Time once more for Masterchef: The Professionals; the hardhitting juggernaut, with nary a festive cheer, especially unseasonal since it was filmed in summer. And we’ve got a new title sequence to admire, where our three presenters turn to the camera as if they’re being sent to their doom, especially Marcus Wareing, who looks up with wounded rabbit eyes, resembling a bearded Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale.
I was asked to share some thoughts on the latest MC instalment, which gets ever harder with this iteration. I mean, the line-up is almost always 95% young, white males, with varying amounts of Ts & Ps (tattoos and piercings). Slightly less Ts & Ps than I remember from a year or so back, although the recently dispatched John had those things, which are all hole and no earlobe. Like a pair of giant hula hoops either side of one’s bonce. I’ve just looked up what they’re called: ‘flesh tunnels.’ Well, that’s appetising, isn’t it…?
I didn’t mind John though, ear decoration aside. He was, whisper it, not actually cowed and grovelling, having the temerity to look somewhat irked in an earlier episode when receiving criticism. Through pursed lips, he declared in the VT that he thought what he’d produced was good and should have got better feedback. Dear God man, that’s like telling the Daleks to calm down a bit. He wasn’t aquiver with gratification at the prospect of The Mighty Shrek bestowing one of his favourable culinary bon mots…. ‘deep and meaty’, for example. It was definitely The Big E when Marcus declared smugly that John’s unravelling at the pop-up kitchen was ‘a classic example of a chef who’s not tried and tested’, with all the delight of someone finding an unexpected fiver on the pavement. (A special moment of scorn here for their notion of the 'pop-up'; which takes place in an industrial hangar in the arse end of nowhere, with a fleet of servers with the word STAFF emblazoned on their T-shirts in the way no pop-up ever does).
So, at the time of writing, there’s six left. They mostly merge into one amiable, slightly anxious youth. Except Portuguese Daniel, who carries all the worries of the world upon his skinny shoulders. The lad is haunted. If this were the film version (dear God no, I couldn’t take Shrek in close-up), he’d be played by Steve Buscemi. You have the feeling you’d like to edge the knives away from him, just in case, but then he breaks into a smile. However, the real characters have all gone, along with the diversity. Such as Charath, who was the undeserved recipient of Marcus’ little moue that his curry should have had rice to mop up the sauce, not bread. Eh?! What’s the bread doing there then, knitting a jumper?!
Well now, onto the judges and let us consider Shrek some more, aka Gregg Wallace, which lends itself beautifully to Egg. The fact that he’s still there is a mystery, as he has neither wit nor knowledge to bring to the table. A couple of times in this series he’s held a different opinion to Marcus and Monica (the actual experts), as to the quality of what he’s eating. I did catch an irritated glance from Marcus at one of Egg’s utterances, yet it doesn’t seem to be enough to shift him. The contestants occasionally murmur that they were sorry Gregg didn’t like something they'd spent hours sweating blood over. Why are they not inwardly screaming in horror at having to pay heed to the ex-greengrocer with a failed restaurant…? Sorry, TWO failed restaurants. But the one thing he used to do right, THE ONE THING, Greggy-boy, was LOOK like an egg. Now he’s slimmed down so much he’s almost thinner than Monica. As far as I know Wife Number Four is working out ok, putting paid to the notion that people in relationships get tubbier (cf his erstwhile presenter Torode). It’s a pickle. Maybe even a pickled egg.
The most entertaining contestant by far was Nic, way back in the early rounds. My friend pondered if he’d imbibed too much coke in the dressing room (and not the stuff you drink), as the man DID NOT STOP TALKING. Certainly, the patter meant he couldn’t cook effectively, but the fact that he out-geezered Shrek by a million apples and pears is worth anyone’s licence fee. The heats had a couple of other amusing moments. In one challenge they were presented with a tin opener and told to knock something up. They looked as flummoxed as if they’d been given a monkey wrench and a couple of feather dusters and told to create a meringue with them. I know they’re all about their fine dining and/or foraging, but surely one of them has made something with a tin of tomatoes before? Another time they were exhorted to make something ‘with colour’. That’s definitely the result of someone on the production team on the happy sauce. I’m yet to think of something I’ve eaten that has entirely NO colour to it, but I’ll be sure to rush to tell the world when I do.
Do you remember, dear readers, the reboot of this in 2005? I sure as heckfire do. To be honest, I don’t recall much, except that the splendid Thomasina Miers won it and the fact they’d tacked ‘Goes Large’ to the title, in a misguided bid for the yoof vote, I’d imagine.
Now, it’s very different. My son has put an embargo on me referring to now as ‘these strange times’: the phrase that pops up in every conversation, email, Zoom meet (how we’ve changed!); that permeates wistful glances through plastic shields in shops and to fellow comrades on the street, as if we’re in a never ending Orwellian masked ball, albeit a Poundland version.
Where was I? Oh yes, Masterchef. My point is, it’s shrunk quite considerably. Hasn’t trended on Twitter yet, but maybe that’ll happen when more knives come out. Where we once had three past champs (oft including a mere finalist) to impress with fondants, jus and the like, now it’s only two and they’re all bona fide winners.
The fleet of critics, sabre teeth rattling, are no more, just The Grace Dent coming to sample their puds. I add ‘The’ in because she has a shade of the diva about her, although nowhere near the horrifying level of The GC. And you know there ain’t gonna be any restaurant kitchens upcoming - not a bad thing in my eyes, it increasingly looked like a PR exercise for the establishment, where head chefs tried to outdo Ramsay with their shouting.
Anywhere, there I go, rushing ahead to the end in my undisciplined ‘not strange times’ disorderly fashion. Torode (Toady) and Wallace (Shrek) are still there, although surely you’d think there’d be a limit to the amount of buttery biscuit bases you could get excited by. There used to be an element of Jack Sprat and his wife in their appearances, now….let’s just say some people have been sampling more in lockdown than others. Not Shrek though. He’s still a boiled egg, but a streamlined one, with natty plum waistcoat to prove it and a predilection for saying ‘HowEVer’ every five seconds, as if he’s a doc delivering a bad diagnosis, rather than commenting on some mash.
So, a parade of panna cottas later and early promise faded for Mike and Ross. Why is there an insistence on the wobble factor for this unappealing looking blancmange-y type thing (which I think they both delivered, but my soggy-bottomed brain can’t really recall)? My chum Saul, who joins me in a text-a-thon throughout (I’ve nicked some of his lines), and is the reason why I can remember anything about it all, claims they must wobble ‘because Charles Campion RIP said so’. Surely all food wobbles as it goes down your gullet…?
Tom has already set out his stall as Winner. I suspect he’s been taking online lessons and reading every recipe under the sun this last year. Not cheating as such, just Boy Scout preparedness, but just not cricket, old son.
Episode Two brought a colourful bunch, who you could definitely see fronting a rebooted Rainbow or maybe even occupying the Teletubbies skins. Gary’s trousers were just too much, sapping all rational thought from his cranium.
So, onto the Friday eliminator. In The GD sails, always positioning herself as if there were a bejillion paps present, rather than Toady, Shrek and four nervous hopefuls. Puddings today, and it was Battle Royale with the Sticky Toffee. Steph’s perfectly decent one failed only cos there was better in the room, nowt wrong with it at all. Tom’s was allegedly brilliant, despite looking like part of Sydney Opera House had landed on it in tuile form. And then, both Laura and Madeeha got through. We could see that coming, the element of surprise has long since gone for this puppy, but they were charmingly astonished. They wanted to hug, but instead had to awkwardly grin at each other, as if at their first teenage party. Strange times for them, clearly.
I promised my sons I wouldn’t watch Love Island again. I got embroiled in one season (the ‘Jack and Dani’ one, who acquired the moniker ‘Jani’, I believe). I was ‘addicted’, my offspring claimed derisively, even though I joined midway through. With nightly instalments, there were so many hours to fill you could barely tell what was recap and what was new. Answer: Nothing new. Just sunkissed/burned flesh and a collection of unwelcome words to the lexicon.
Anyway, that was then, this is now. Bring on The Love Trap. Not as wholesome as the Von Trapps. But perhaps not ‘the most immoral show on TV’, which I heard it described as somewhere. Seriously?! Have these people not trawled through the higher numbers of the telly options? They might get a surprise.
The Love Trap is only on once a week, which is a big bonus. Large house, a ‘mansion’ no less, filled with girls on the hunt to find love and one frightened looking chap. So, who are the traps in the love shack? Well, that’s what our handsome hunk has to determine. The traps are already in relationships and only there to get £20k, which is a tidy amount, but not enough to put your future marital harmony on the line for, surely. If he gets it right, presumably they waltz off into the sunset together at the end of the show. What happens if he’s wrong…? A girl might want to have and eat said cake, ditching old boyfriend in the blink of an eye and getting cash and marry, so to speak.
David is the muscled hunk in question. He’s a personal trainer, so does have a ‘lorra lorra’ muscles, as the late Cilla might have opined. He seems nice enough, if slightly befuddled by the attention. He was previously on ‘Too Hot to Handle’, but that liaison went wrong. Rather than sticking to Tinder like the rest of us, here he is again, suffering in a luxury mansion with damsels pouring themselves all over him, in and out of hot tubs, supping on bubbly. I’ve changed my mind. This is immoral. He’s had his turn, goddamit.
His boudoir, from whence he verily does his push-ups, has a four-poster bed. The women are all bundled together into one smallish room, sharing beds. You’re telling me the mansion doesn’t have more rooms? Of COURSE it does. We know the bed-sharing is meant to titillate.
The room none of them want to visit is the sinister lower chamber, with faux Grecian décor. Because what do love traps deserve…? A trap door, of course. The ejected female exits foot-first into an unseen cellar, only to pop up on a video shortly after to declare if they’re a ‘match or a trap’ in tones as awkward as Kirstie Allsopp declaring ‘Love it or List it’. This is, in effect, what David has just done: Didn’t want this one, let’s pop it on Ebay.
We have no proof the women survive the drop; that video could have been filmed beforehand. After Squid Game, we all see death and destruction round every corner. It would be most excellent if their departure was accompanied by bloodcurdling screams and the sound of a thousand piranhas munching. Maybe if it was on Channel 5…
Poor David, with all this lusciousness to choose from, needed assistance from old chum Alessandra. She entered as mole, putting out feelers to elicit who had genuine feelings as the rivals trowelled on their warpaint in the dressing room. Some of those make-up kits are bigger than the ladies themselves.
Previously new arrival Suzel declared almost immediately that Alessandra was a plant, which seems a bit rich as she’d only been there a day herself and shortly after entering had eaten the chocolate-dipped strawberry David had offered as if it was the last food on Earth. She does bear a passing resemblance to a young Ivanka Trump though, which tells you all you need to know. The suspicion was mutual, as Suzel found herself once more in the trap door room. Disappointingly, it was Saran who was surprisingly ejected. A great shame, as she had a nice throaty laugh and looked like you could go out for a quick pint together, without her needing to spend an hour putting on eyelashes that are longer than the average colon. Perhaps the power is in the lashes, like Samson...
Often, it’s the smallest things that introduce a moment of disquiet. As lockdown started, news came that The Archers would be reducing the number of broadcasts per week to eke out its recordings. In fact, I discovered that it was quite nice to escape the real world and be reminded each time that Ambridge was coronavirus free. Then we had the archive episodes. Having heard what came after, I’m all for saying can we go back to these please? After all, there must be 300,000; 34; 974,000 hours of material, to borrow from our beloved Home Secretary. Personally, I would very much like to hear Helen’s trial again, with the special jury deliberation episode.
I’d been all eager to hear the first instalment and awaited 7.00pm in my kitchen in childlike-excitement. Like all irritants, once something’s gone you miss it at some level, and the Twitter tweetalong has been a muted, sombre place the last few months. Other writers (Miranda Sawyer, for example), have already explained beautifully how disappointing this first episode was. David, patriarchal overlord, wanging on tediously about lasagne to Bess (that’s a cow, not a long-suffering family member), intercut with his equally tedious, grumbling spawn.
So disheartened it made me, that my listening has waned and I’ve only heard brief snippets over the last three weeks. There were some amusing bits – Susan, sloshed on duty-free rum on her radio show and Tracy, attempting to mobilise the cricket team online. These worked better, partly because these women are glorious creations, but also because they were suited to the form. A radio show often has just one person talking into empty space, but inner monologues, being a peculiarly theatrical device, have to reveal something new about a character that you couldn’t have predicted and there’s been precious little of that: same old, same old, it seemed to be.
In this last week we had Tom’s nit-picking, over-eager, Natasha-pleasing; Tony and Johnny with their matching shaved heads; Helen, twittering about Lee and analysing her radio appearance ad infinitum and everything else besides – the woman navel gazes so much I’m surprised she’s got any innards left.
The only worthwhile moment came, surprisingly, in the form of Natasha (or ‘Gnasher’ as us twitter-wags term her). She fell to musing about her dad’s manic depressive behaviour and reminiscing about her 8th birthday when he attempted to wow with magic tricks. ‘All I’ve ever wanted to do was make you proud,’ she said, giving us an insight into her pushy demeanour. Here was the good stuff. There must be many others in the characters’ lives who never appear, why don’t we hear thoughts about them? I do appreciate the difficulties of recording in lockdown; the limited availability of cast members, the lack of technical equipment, but what is the point of a phone conversation where you can’t hear the other character?! Surely, two actors can record their halves and it be edited together after, for if the sound levels are mismatched, isn’t that normally how phone calls are?
Anyway, blessed relief came in the form of another 15 minute offering on TV, Staged. I’m a sucker for meta-type entertainment anyway, where actors play versions of themselves and you’re not quite sure how much is fabricated, so I was pretty much sold on this already and it blissfully didn’t disappoint.
David Tennant and Michael Sheen, scruffy and bearded, ranged about their homes, on Zoom calls, alternately animated and bored. Paranoia had crept in for Sheen, visualising a Hitchcockian takeover from the birds outside, meanwhile Tennant was starting to imagine words spelt backwards in his head (again).
They were ostensibly being goaded into rehearsing ‘Six Characters In Search of an Author’ online by their hapless director, co-creator Simon Evans, so that they would be ready to spring into action should a theatre re-open, but this was an inconsequential backdrop to their bitching. Mostly about who should be billed first (picture a less spiky version of The Trip) and showing each other their artworks created in lockdown. Sheen had, no doubt, introduced the topic in order to mock humbly display his fine oil painting of a nearby beach, after Tennant had shown his flimsy sketch of a pineapple.
‘It just needs some shading,’ smirked Sheen.
The swearing gets better than that, by the way (another thing that endeared me to it). The Archers doesn’t have that luxury unfortunately.
Their wives, also actors, were present from time to time. ‘What are you doing?’ asks Tennant, as he comes across Georgia absorbed in her iPad while forking cake into gob, their children a noise in the distance.
‘Yoga,’ she says, barely looking up from the screen.
This captured beautifully the mood of these times, where one can be captivated by a brilliant idea only to be railroaded by inertia a moment later. Low level anxiety is very draining.
My only slight moment of disquiet is that it is slightly wearing to see how easily successful, famous men manage to attract beautiful women significantly younger than them, about which there is nary a peep, (but completely a different story when the other way round), but hey, this is their real life, so well done lads.
Both Georgia and Sheen’s wife Anna, have a quietly indulgent air with their men-children and are portrayed as more competent and productive, as indeed is Simon’s sister, who owns what looks like a countryside show home that he is squatting in.
It was therefore nice to see a cameo from an irascible Nina Sosanya, berating the hapless Simon for giving an agent her phone number, barking at an unseen assistant to ‘get me a new phone’, proving that women can also behave self-indulgently.
All in all, this was a delight, showing how lockdown entertainment should be done and I look forward to seeing how many more variants on their names they can come up with for the billing.
Anything that has been filmed before This Time looks odd now, as sequestered in our homes, we resemble alien life forms peering down. We observe the contestants, hugging, high-five-ing, slapping each other on the backs: Where’s your social distancing?! Thank God they make their own pasta, as there’s no ready-made stuff to be found in the whole of Christendom at the moment and the sight of it might tip someone over the edge.
So, it’s Knockout Week. Pedantic of me to say, I know, but isn’t every episode? Each week of the heats started with twelve and finished with three - I don’t think those other nine were in a holding pen waiting to spring back into action. Anyway, there’s no boxing gloves here, just an occasional blue plaster on sixteen eager beavers chomping at the bit to progress.
After the giddy excitement of Apron-geddon, I’ve been a bit underwhelmed by this week, I can’t deny, but maybe Lockdown is making me grouchy. For starters they split them into two groups of eight and whittled down from there. Surely those last sixteen needed to see the whites of each other’s eyes, not least the whites of their aprons. Those aprons, my preciousssss!
First up, they had to make their showstopper dish. Again. Wouldn’t it be better to have given them something more challenging, something unexpected? If you haven’t perfected this one dish, heaven help you. Still there seemed to plenty to criticise, nonetheless. Jane’s adorable Woodland Wonder of toadstool meringues on pistachio moss. ‘It could be a fun looking plate,’ sniffed Toady beforehand, ‘I hope it doesn’t look like a novelty toy.’ No, Toads, cos that would be too much fun. In the event, it was too dry.
Shaheen went rogue with his mashed potatoes Beef Wellington, where pancake merged into potato in an unholy mess. I don’t know why contestants haven’t learned this yet. Don’t call your dish by its official name, otherwise that is what they will expect! Call it Boeuf Pomme de Terre Surprise or something. So they went, along with energetic James and his tonka bean sauce that didn’t taste of tonka bean, even though Toady had grumbled beforehand that it might and how could that possibly work in a savoury dish .
On the second night, I was mesmerised by the fact that Natasha’s colours on the plate matched her rainbow of eyeshadow. Such matching should be noted, you would have thought, but it wasn’t mentioned. Then off to the Pro Stint they went and we heard at least three times that we were in 2015 champion Simon Wood’s restaurant, thus affording us a lot of footage of him from five years back.
While Beverley in the kitchen hunched over her pasta, looking for all the world like Julie ‘Two Soups’ Walters, Toady, in his professional masseur black tunic, seemed staggered by their locale. ‘Incredible, isn’t it? We’re in former champion Simon’s restaurant and here’s five contestants who aspire to do exactly the same thing.’ Right. They’re not aspiring astronauts, man. Get a grip.
Shrek meanwhile, had come dressed as his granddad in tie and cardy combo, marvelling at how the ‘amachurs’ had followed a recipe where someone had stood over them, literally every step of the way.
So, to the last episode and the remaining ten had to produce a plate of nine canapés in order to progress - ‘the sort of thing you’d pass around at a party.’ Thanks Shrek. Next week he’ll be explaining the wheel to the hard of thinking. This also seemed an odd challenge. To produce a perfect example of something, then do eight more of it, seems to diminish it somehow.
The fellas, who’d been a bit depleted in the first two rounds, came storming back, with all four of them sailing through. Sandy was the only female exempt from criticism, as they muttered over the saltiness of Charlotte’s artichoke (not a euphemism), the blandness of Claire’s balls (again, not a euphemism) and the hardness of Beverley’s rice (again… ok you got it).
In the end, it was another unholy mess of a tiramisu type affair that saw Marla, a confident American in the way that the Brits often aren’t, take the walk of shame. Actually, I don’t think it was really the mess of it that was the problem, especially as a. it looked great and b. she’d given them an espresso martini shot alongside. It was the fact that she said it could be eaten in a couple of bites. Shrek reached out eagerly, cavernous mouth agape and managed only a third on his first attempt. That won’t do at all, Marla. You can’t pull a ‘Not even a black hole can eat three Shredded Wheat’ stunt here….
These are lean mean times in 2020, chaps. What with us going to hell in a handcart, the collective teeth-sucking at the continued existence of the BBC licence fee means some tough conversations have almost certainly taken place offscreen. ‘We need to show we’re not Oxbridge educated layabouts. We need to show we understand the value of money. We, the BBC, what hath spawned the mighty Shrek (Gregg Wallace); WE must lead the way. And verily we shall do this by making the Masterchef contestants bring their own food in.’
Where once the hopefuls glided across the approach to urban edgy Masterchef headquarters in a slow-motion Reservoir Dogs style, now they’re humping cool bags over their shoulders like demented hausfraus. From which they emptied the contents of their kitchens, literally in the case of Dev, whose bench was strewn with half empty cartons of this and that. Obviously the Beeb could have cut massive corners by painting a smiley face on a giant boiled egg, but no, here was Shrek - gurnometer turned up to the max and Toady (John Torode), perhaps too much of the good life. There used to be a vast discrepancy in their sizes. Now, not so much.
The new regime didn’t stop there. Are they wearing their nice white aprons? No they are not, in these lean, mean times, no they are NOT. There’s four aprons and six of them. Even Shrek can do the math. ‘Two of you will be going home,’ he announced, boiled egg aquivering so that his yolk nearly runneth over. The aprons sit, demurely folded, on a stool out of reach. You’ve got to earn me baby, they silently emit.
First batch of contestants also included Teddy, who is most definitely actor James Norton moonlighting. I’m going to call him James in fact, no space for cuddly teddies here in this dystopian nightmare, and smiley Glaswegian Karen. ‘Was it important to bring something from home’, Shrek patronised. Yes it was, she had some haggis. Yorkshire lass Becky DIDN’T appear to have brought something from home. Oh yes, a squeaky cheese. Like halloumi but better. She’s a cryer though. In the first challenge! No space for cryers here, love. Off you go.
Karen and Dev made the first cut and she clutched her newly won apron as if it were her firstborn: ‘No-ones taking this away from me.’ I wouldn’t be too sure, love. They’re not embroidered yet. In the next cook off they had to create a splendour from sea bream, fennel and tomatoes. Amanda told Shrek she didn’t like fennel. Too bliddy right lass. I’ve never been fond of the toothpaste taste meself. It had been all of two minutes since his last gurn and predictably enough, the mouth saucered open. James and ‘Three-sauce Pete’ got through and also worshipped at the Altar of Apron. It’s as if they were made of gold. I damn well hope previous years’ contestants realise how fricking LUCKY they were to get handed one, willy-nilly, on the way in.
Next up sees the four of them, their aprons now adorned with their names, having to cook for last year’s finalists. James announced his dishes as being, ‘simple but good-looking. Like him. No, don’t put that in’. Uhuh – it’s been noted, sunshine. They were indeed simple - these are dishes from ten years back. Perhaps he should focus less on the acting and the being good-looking and make recipes with 435 ingredients in like Dev.
‘This is Masterchef life and death for Karen,’ piped up Shrek at one point (a whisker away from calling in the Apron-Removal Squad). The excitement didn’t stop there. Adorable Delia the cop and splendid teacher/sports star Jilly came back to judge their food, along with 2019 winner Irini, who looked twenty years younger and was dressed for a cocktail party. Were THEY wearing Masterchef aprons? They were NOT! They competed in pre-Brexit days when aprons rained out of the sky like rain does.
But there’s yet another twist. The three of them got to choose their favourite. What?! Lessening the stranglehold of Toady and Shrek! Clearly the good looks had worked for James - making dishes that everyone had seen before paid off as he went through. As did Dev and Pete, at the same time, so James didn’t really have that much advantage. He’ll swagger though, you mark my words. Sad that no woman made it through having faced an all-female finalists’ panel, but there you go. Everyone’s got to man up here.
We’d like to think Karen got to keep her apron but who knows? Perhaps it was wrestled off her as she exited the premises and her embossed name whittled off with a partridge feather by an Oxbridge graduate determined to show his worth. In later episodes look carefully at those aprons to see if the segment of cloth bears the residue of disappointment.
Yep, the gladiatorial instalment is back. Much the same as ever. Marcus - still wearing his ‘nice guy’ mask, Monica – a little bit feistier and more relaxed than in previous series, Gregg…words fail. When teamed with Torode, I think of them as Toady and Shrek. On his own that doesn’t suit, so I’ll just call him Boiled (Gr)egg, Boiled for short.
Boiled is clearly there because they have an hour long slot to fill and think we all need to see him shovelling forkfuls into his gob, being faux chummy with the contestants, gurning and repeating what Head Girl and Boy have said, with a puzzled frown on his face. I don’t need it, frankly. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if each episode was only 45 minutes because he had been shelled, sorry shelved and the proper judges could get on with it without resorting to picture cards?
Astonishingly, we seem to have reached the final twelve and they’re not all young, white men – who would have thought? So, what’s new this time? Not a whole lot, although I did notice they made less of the ‘bottom four’ having to cook-off and focused on saying the top eight had got through. A subtle distinction, but less damning.
Oh but there is SOMETHING different. They announced this proudly last night, as if baby had just taken its first steps. What is this brave new world of cuisinedom we have entered? Preparing soufflés while juggling knives? Performing the macarena while reducing their jus? Peeling Boiled while he’s still alive….? Sorry, got carried away there.
They have, drumroll, a pop-up restaurant. They’d never done that before! Right, so the past challenges where they have to cook in tents or on the streets with makeshift ovens, what are those then? No, those are worlds apart. Unlike a Pizza Express and Tramp nightclub, which are easily confused.
Who are the clientele sampling this food? Joe Public? No, 25 specially invited ‘guests’, who are, by and large, a bunch of irritating hipsters who run their own pop-ups and cannot believe they’ve got to advertise these on prime time telly. Not sounding much like a pop-up, is it? But lo, the contestants have been released from their chef whites to wear white t-shirts and they are serving food on rustic plates. Oh, that’s alright then.
The other thing this set-up had was waiters. Give. Me. Strength. I’m surprised there wasn’t a maître’d pottering about asking if they’d like to sample anything else from the wine list. Have any of the production team actually been to a street food pop-up?
Well, never mind about that, what about the nosh, which was supposedly street food? Looked pretty much like the usual stuff they produce. Except for Arbinder, who went rogue making quinoa with pomegranate sorbet. This is not good news for Marcus, who is apoplectic if cheese comes anywhere near fish and in his halcyon days used to get more aerated than the foam anyone foolish enough to attempt dished up.
The only thing really different was a vote, exempting the winner from having to cook in the next round. Admittedly, from the invited guests, but at least Boiled wasn’t there, shoving his oar in. I sense we’re a whisker away from a public phone-in in future series.
‘Yes, I’d like to vote for Boiled to go please….’ Sorry son, back to your saucepan.
They claimed every dish had votes. What fool is going to vote for quinoa and pomegranate sorbet?! Anyway, it’s not like a rigged referendum (ahem) so we’ll take that on trust. Of course, Exose had the most votes. All the hipsters were in ecstasy eating his banoffee style triumph. However, we had to go through the charade of getting him back in the kitchen in shiny whites to say he was going straight to the semi-final. And what about the food on his bench? Dear God, the waste! Exose missed out on the bubbly at the end though, so it wasn’t all glory.
In the cook-off, Andrew, a raisin bun version of Richard Gere, was the next best. Tom unfortunately, made ‘a dog’s dinner’ – the Marcus smiley mask slipped a bit there as he delivered this damning verdict. To be honest, I think Tom will be far happier in his veg patch. He didn’t have the cut and thrust necessary.
Exose is clearly a contender for the title, which would be lovely. He’s talented and chilled with a beauteous smile. However, in his first outing in the skills test, he did abysmally. Granted, I’d be appalling; I got antsy the other day with my colleague watching me mess up a simple spreadsheet she’d explained. Never mind being on national telly with two judges and Boiled making dramatic faces in your eyeline. Why, oh why, does the skills test have to be classic French though? Can’t remember what Exose had to make, but it was something he’d never heard of. But, that’s the great hallmark of cooking apparently. Here’s a thought: Indian food, for example, has been around for ooh, just a tad longer, why can’t they make a samosa or a particular spice mix? Curried (Gr)egg, perhaps…?
Many, many (far too many) column inches have already been dedicated to self-styled The GC: aka Gemma Collins, formerly of TOWIE, now of 'any bloody programme that seems to be on the telly.' She must almost have the full house of 'Celebrity...' type shows, having done Masterchef, which I wrote about here www.rantsreviewsreflect.co.uk/reviews/celebrity-masterchef-the-wall
Dancing on Ice, The Crystal Maze and probably a whole lot more I've thankfully avoided.
Now Diva Forever is (dis)gracing our screens, where we follow GC round her clothes shop, her various engagements, and most awkwardly, with her fellow Weeble, boyfriend Arg. I think she and Arg are no longer an item. Lucky I hadn't bought a hat.
There is a small (quite small) part of me that feels a grudging admiration for a woman who doesn't forever downplay her abilities and kowtow to men. Sadly, the abilities are questionable and the men fairly hapless, so it's a back-handed compliment. Mostly what comes across is eye-watering arrogance and an unshakeable belief in her uniqueness. Hell, we're all unique, love. Or are there indeed two Gemmas? My son watched a bit of it with me and asked 'who's that?' 'That' was Gemma without her make-up on.
The only genuinely interesting moment in Episode 1 was when she revealed in a live interview that she'd voted to leave the EU, only to confess afterwards this was a lie. Annoyingly, we're not told if she voted the other way, or most likely, didn't bother voting at all. For most of the hour (it was a LONG hour), I felt like a inverse Chinese nodding cat, I kept shaking my head at the audacity of it all.
And the titles sequence! Which she was several hours late to the filming of, then stomped about crossly as if it was someone else's fault. The resulting sequence shows our GC in sparkly outfits preening in front of a star-filled background, while a voice croons in the background about how fabulous she is. Shake, shake, shake...
I've come to this all topsy-turvy, having watched the second series, then gone back to see the first and now rewatching the second again. To be honest, this doesn't detract hugely from an understanding or appreciation of the programme. It gives more information on the itinerant naked lady torso statue and the story behind the demise of Boo, (but no reason as to why Fleabag looks to the audience to be complicit, or where the nickname originated) but everything else can be gleaned from the second series. The soundtrack is also spectacular, with dramatic classical music stings. And there is the same wicked humour and devil-may-care attitiude to character portrayal as in Killing Eve. I bet Phoebe Waller-Bridge is an excellent drinking companion.
So cleverly written is it, that you don't really notice until someone points it out; how few of the characters are named. (Another poke in the eye to traditional drama that feels that naming characters is imperative). 'Hot Priest' Andrew Scott is indeed delightful and manages to remain hot, even after you have read the comment that he looks like both Ant AND Dec. Some took umbrage to audiences finding him hot because he is emotionally manipulative and toxic, but as others riposted, so is Fleabag herself.
In fact, the hottest scene IMO is the bar scene between our Pheebs and Kristin Scott Thomas. The latter's speech about how women carry pain, whereas men invent it, should be made mandatory reading. Stick it on the Tube please. Watching Fleabag being drawn, moth-like, to older, authority figures of both genders made me realise how entrenched her parent issues must be. It's a shame we never got to see the mother in a flashback. Dad is bumbling and easily swayed by The Godmother, yet clearly the problems inherent in both his daughters' attitudes to relationships weren't caused by him alone.
I wasn't disappointed that Fleabag and Priest didn't end up together (And I'm the soppiest romantic EVER). It wouldn't have been right for either of them. Anyway, with no more series planned, we can invent our own ending. Maybe they can both work on their 'issues', he can ditch the priesthood for which he is clearly not suited and they'll get together in a few years time. Possibly in Finland with Claire and Klare.
Like several thousand others, I watched the Bros documentary over Christmas. Its popularity clearly took the schedulers by surprise, who’d parked it in a 10.00pm BBC4 slot with repeat in the early hours of New Years Day. I nearly missed it because my Radio Times only awarded it a paltry three stars. I thought it was an outstanding piece of film-making - it wouldn’t surprise me if it popped up again in the near future with a primetime spot on Beeb 1.
Leaving aside any of the content, it was a supremely well put together piece. It cunningly opened with a teaser of one of their backstage rows during their oft fraught rehearsal period last year, knowing that no-one would be shifting until they saw this played out in full. There were beautifully lit, revealing speeches to camera by our eponymous brothers, intercut with footage from their heyday in the 80s, their lives now in the US (Matt in Vegas, Luke in California) and their reunion gig at the O2 in August 2017. There was a slightly eerie refrain of Wogan asking ‘What will you do when the screaming stops?’ from an interview he’d conducted with them at the height of their success.
One of the brothers’ complaints, and it is a justified one I think, is what a slating they were given by the press ‘back in the day.’ I can’t deny that I was NEVER a fan of their oeuvre; insubstantial teeny pop it certainly was, but no worse than most of Stock Aitken & Waterman’s output that also clogged up the charts at the time. I don’t suppose it helped that their first big hit was ‘When Will I Be Famous?’, grandstanding par excellence. However, in the days of X Factor/TOWIE/Love Island et al, this wannabe-star posturing looks positively tame.
From most of the comments I read from others in response to the documentary, it seems that sneering is still the order of the day. It is true they come across as self-important, overly serious and startlingly un self-aware at times. There’s a definite Spinal Tap-ness going on with their often unintentionally hilarious musings. Matt (the more prolific of the two at these) proudly showing us the painting he had done of his dog with a pint is right up there with Nigel Tufnell’s wide-eyed wonder at his guitars and you have to pinch yourself as a reminder that this isn’t fiction.
There’s a couple of quotes that I did like though, such as ‘Everyone has to be on the same page so that you can turn the page’. And there’s some genuinely touching and tear-inducing moments – mostly footage and subsequent memories of their late mother. They also treat their fellow musicians and fans, both now and then, with genuine respect and affection and I found myself warming to them and hoping that the comeback concert would be a success, which it seemed to be. Whatever your view of their music, Luke can play drums and Matt can sing, so good luck to ‘em.
The relationship between them is fascinating. Luke, we discover, always felt the ugly relation; the bridesmaid, never the bride; parked behind his kit while Matt was in the thick of the crowd, the more ‘successful’ one. And yet it was Luke who exerted the most power in their relationship, being the one to walk away from the band while they were still riding high. He has been married for over twenty years; his wife Shirley is present but not overbearing during the concert filming, and significantly, not interviewed. It is their story, not anyone else’s. It is likely that Shirley has been the steadying influence on Luke, who comes across as more grounded than Matt. For me the most poignant moment comes as they walk the long walk from backstage to start their gig. ‘You’re the love of my life’, says Matt to Luke. ‘I love you too’, says Luke, somewhat distractedly, no doubt thinking of the night ahead. ‘No, you’re the love of my life,’ reiterates his brother. This is not answered.
You have to remember they were only eighteen when they were catapulted into stardom, with crowd hysteria worldwide allegedly not seen on that scale since The Beatles. It does something to your psyche, I’m sure. I’ll forgive Matt some of his ludicrous pronouncements for that.