Norton Show (BBC2, 9pm) featured a not terribly funny Kevin Bacon and a Tony Curtis, funny only because of the plastic surgery.

It’s not to everyone’s taste but at least it’s something.

Monday, April 14

Review: Born Survivor - Bear Grylls

Bear Grylls' trek across the desert is about as credible as a date with a prostitute, says Mark Lewis

In his latest programme, we are asked to believe that Bear Grylls is a Born Survivor (Sunday, 8pm, Channel 4). But hang on! Isn’t the fact that that he was named Bear rather than, say, Ray a little unfair? Perhaps he wasn’t a born survivor after all. Perhaps he had survival thrust upon him

Being a Bear surely lends him a certain fierceness; a love of honey and a tired grumpiness in the winter months. Had he been called Dog Grylls we might expect a bit more truthfulness and spontaneity.

Alas Born Survivor is about as spontaneous as a crack at the world dominoes world record, and as honest as a human resources advisor. His trek across barren Saharan desert to the cool of the Atlas mountains has all the uncertainty of a proposition to a prostitute.

Even if you miss the disclaimer at the beginning of the programme telling you about the health and safety support and dramatic set-ups in the show, the over-dramatisation would blow the whole charade apart anyway. The opening sequence in which Bear talks earnestly over theatrical music has more cod drama than an Icelandic soap opera.

He says things like, “having the right survival skills can mean the difference between life and death,” and “being stranded here is like being cooked alive. Only the toughest survive.”

And he proves it by making his way from the helicopter to the surface of the Sahara by parachute. The not-quite-so-tough camera crew and equipment presumably land in the helicopter shortly after.

And Bear keeps on happening upon things in the Sahara desert as if he has just stumbled on it. “I’ve been looking for something like this,” he says, pretending to stumble upon a dried up river. “These are incredibly rare,” he adds, almost as if he had deliberately taken his film crew and headed for it.

“Woah, there’s a cobra,” he says, spotting a cobra and taking a little jump back, before telling us in his voiceover that the snake has actually been specially bussed in so that he can show us how to deal with it.

And this, perhaps, is this biggest charade of them all. Every now and then, the programme pretends that it is a public service announcement. Bear advises us that conserving water is paramount. Rather than swallow it immediately, you should keep it in your mouth, to keep your throat and tongue hydrated. Narrating an hour’s worth of film and wasting enough water to jerry up a slick of quicksand is probably not part of the advice.

“Whenever you are in a survival situation it is critical to keep body and soul together,” he says, which means removing your shirt, flexing you muscles and doing yoga poses while the sun sets in the background. “When you’re stuck in this part of the Sahara desert, your only chance of survival is to head for the Atlas Mountains,” we are told earnestly to the sound of millions at home jotting it down in their diary next to advice about looking left and right at road crossings.

With Ray Mears there is at least a vague sense that when he munches on a berry or rubs a couple of sticks together, he believes he is imparting something vaguely useful. And there’s the rub. It doesn’t matter how many times he pisses on his t-shirt and wraps it around his head, how many scorpions he eats for breakfast, or how many times he is filmed with his shirt blowing in the wind atop a Moroccan sand dune, Bear Grylls still just a thin Ray Mears.

He might look better with his shirt off, but the manufactured scenarios and camp dramatisations are just tics and affectations which detract from any substance, and appeal only to people whose favourite book is Bravo Two Zero.

Far from public service, this is entertainment for the moronic majority. As uncomfortable as making a programme in the desert no doubt is, the set-up here is faker than the applause for an Oscar winner, and even the programme makers know it. Desperate to sex up the safeness of the whole affair, Bear goes to great lengths to talk about how dangerous it all still is. Two of the film crew are evacuated during the programme with heatstroke, we are told - left wondering whether it is the poor suckers who are made to carry the heavy cameras while Bear looks handsome in the desert breeze.

The real calamity is that there might be a worthwhile programme in here somewhere. Even if his face betrays an I’m A Celebrity grossness when he does it, Bear, like Ray, is quite prepared to eat all kinds of horrible creepy crawlies just to keep us entertained.

The only question is this: had he been called Panda rather than Bear when he was handed a poisonous spider, would he have stuck it in his mouth, or ineffectually tried to mate with it?

Tuesday, April 1

Reviews: Tonight: Killer Lorries, Panorama: Jersey - Island of Secrets, Eastenders

ITV's flagship current affairs programme is less inviting than a truck driver's passenger seat, says Mark Lewis

There surely isn’t a more sympathetic group of people in this country than UK lorry drivers. They helpfully keep our speed in check by passing each other at 56 and 57mph on two-lane motorways. They keep us entertained in service stations by writing hilarious racist banter on the walls of the toilet cubicles. And they keep our emotions in check by selflessly blockading fuel pumps preventing us from meeting up with our new girlfriends in Bournemouth in the year 2000.

‘This month’s Budget brought no relief for British truckers,’ said the voiceover in Tonight – Killer Lorries (Monday, 8pm ITV1) tugging at the compassionate threads of our weeping hearts like a master puppeteer.

Worst of all, the threat to these burly champions didn’t come just from a callous Government. It also came from foreigners. And let’s not forget: Quite apart from driving on our roads in their foreign trucks; these feverishly breeding foreigners bloat our population almost as quickly as our lorry drivers can keep it in check my murdering hitchhikers.

And the evil of foreigners doesn’t end there. Some of them can’t even speak English. “You vehicle no drive,” said a Kent policeman to a foreign truck driver who spoke perfectly good English. “Get tyre replaced. You responsibility not mine.”

And then just when you thought the programme couldn’t get any more lightweight, they rolled out Quentin Wilson. “What are the worst breaches you’ve seen?” he asked a UK truck driver.

Then: “What do these guys get up to?” Wilson was never Jeremy Paxman but neither was he quite so Alan Partridge. He used, at least, to be the sidekick to Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear. But in last night’s Tonight, he was reduced to showing us how dangerous left-hand drive (read: foreign) articulated lorries were, by driving one whilst saying, ‘it looks like I’m in control but I’m not. This is really scary. I’ve driven most things but this really freaks me out.”

No wonder he doesn’t do Top gear anymore. It’s not easy to see Richard “nearly-died-in-rocket-propelled-car-accident” Hammond being quite so easily perturbed. Neither did this faux-serious documentary even have any of the delicate sensitivity and moderation for which Clarkson and Top Gear are so famous.

“Foreign drivers are four times more likely to be tired than UK drivers, according to the police,” said Wilson. They are also nine times more likely to be homosexual, 16 times more likely to be paedophiles, and 140 times more likely to be responsible for the death of Princess Diana*.

Yes, foreign trucks are often un-roadworthy, the drivers are often tired, and there were 44 deaths associated with accidents involving overseas truck drivers in 2006. But this was simple tabloid foreign bashing at its most basic. The half-hour format of any documentary programme lends its subject very little credibility, and Tonight is more lightweight than a boxing match with Mr Muscle.

The teaser for next week’s Tonight told us people were prepared to lie to get jobs. The programme is going to set up a panel of judges to see if they can tell which of three candidates in a mock interview is lying. It will be hosted by Ian Wright with voiceover commentary from Harry Hill.

In reformatting to half-hour, Panorama (BBC1, 8.30pm) suffers from the same inherent credibility deficit. But last night’s programme, Jersey – island of Secrets, was a typically well researched documentary with lot of new information about the horrors of the Jersey children’s home, Haute de la Garenne, the inability of the Jersey authorities to govern themselves, and the probable cover up across the whole Island of an abuse scandal which last at least 40 years.

The comparison between the flagship current affairs documentary programmes on the two most popular free to air TV channels says a lot about the problems facing ITV. But as difficult as Panorama was to watch, at half hour it simply wasn’t long enough.

That’s not a criticism you can level at Eastenders (BBC1, 8pm), which has been trailing the return of Ricky and Bianca for the last few weeks like it was the biggest televisual event since the queen’s coronation in 1953. Had the queen then captained the English football team to World Cup success. On September 11.

The message here is that if you give something enough of a build-up then you can bring back anyone. Ricky was the first to return, approaching Pat with a glumness even more pronounced than usual. The credits were about to roll, so Pat knew something was up. ‘Something’s happened to Frank hasn’t it? What’s happened to Frank…’

Good luck bringing him back.

*research by the Daily Express xenophobe office of inaccurate statistics

Thursday, March 27

Review: The Apprentice

The new series of The Apprentice is as daft as ever, but also as welcome, says Mark Lewis

As a TV reviewer, I rate myself as probably the best in New Cross. Quite a claim, because - say what you like about New Cross - there are as many as 15 literate people on my street alone.

"As a sales person I rate myself as probably the best in Europe," says one of the contestants at the beginning of the latest series of The Apprentice (Wednesday, BBC1 9pm), leaving me feeling just a little short on ambition.

In a programme representing more egos than a session on the couch with Sigmund Freud, ambition is never going to be a problem. Talent, on the other hand, is.

We are told that these people represent the next generation of top entrepreneurs, but judging from their negotiating skills so far, they are about as sophisticated as an evening with Little and Large.

The girl’s team captain described herself as having been compared often with her childhood best friend. "My family has a big German Shepherd,” she told us. “I am often compared with him because…” she said something about ploughing right through people, but there wasn’t a person at home who (admit it) wasn’t thinking, “… because you’re a big fat dog?”

But she was at least tough. Her gambit for selling fish to a restauranteur: "Is that your best offer? Because I’ll definitely take it if that’s your best offer. But can I ask you to give me a little bit more?"

But somehow the boys were even worse. Michael asked a solicitors office for a £130 for a box of fish.

"I’ll give you fifty quid."
"I’m going to have to ask you for a hundred quid"
"I’ll give you fifty quid"
"fifty quid."

"I negotiated as best I could, but I could only get £50," he said when he got back. And he wasn’t even fired.

The first person to be fired was a barrister who couldn’t count. Nicholas managed to mix up the difference between a kilo and a lobster, then attempted to explain away his ineptitude by telling former Tottenham Hotspur Chairman Alan Sugar that he wasn’t the sort of bloke who could get on easily with a conversation about football.

He was thicker than a kilo of low fat Sainsburys Basics cheddar, and a terrifying indicator of the kind of cretin who might end up defending me if I ever decide to impress Alan Sugar by selling crack to kids.

That, at least, would demonstrate to sir Alan the kind of entrepreneurial spirit which was so clearly missing from Nicholas, and give me an opportunity to try to get in with Alan by doing my impression of a kids TV character.

Sir Alan is already like a grown up Zippy, bullying his charges like a collection of scared Georges. He thunders around the Rainbow studio with panto villainy, pointing and bellowing like a beanstalk giant.

‘This is a business bootcamp,’ he says at the start. ‘Mary Poppins I am not.’ But only because he is already contracted to play one of the ugly sisters at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens this Christmas.

His two henchmen add to the panto fun. In past series Margaret and Nick have been consigned to doing little more than watching from the background wearing turd-sucking expressions and standing silently behind Alan while he camps it up in the boardroom.

This time they are let off the leash to lash out at the contestants: in this case Raef, who is set to become the star of this show. He’s posher than Prince William and camper than Simon Cowell. “I’m prepared to fight to the death in the boardroom,” he said. “Words are my tool.” Tool is right.

Tuesday, March 25

Review: Horizon: How Does You Memory Work, and Ex-Files: The Heather McCartney story

Horizon used to be more telling than this, but at least it was more of a scoop than the Ex-Files, says Mark Lewis

I will never forget the voice. It was a woman’s voice. I was sure it was. But then a man appeared. Dr Alain Brunet had – dear God – the body of a man but the voice of a woman.

I can’t imagine I will ever be able to forget it.

Luckily, Dr Brunet also was an expert in erasing painful memories. He will have little need to erase the memory of the programme on which he was featured, Horizon: How Does Your Memory Work (Tuesday, BBC2, 9pm), because the memory is fading already, and the credits are barely rolling.

I can remember a time when Horizon used to deliver programmes which had a point and conclusion, however spurious. It is something the programme has apparently forgotten. The conclusion here, intoned with much gentle Scottish gravity by the actor John Hannah, was that ‘your memory is you’.

Turns out Alzheimers disease is also fucking terrible. Thanks very much John. What next? A kick in the bollocks is fairly painful? Drinking tequila gets you smashed?

My research is already way ahead of that of the Horizon team. Dr Brunet told us that the beta blockers he was using to impair people’s memory was the start of a real breakthrough in helping people to forget. How does seven pints of snakebite followed by 12 shots of black sambuka down the Watford Ritzy on a Friday night work for ya?

Horizon was the equivalent. It will not represent a painful memory. It was not that affecting. Rather, this was an hour of platitudes backed up by research into the blatant.

Some 25 minutes into the programme, Hannah was still explaining that our memories of the past help us to imagine the future. One poor soul whose Hippocampi had never developed properly lived in a state of perpetual happiness, never really thinking about the past but never worrying about the future either.

Anything he had to recall he had to write down.

If I ever read what I’ve written here again, I doubt I’ll remember this programme.

But at least it didn’t have the cheek to describe itself as an exclusive.

The same cannot be said of ITV1 which described its quickly cobbled together Ex-Files (10.35pn) as just such. The ex in this case was ex Mrs McCartney, Heather. And with some relish, the programme took to unravelling her fanciful life.

There is little doubt that Ms Mills is a unedifying fantasist and self-publicist. Her demand for £124m and attitude to ending up with just £24m of Paul’s cash is all abhorrent.

The judge described her as a ‘less than candid witness’ who is ‘devoid of reality and who indulges in make believe.’ In the mid-1990s she was apparently passing herself off as a completely different Heather Mills who worked on the Observer, and getting jobs on the back of her work. She dumped her ex-fiance just six days before they were due to be married having met multi-million Paul. She starred in a soft porn book, and claimed it was an educational pamphlet. She exaggerated an abuse scandal from her childhood, having pretended to have been imprisoned by a paedophile for three days – dropping her childhood friend in amongst her lies in the process.

But she could have been the brains behind Idi Amin, and she still wouldn’t have been half as loathsome as the bright orange old hags they wheeled out to condemn her on this programme.

Face after face of bleached blonde, vinegar-titted old celebrity hacks were sent out to put the claws in to her, their dried up old fannies practically smiling at the prospect of taking someone down a peg or two – well at least one peg anyway.

This said a lot more about the bitchiness which pervades popular media than it did about Heather or Paul – who, by the way, has been shit for 40 years.

Sunday, March 16

Review: Dancing on Ice: The Final

Dancing on Ice was beautiful but hideous like the cinematography on The Elephant Man, says Mark Lewis

As a phone voting vehicle for the dancing skills of little known celebrities from some of the most moronic programmes on television, Dancing on Ice: The Final (Sunday, 7pm ITV1) is begging to be loathed. And it is.

But it is popular, and it has its charms. So let me be fair for just a couple of paragraphs: Chris Fountain, star of idiot’s soap, Hollyoaks, can properly boogy for a big lad. He is elegant despite his size, magnanimous in victory and graceful in defeat. Suzanne Shaw, former Hear’Say victim and victim of Darren Day love rattery was brave and beautiful throughout. She soared electrifyingly in a her harness, her routine capturing a maximum 30 points from the obligatory panel of judges.

It was the first time in the history of Dancing on Ice anyone had got a 30. Then she did it again. The ‘Ice Panel’ gushed. In the audience her son cried ecstatic tears for mummy. And on a sofa in London a hard heart melted for the briefest of a moments.

But only the briefest. “If you are hosting your own Dancing on Ice party tonight then enjoy,” said Phillip Schofield. Yes, enjoy drinking yourself into fighting mood with cheap sparkling wine and Skol Super, because this programme is aimed at a common denominator lower than a Barry White ballad.

Before multi-channel TV and remote controllers, you could tell a lot about a programme and who it’s aimed at from the adverts during the commercial breaks. And even if nobody watches them any more the advertisements can still perpetrate an effective character assassination. Joss Stone having an affair with a Flake was fairly non-incriminating, but Denise van Outen professing her love of fresh meat on behalf of Morrisons, followed by an ad for Ferrero Rocher was an indictment so damning, only an Ocean Finance commercial could have made its downmarketness any more explicit.

But don’t hate it for that. There is so much more. Patronising its core demographic is ITV1’s prerogative, but commissioning this again will continue to be a stain on the pyjamas of popular TV. Some of the dancing was stunning; Jane Torville and Christopher Dean can still do a bit; and Schofield and Holly Willoughby are nice looking and professional. But Dancing on Ice is tedious, formulaic and derivative. It is as different from Strictly Come dancing as Coke is from Pepsi.

Suzanne Shaw won incidentally.

Thursday, March 13

Review: Sports Relief does The Apprentice

As appealing as Lembit Opik no doubt is, he's never going to pip Louise Redknapp for celebrity lolly, says Mark Lewis

However evenly the teams might be matched. However adept the business acumen of the respective clans. However much you don’t like bullshitters or schmoozers: Unless you can give an ageing billionaire a hope he might cop a feel of Louise Redknapp’s tits, you ain’t never gonna win celebrity Apprentice.

In Sport Relief does The Apprentice (Wednesday, 9pm, BBC1) the men’s team were neither well matched nor adept. Whether they liked bullshitters or schmoozers is difficult to tell. They certainly weren’t very good at it. Mr Cheeky Girl, aka. Lembit Opik, aka. Limp Bizkit winked at Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, and said, “whatever you want - within the law - I’ll do it.”

Why stop at the law? What chance a back bench Lib Dem MP making a legal promise to a man who bought the Labour government for 100,000 packets of fags?

Oh yes, Lembit, perhaps you could persuade your party to sit ineffectively in the cheap seats in The Commons for 80 years campaigning limply in the west country for better rights for badgers.

Then palm off Bernie Ecclestone.

If then, you could just persuade your Cheeky Girl missus to be less Romanian, more footballer’s wife, less former X-Factor, more like her what’s married to Jamie Redknapp; and with whiter teeth then you might be able to persuade Mike Ashley to part with some cash.

Mike Ashley spent £100,000 on three tickets for some ropey shopping do the girls had put together, at just the faintest whiff of a chance of a feel off Louise Redknapp. He owns Newcastle United and founded the sports chain, Sports Direct. Sports Direct sells a load of Lonsdale gear. Limp Bizkit persuaded Lonsdale to donate £1,500 worth of sports tat.

At a sporting imbalance of £98,500, the boys were going to have to put their own white-toothed battle plan into action. Former Sun editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, has definitely had some dental work done but he was too busy offending his team mates to offer anyone a cheeky feel.

Hardeep Singh Kohli was “fucking thick,” he was “like Hitler”, supposed to be managing a team, “not invading fucking Poland.” Limp Bizkit’s call to his Cheeky Girl, meanwhile, wasn’t going to raise “any more than about £80.”

In the end the boys were spared utter humiliation by Ecclestone’s offer to double whatever they earned. Perhaps that Cheeky hand job worked after all.

Monday, March 10

Reviews: Delia, and The Fixer

Back once again for the renegade master. Delia's back and she's as sexy as ITV's new primetime drama, says Mark Lewis

Slap a food ASBO on her crazy ass, she done gone completely mental.

So crazy in fact that the trailer to her new programme (a programme itself so crazy and sexy it can’t even be bothered with a proper name) is set to the tune of Renegade Master.

On Planet Food Cookery Programmes, Delia (Monday, 8.30pm, BBC2), which seeks to take the pain out of cookery by using packaged ingredients, stands up to the billing with sultry assurance.

Delia was always a matronly sex symbol, her homely recipes winking with vague suggestion at our unrequited lust. These days she’s too wanton for proper recipes. She sluttily throws around ready made tubs of cheese sauce and frozen mashed potato - tickling our betrousered nutsacks like some Oedipal egg whisk.

“I want to hear you slurp,” she growls to the cameraman with a bowl of cold soup. She beckons us into her garden shed, dismissing the paraphernalia of 30 years worth of cooking as casually as she fingers the oily grills of cookery novices. “There are other things apart from food,” she winks.

“It’s quite naughty in a way,” says food writer, Nigel Slater, with Carry On innuendo… “there is a certain amount of permission from headmistress”

Ooh, that’s right you naughty girl, allow us to use that ready made tinned mince!

If only. In the real world, Delia is as renegade as a Community Support Officer. Far from horny Bravo watchers, Delia is aimed at women who are afraid of fish skins. Just because she has done away with a surname, she hasn’t suddenly become Madonna. And aside from her legendary bitchiness, (which saw her proclaim she couldn’t stand “poncey food” over a cutaway of Rick Stein’s latest cookery book), and that time she had that ‘letsbeavinyou’ drunken episode at Norwich City, she is as interesting and sexy as Trisha.

Over on ITV, Andrew Buchan was being equally sexy in The Fixer (9pm).

The programme, from the same stable as Spooks and Life on Mars, is supposed to be daftly entertaining. Perhaps it is. But, with a set-up as clunky as a public teenage kiss, suspending disbelief becomes faintly painful.

For the record: The Fixer’s sister was raped and abused by her aunt and uncle. He killed them. He went to prison. He was released on the condition that he killed someone else for some reason. But it’s alright he was a bad guy. Now the Fixer is being made to keep on killing bad guys by some menacing Scottish bloke. He would rather not do it; rather go to prison. “Promise me you won’t go away again, I need my brother back,” says his sister in an unrelated scene. Think of your sister man!

He is supposed to have the same dark morality as HBO’s serial killer, Dexter, with the same brooding charisma. Unfortunately, Buchan is less Byronic anti-hero than sulky teenage pouter.

At least he is more renegade than Delia.

Sunday, March 9

Reviews: Unreported World: The Drowning Country, and New Heroes of Comedy

The story of a sinking nation is guaranteed longevity as surely as the comedy brilliance of Sacha Baron Cohen, says Mark Lewis

Bangladesh is sinking. Unreported World: The Drowning Country (Friday, Channel 4, 7.35pm) could have asked why. Rather it asked who. The device is effective: Its grieving mothers, desperate fathers, and dying children make us question the profligacy of our own lives much more surely than a whole series of programmes on the evils of Chelsea tractors.

Ramita Navai (check out an interview with her on the televisionreview podcast) submerges herself in the story as surely as Bangladesh’s coastal regions are being submerged by the tides. She rejects the fuck-you indifference of the jaded foreign correspondent, lending her own compassion to the battered humanity of her subjects.

The result is a beautifully shot, chaotically moving tale of terrible loss, with a sense that the Unreported World team is experiencing some of the same chaos as its subjects. It is two weeks since the latest typhoon; the floods - which used to come every 20 years but now arrive every five - have claimed yet more Bangladeshi homes; and Navai (who reveals her concern in the televisionreview podcast) does not let us off the emotional hook.

She is guided through the filthy mud by friendly hands, breathlessly showing us where the homes of her guides used to be. She apologises to a man whose wife and son are buried on a mass grave. She reaches out to bereaved women and children with an encouraging, friendly hand on quivering arms and legs. She excels in encouraging the sad narrative from everyone she meets, but is equally adept at sharing the joy of a school child too young to know any better. Navai is allowed to be flawed, moved and human. The result is a film which stays with our guilty conscience far longer than those with more obviously accusatory fingers.

Sacha Baron Cohen has already achieved longevity. As the creator of Ali G and Borat, his place amongst comedy immortality is assured, and he is rightly the subject of Channel 4’s final New Heroes of Comedy (Friday, 9pm).

The great power of his characters was their ability to tease the pomposity out of the British political and upper classes who were only too quick to patronise the youth culture of Ali G and the foreignness of Borat. When he became one of the most recognised faces in Britain, he was able to tap into the race consciousness of the United States. The raucousness of the audience at his rendition of ‘Throw the Jew Down the Well’ (So My Country Can be free) was one of the most shockingly hilarious jokes of the naughties.

But ultimately it was the ignorance of his subjects which gave this brilliant, brave man the canvas upon which to daub his consummate comedy. There is no criticism here. As surely as Aristotle was the heir to Plato and Socrates, Baron Cohen is the heir to Chris Morris and Peter Cook. Their line of ancestry lies in their braveness and ability to deliver funny satire.

You will be hard pressed to find a braver or funnier gag than singing the ‘Kazakhstan national anthem’, with its line about all other nations being homosexuals, to the tune of the stars and stripes at a rodeo full of hicks. But he has been co-opted so thoroughly by popular culture that you fear he will never be funny again. We cannot blame Baron Cohen for appearing in Hollywood comedies, but we must hope that his familiarity does not quell forever his power to entertain.

Comedy prostitutes have been waiting for years for Chris Morris to disappear for long enough to come back and fuck us all over again. For the good of comedy, Sacha Baron Cohen needs to fuck off for a few years too.

Tuesday, March 4

Review: University Challenge Final, Stephen Hawking: Master of the Universe, Curb your Enthusiasm

Lucien mettommo has an intellectual night in

They say it is a fine line between genius and insanity. If the final of University Challenge (Thursday, BBC2 8pm) has taught us anything (and it hasn’t), it is that that line has been well and truly blurred. Christ College Oxford emerged victorious over Sheffield in a fairly tight contest. However, when you have a freak of intelligence, such as the captain of the Oxford team, the contest is never really in doubt. Out of the 1200 points they scored throughout the whole series, he must have scored at least a thousand of them. His ability is so remarkable that I could probably be on his team, free riding my way to the final, occasionally butting in with the wrong answer, losing the team five points along the way, safe in the knowledge that good old ’Kaufmann’ will always bail me out. Indeed, in this sense, it could be said that the moral victory was Sheffield’s. At least every member of their team occasionally chipped in with an attempt at a correct answer.

For the random punter directing his attention to the show, you could be forgiven for feeling slightly inadequate. There are only limited occasions when the answer to the particular question will be ‘Disraeli’. However, it is also important to realise that, from the look of all the finalists, they could all be potential serial killers. Indeed, if we look beyond the substance of the show itself, the sickening undertones of a world far darker than our own begin to emerge. This is particularly evident from Paxman’s shameless flirtations with the rather odd captain of the Sheffield team to the strange facial mannerisms of one particular member of the Oxford team. Such mannerisms indicating that the particular person in question was obviously in the process of taking a giant shit in his pants throughout the whole duration of the show. Such darkness reached its nadir when a startled Joan Bakewell was asked by Paxman to provide the winners with their prizes; four semi automatic shot guns and four long black coats… (this didn’t actually happen).

From one programme of intellectual rigour to another. Stephen Hawking: Master of the Universe (Channel 4 9pm) explored the genius of Stephen Hawking. The documentary was enlightening in the sense that I now know that negative particles get sucked into a black hole whilst positive particles remain outside of such (or was it the other way round). However, I am no intellectual giant, and thus much of the substance of the documentary went right over my head. However, what is remarkable is that Stephen Hawking, a person who has suffered with motor neurone disease throughout his whole life, has defied all medical expectations and is still alive at the age of 66. He is still working as a Professor and a Tutor to PHD students. It seems that his lifelong struggle to discover a unified Big Bang Theory has mirrored an incredibly brave struggle against such a debilitating illness. In his own words: “I was unlucky to get motor neurone disease, but I have been lucky in every other aspect of my life.”

Something was required to lighten the mood, and Curb your Enthusiasm (More 4 10:35pm) certainly provided this. Cheryl finally left Larry. She has been long suffering, but, throughout the whole history of the programme, I have never really liked her. Undoubtedly, this is probably of Larry David’s own construction considering his own real life marital difficulties. Again, Larry is right in everything he says or does, but, as per usual, misunderstandings conspire against him. The Show culminates with Larry struggling with a testicle injury, whilst his friends pick Cheryl over him. Also, Marty Funkhauser’s daughter in the show appears to be ‘Blossom’, which is also quite exciting.

Saturday, March 1

Reviews: Eurovision Your Decision, Gardener's World

Mark Lewis sees a weekend of improbables turn into two days of fultility

Some things are futile: like making a watchable gardening programme, remembering the names of runners-up on The X-Factor, or persuading Lithuania not to award maximum points to Estonia in the Eurovision Song Contest.

But that doesn’t stop people dreaming. In Eurovision Your Decision (Saturday 9pm, BBC1) the best of British warbled their way to the brink of Eurovision humiliation with an intoxicating blend of enthusiasm, naivete, *terrific song writing and Claudia Winkleman.

Winkleman winklemaned her way through the main event and results show like a cheap Davina McCall, gurning with bright orange conviction at Terry Wogan’s erratic asides. Wogan sat atop a silver throne throughout, seeping syphilitic madness like Eurovision royalty. And the Eurovision hopefuls sang inept vocals with karaoke abandon, having first introduced themselves on short films of hair-shedding embarrassment.

“I’m just a typical lad from Rotherham,” said one, thinking airily of the rest of the boys who work in the local power station all dreaming of emulating Celine Dione by performing camp ballads on Eurovision, to the backing track of ‘Nul Points.’ Another all-girl act thought their cosmopolitanism would be their trump. One was Portuguese; one was Swedish; one was British. They were all shit. A Romanian girl was next, all girlish excitement, batty charm, and pretty face. “I’m from near Transylvania,” she said before reappearing looking more like a transvestite.

That bloke who came second in the X-Factor that year… you know the one… erm… the black guy… ooh… good voice… not at all memorable… I’ll look his name up on Google and put in the key words at the bottom of this article… anyway, he came on having written his own song. It was called… erm… Whatever

Look, he won. Britain (or at least those people in Britain who vote with their telephones) had spoken. And that, I think, is all we need to know about our chances of succeeding in Eurovision this year.

The only question is whether it is more or less futile than trying to make a watchable programme about gardening.

Like an accidental conception after floppy-cock sex, the BBC has made a semi-effective attempt at sexing up Ski Sunday. But spinning some of the televisual viagra out to the barren terrain of the equally niche Gardener’s World (Friday, 8pm, BBC2) was always going to prove deflating.

No matter how many times Monty Don walks whimsically through how ever many forests; no matter how many elderly ladies would love to tie him up and force feed him tea; no matter how much gargantuan hyperbole he employs, gardening is still as sexy as cream crackers. “This is really radical gardening,” he seemed to implore.

Let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and allow Monty his absurd fancy. His colleague was building a nectar bar on the edge of the big garden to attract insects, much like you might build a Bacardi Breezer bar on the edge of big towns to attract 19 year old slags. So far, so radical. But her method was the truly radical part. Oh No! She was cutting down old branches and - get this – rather than clear it up, she was just leaving it right there on the floor.

“That’s pretty radical,” said Monty.

No it’s not. That’s just gardening. No matter how radical he says it is, gardening is about as radical as, as… similes fail me: Gardening is about as radical as gardening. There really isn’t very much to it. “Between all of us we’ll be covering every aspect of gardening throughout the year,” he added. Like getting paid £10 by your mother to mow the lawn and sticking yourself with nettles while you sulkily try to put weeds in torn up black bags?

And that’s it. What are they going to do for the rest of the series?

*may not be true

Wednesday, February 27

Review: Freaky Eaters and Wonderland: The 92 Year Old Danger Junkie

Some very different interpretations of freaks leaves Mark Lewis rather cold

Isn’t it a shame when words are dumbed down? I don’t want to be an old codger here, but ‘gay’ used to be a perfectly good way of describing a homosexual, now it’s been appropriated by school kids to mean something not terribly good. ‘Sick’ used to be a decent way of describing the act of intercourse with ones own sister. Now it could be perfectly well employed to describe the act of having sex with, say, a pair of sisters from a different family altogether.

But the worst of all is ‘freak.’ It used to be the moniker of thumb sized girls who dance for biscuits, the grossly deformed, and South Koreans. Now it can mean practically anything. By rights, Freaky Eaters (Wednesday, 9pm, BBC3) should have been about Elephant Man-style unfortunates who consume potatoes through their bottoms.

Instead it was about a man who didn’t like vegetables. Admittedly his girlfriend was a vegetarian, which adds some carrots to their particular casserole, but the man hardly belongs in a circus. He only ate meat, he didn’t know what cheese was, and he was terrified of a bowl of fruit. But the freakiest thing about him was that after six years in a relationship with his girlfriend, the pair still lived with her mother.

Over on BBC2 David was still living with his father Ron, but Wonderland: the 92 Year Old Danger Junkie (9.50pm) was far too gently moving a programme to name call. The Wonderland series might catalogue unusual people but the ubiquitously meaningless ‘freak’ is not a word which is going to end up in the final edit – even if Ron Cunningham, aka The Great Omani at least had the decency to run off to the circus.

That, however, was 70 years ago. Now, at 92, he was the oldest stunt man in the world.

The film began with a South Korean film crew following him around while he set fire to himself, walked around on broken bottles, and smashed glasses on his throat, and the peculiar South Korean journalist jumped around and squealed melodramatically like some Japanese, geriatric, punishment, wank fantasy.

But even if Ron, (who during the film suffered a stroke, and was diagnosed with prostate cancer and liver failure) was a local side show, the programme was never going to fall into that trap. It was really a sad story about an ageing man’s interdependent relationship with his ancient father.

As his father’s assistant, who had never enjoyed show business, David had suffered his father’s stunts for years. Now he was a full time carer whose endless asides to his dogs revealed an unhappy, lonely soul. The Great Omani, despite his ailments was able to go to his death with his cigars and glasses of whiskey, asking “isn’t it rather nice to have been someone?” Now in his 60s, let’s hope there is still time for his son to leave his mark.

Tuesday, February 26

Review: American Inventor and Supersize versus Superskinny

The latest reality programming reveals a dearth of imagination stinkier than an anal thermometer, says Mark lewis

Here’s an idea for a programme: A variety food show in which teenagers vote whose celebrity excrement Gillian McKeith will sing a business proposition to.

We could call it American Shit Idol, and have Alan Sugar head a panel of bastards telling deluded teenagers their turds aren’t shitty enough.

If Channel 4 doesn’t commission it, then Virgin 1 will.

In American Inventor (Tuesday, 9pm, Virgin 1) it almost has. Even if the concept isn’t inherently shit Simon Cowell’s involvement as executive producer is a guarantee.

Cowell, the critic, has already cracked America by sitting on one side of a panel and telling deluded teenagers how to sing. He was followed by Piers Morgan, the former newspaper editor, who has also cracked America by sitting on one side of a panel and telling deluded teenagers how to publish faked pictures in their own newspapers (possibly). Now Cowell is looking to crack America with Peter Jones, the wealthy entrepreneur and Dragon’s Den bastard, who sits on one side of a panel and tells crackpot inventors why they’re wasting their time.

But try as he might, Jones just isn’t camp enough. Yes, he’s English; yes he’s a bastard, but he’s no ugly sister. Cowell, meanwhile, camps his way through American Idol like a construction worker in ballet shoes. But in trying to reproduce the Evan Davis-inspired, cross-eyed brilliance of Dragons’ Den, Cowell has fallen right on his tutu.

No matter the million dollar prize for the best invention; no matter the sexed up graphics; screaming hopefuls in the crowd; and camera work designed to set the judges up as WWF-style villains, American Inventor is not nearly as compelling as Dragon’s Den. It’s not even as compelling as American Idol.

Its one saving grace is George Foreman, whose qualifications for being on the panel is 30 years of getting punched in the head and ten years of endorsing a portable cooker. He is like a drunk tourist in a sombrero shop. “I could use something like that,” he says tucking a straw donkey under his arm. “I could use something like that,” he says with a suitcase full of miniature Eiffel Towers. “I could use something like that” he says to a man who has invented an umbrella/radio.

The terrible thing is this: Foreman’s acquiescences are no more rash than the commissioner of light entertainment on Channel 4. Evidently “I could use something like that,” is exactly the sort of phrase he used when someone pitched the idea of an hour long, primetime dieting variety show which would pit a very fat person somehow against an unhealthily slim person, and run various features about dieting in between.

The name: Supersize versus Superskinny (Tuesday, 8pm, Channel 4).

The premise: fat lass and skinny lass eat each others’ diets for a week.

The twist: this week the fat lass ate healthy food and the skinny one ate the unhealthy takeaways. Cue much contrived revulsion from the fat girl at the prospect of eating chips and sausages, and much genuine chaviness from the skinny one at the prospect of eating anything not available in McDonalds.

Now split the narrative up with Gillian McKeith, taking a long enough break from poking through people’s turds and pretending to be a doctor, to introduce some tedious feature on snack food.

I couldn’t watch it to the end but I assume supersize and superskinny eventually both decided their diets were equally unhealthy and resolved to change their dietary habits in future. Hurrah! Then viewers text voted for the fat one to eat the skinny one with a fat-free side salad.

Monday, February 25

Television review: Masterchef, University Challenge and Transexuals in Iran

Paxman might be scary, but he's not nearly as terrifying as a pork mousse, says Mark Lewis

Won’t there just be a giant hole in BBC2’s evening schedules when Masterchef (Monday-Thursday) finally concludes this week? Do the hosts Greg and John just love talking to each other in rhetorical questions? And just how curious are the hosts’ various other verbal ticks?

When not rhetorical questions: Short sentences. No verbs.

One bald: Desserts good. One sartorially challenged: A bit Australian. Both orally identical.

Their bizarre delivery gives the pair a Phil-and-Grantish gruff masculinity. But because the few verbs they do employ are mostly to express terror (and then, terror of food) their hard-man image is rather compromised. They are like a couple of effete bouncers – just tough enough to prevent pissed-up 16 year olds from getting into nightclubs in white trainers. Just gay enough to find the prospect of an 18-year-old who plates up a dish of pork mousse “truly frightening.”

“The cream scared me,” said Greg or John.

“It’s the mousse which scares me,” said the other.

Both are equally terrified of the prodigious Emily who has fought her way through to this week-long final with bouts of culinary alchemy so appreciated by Greg and John, that you begin to wonder whether Jesus’s water-into-wine miracle wasn’t just some first century party trick.

Even so, should Emily fall at this fearsome final hurdle, she does have a fall back prize. The voiceover lady who gives us occasional relief from Greg and John’s peculiar vernacular tells us she has a place at Oxford University.

Whether that turns out to be a booby prize is a question worthy of an ask on University Challenge (Monday, 8pm BBC2). “Are you happy to hang out exclusively with brilliant nerds?”

Perhaps it is the steeples of that ancient city, perhaps it is the history seeping out of the walls, most likely it is the perpetuation of fop-like donishness at the application stage which prevents oiks from making it into those hallowed halls. But prevented they are.

The captain of the Magdelene College, Oxford team in this semi-final looked like a cross between Andy Warhol and a young Richard Whitely. The captain from Sheffield looked like the kind of four-eyed psycho who talks to you unbidden in kebab shop toilets.

But this psycho was sharper than a bully’s compass and Oxford were thoroughly thrashed.

A thrashing would be the least of the worries of some of the unfortunates in Transexuals in Iran (Monday, 9pm, BBC2). In Iran, we learn, homosexuality is illegal and sex changes are not. Homosexuals could end up getting stoned. Transexuals are ten times more likely to get their operations in Tehran than they would be in a European capital

They have an illness which has a cure. The illness is homosexuality.

Finally, something for Greg and John to get truly scared of.