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Friday, 22 December 2006

Come Dine With Me at Christmas, Channel 4

Did we like it?
In wars between barbarian tribes in Europe about 2,000 years ago you often wonder why they never had an epiphany and realised the absolute futility of their ravenous appetite for pillaging and violence, and you sometimes wonder if commissioning editors’ lust for pointless cookery programmes doesn’t suffer from the same blind ignorance.

What was good about it?
• It was pleasant enough as four strangers from York each cooked and prepared a course of a four-course meal to be eaten in a whistle-stop tour of their homes.
• The four contestants were very nice people.
• The conversation that decayed more quickly than an exhumed pharaoh exposed to oxygen. At first, there was a bit of banter but by the time they had reached Wayne’s house for the second course, the conversation was as airless as the Moon.

What was bad about it?
• The prize was £1,000. While prize-money isn’t everything, it is often a useful hook for otherwise uninspired programmes (such as late night quiz shows that represent a nadir of human imagination not seen since ITV commissioners were last in a room together).
• As with many cookery programmes, it was smothered in the relish of its own importance of how cookery is sexy, how cookery is cool how cookery is the way to a man’s/woman’s/horse’s heart when the truth is that as long as the food is in a marginally more appetising state before it enters the body than when it comes out then it’s acceptable. Cookery is ‘cool’ in order for chefs to sell more books.
• While the four contestants were all very nice, it meant the competitive element of the show was diluted to a tasteless mush. Only Christmas-obsessed Wayne seemed a little devious, but he ended up giving Maria nine out of ten for her chocolate pudding that meant she overtook him to win.
• Interior designer Peter’s fascination for style over content. You got the impression you could pop running pus-filled sores freshly plucked from the corpse of a plague-bearer onto a plate and garnish it with asparagus and salad and he’s still yomp it down and give it eight out of ten (nine if the sores had scabbed over in the oven).
• In the pen portraits, events organiser Maria claimed she was “very bossy”. And we had high hopes she’d create some friction as events organisers would be the job of choice for the next incarnation of Genghis Khan, but sadly the lasting impression she made on the others was being quiet.
• Such is our cynicism towards the way reality shows are organised and edited, we are dubious over the dramatic episode when Maria’s husband just happened to have ate her eggs she was going to use for her chocolate pudding for his breakfast. This precipitated a mad rush around the neighbours for a replacement, and at the time seemed an antidote to the soporific politeness of the whole affair, but was it a set up?
• The narration was too subjective. Rather than just acting as a guide to nudge the viewer in the right direction as the contestants hang themselves with the rope of their nastiness, the voiceover became tiresomely intrusive, although such a style was perhaps forced on the producers as the rest of the elements were all so dull.
• The manager of the chocolate shop reaching new heights of verbal bollocks when flogging stuff to Maria. “You use all five senses when you eat chocolate,” he simpered. And later when she was choosing an accompanying wine, he fawned: “This wine is from Puglia, the heel of Italy.” “Fantastic!” Maria replied obviously one of those individuals beyond hope who believe that because something comes from Italy is automatically the epitome of class.

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