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