Tuesday, January 12

Review: Delia Through the Decades

The witchcraft of delia has somehow kept her on our screens for forty years, says Mark Lewis

“If I’d have been born in Medieval times I would have been burned at the stake without any doubt,” says Delia. And who can question our black-toothed, first Millennial, fanatical ancestors? If anyone in Britain is a friend of the broomstick it’s Delia Smith.

So compelling a mage is she that, rather than just some tedious, old, frumpy, sexless aunt, her adversaries invest her with almost Godlike abilities. “When she showed us how to boil an egg, egg sales went up 10% or something,” says Rick Stein. “That’s power – real power.” It isn’t Rick. Real power is atomic weaponry or the ability to complete a Rubik’s cube. And in his heart of hearts even Rick knows it.

But her mysterious abilities blind us to her otherwise fantastical banality. In Delia Through the Decades (Monday, BBC2, 8.30pm) she has even persuaded TV to make a retromentary about her life as it weaves from the rations of the fifties through the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties, and ever forwards towards contemporary Britain. In five parts!

Fuck! We’re only a fifth of the way towards reliving that time she got smashed at a Norwich City game and made a massive fucking arse of herself. And still we watch. Because despite the interminably chirpy Stephen Fry voiceover, who gives us our meaningless 12-minute commentary on twenty years of post war Britain with that air of almost-ironic sincerity which has infected our TV screens as disasterously as AIDS. And, despite having to learn about her former career as a swimwear model, as if our evolutionary urge for lust is useful when its object doesn’t even have any sex organs. And despite even having to endure the gratuitous views of Delia’s home and her vast husband, there is just something about Delia. She’s disgusting but utterly compelling like biting your own toenails.

How else to explain that following the cookery interludes between the dull-as-Delia commentaries on her show, the only thing preventing you from cooking up your own lemon soufflé omelette flambé is the absence in your kitchen of lemon, eggs, a whisk or a saucepan?

Monday, January 4

Review: Generation XXL

C4's longitudinal study of fat kids is cynical and expoitative, says Mark Lewis

“When so many of our children are so big what does it really feel like to be growing up fat” asked the disembodied voice of some presumably chiselled porn Adonis on Generation XXL (Monday, 9pm, C4). “A long-term programme of research about obese children” was how it was billed like making it a longitudinal study somehow gives it intellectual purchase. As if it were a deconstruction of the third Reich as it related to the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche rather than an excuse to have a tut at the parents of some fat kids.

“Eeeh, look at her! No wonder he’s fat. God. Size of that one… Eating chips ‘n all.” The compulsion to patronise the poor, fat, northern slobs, buying clothing from Sports Direct, for their sedentary kids, is almost overwhelming. “I’m doing the cooking,” said one mum. “How is it my fault? It always falls back on me. It’s very hard on me.” The abject selfishness is almost jaw dropping enough to fit in all the oil soaked victuals she is serving up to her kids.

But the stupidity of the parents is even more likely to send you into spasms of po-faced paroxysms. “I were upset for her. I could see it were getting bad,” said one dad of the bullying his daughter was getting at school, as if parading her in front of three million self-righteous voyeurs on Channel 4 on a programme called Generation XXL was going to starve the bullies of material somehow.

As dopy as the parents, and as unpleasant as judging the parents is, it is not nearly as risible as the programme makers whose cynicism in subjecting the children to the public eye with their faux air of concern is more toxic than a Frey Bentos pie. Filming a ten year old girl gazing confusingly around at the saggy old ladies at a Weightwatchers weight loss group, then giving Weightwatchers the heads up so it could advertise during the commercial break is hardly the height of Reithian public service. And the concern of the narrator as he intones solemnly about the struggles of being a chubby child is about as authentic as one of its eponymous chocolate bars.

But really the innocent remarks of the nine and ten year old children reveal why this programme - however sympathetic its representation of them is - is so self-servingly cruel. “My worst worry was to get picked on and lose friends because of it,” said one poor girl. “At school it has really been getting worse.”

And when the sweetest, most likeable, boy in Britain says “I think of myself as Jake the fat boy who gets bullied,” perhaps it is time to switch it off.

Sunday, January 3

Review - Celebrity Big Brother

The end is nigh for the voyeur's programme which suffered the indignity of not being watched, says Mark Lewis

And so the beginning of the end of the show that uncovered a semi-retarded chubby bird who called a tedious Indian girl a “Popadom or Boubadoop” and died. What will we do without the water by the chat machine, the shameful midnight epiphanies watching stupid people sleep on E4, and the moments of national catharsis when Britain collectively gets together and says fuck you John McCririck? And fuck your Diet Coke.

The Celebrity Big Brother (Sunday, C4, 9pm) opening show lost no time in reminding us why it will be the first programme of the last series. Big Brother’s defining characteristic as it lapsed into insignificance in the latter half of the decade, was not how desperate the contestants were becoming, but how desperate the show was. It was, we were told all those years ago, an important sociological experiment. Maybe it had been. Certainly, it was one of the defining television programmes of the Naughties; a founding father of the voyeur’s decade. Now it is reduced to hooking up a kitchen to look like “an autopsy room” and poking fun at Christianity.

Davina McCall, gurning as usual in front of a legion of baying morons, shouted about how this CBB was going to be more evil and invasive, how there would be even more cameras and how [gurn, laugh hysterically] the contestants would be woken up by the sound of a shrieking clown. So desperate to shock has Big Brother become that she could have said there was going to be an in-bog, shit-cam to see which of the celebrities had the most unbleached arsehole, and nobody would have been surprised.

As it was, the ten no-marks, half-marks and question-marks were paraded in front of the baying morons and cheered or booed like circus freaks. “Welcome to the new BB house,” said Davina. “It’s been given a makeover to make sure the celebrities have one hell of a time.

“Hell is a real place,” replied first contestant, Stephen Baldwin, who we now know is the co-host of an evangelical Christianity radio show, and crazier than the crazy character he played in The Usual Suspects “I plan on being a representation of the light of truth.”. From then we were invited to laugh again and again at how funny religion is. "I wonder what our born again Baldwin is doing," she gurned at one point.

“But what,” she asked introducing the next contestant, “would an evangelical Christian make of a naked page 3 model?” I don’t know Davina. What would a cat make of a mouse? What would a Millwall fan make of a West Ham fan? What would Mullah Omar make of Arial Sharon if he’d just drawn a picture of the prophet Mohammed on the Turin Shroud?

In its desperation to poke fun and set up conflict, the Big Brother producers have forgotten the humanity which gave the show at times its Shakespearean pathos and joy. The unrequited love story between Anthony and Craig did not happen because the contestants were made to go without food for a few hours. Shilpa bullies, Danielle Lloyd and Jo, the hideous one out of S Club 7, did not get voted out because their fags were taken away. And Nick did not smuggle in a pencil because of sleep deprivation. These things did not happen because of the producers’ manipulation. They happened despite it.

Who’s in and the televisionreview odds.

Stephen Baldwin – creepy religious loony (cheered). 15-1

Nicola T – unspeakably awful tit-statue (booed) 20-1

Alex Reid –Jordan squeeze who tried to aggressively push the sliding doors into the house (booed) 200-1

Stephanie Beacham – desperate to be recognised former Dynasty bitch (cheered) 12-1

Lady Sovereign but most people call her Sov – rapping adolescent (confused silence) 6-1

Cisqo – thong obsessed formerly famous R&B songster (sang decade old hit and was cheered) 4-1

Dane Bowers – former Jordan boyfriend and Alex Reid New Year’s Eve punch bag (cheered) 7-1

Heidi Fleiss – former Hollywood madam and cosmetic surgery warning poster (booed) 12-1

Jonas Altberg AKA Basshunter - Swedish Tourette’s sufferer and terrible pun man (half-heartedly cheered as they tried to remember if they’d heard that song he did) 8-1

Katia Ivanova – 20-year old artist and model. Definitely not famous for having relationship with geriatric Ronnie Wood (booed) 250-1

Vinny Jones – Vinny Jones (cheered) 3-1