As we’re getting into the first down period of the year, this week’s Matt on the Box tries to delve around the schedules to find a few new shows that kicked off over the last seven days.
I honestly think that this week’s instalment should be dubbed a celebrity special as all but one of the show’s I’m covering feature famous faces doing something different. We kick off with arguably the most interesting combination of celebrities as we usher in the return of The Great Sport Relief Bake-Off. Since the celebrity bake-off made its way over to BBC One it seems to have attracted a different calibre of star with the likes of Joanna Lumley and Michael Sheen taking part in the contest. This year series is no different with the first episode featuring the Prime Minister’s wife Samantha Cameron who actually gave a good accounting of herself over the course of the three rounds. Competing against Sam Cam were the wonderful Maddy Hill from Eastenders, amiable comedian Jason Manford and David James who apparently used to be a goalkeeper for the England Team. Although I know little about James’ footballing prowess I do know that his baking skills need improvement and he was definitely the weakest of the quartet. His effort on the canapé challenge was particularly shocking as his jerk chicken offerings looked more like cut-up pasties than they did delicate finger food. Obviously the creation of canapés was more tailored to somebody like Sam whose curried crab delicacies were definitely the most polished of the four. However I was more intrigued by Manford’s manapes, that contained scallops and black pudding, which elicited the best innuendo of the programme when Mary Berry applauded the comic on creating something to hold onto when you put it in your mouth. Maddy’s mini-pizzas for children were also an interesting idea and any canapé that has a crisp on the top gets my vote.
The technical challenge was where things started to fall apart from a few of the celebs especially as none of them seem to know what a Paris Brest was. To fit in with the sporty theme, the cream-filled rings were apparently created to celebrate the bike race between Paris and Brest. It was this round that proved to be Maddy’s downfall as she interpreted the phrase pinch of salt to mean several tablespoons thus tainting her bake for the rest of the round. Unusually it was Jason Manford who came out on top meaning that he got too big for his boots coming into day two where the candidates were tasked with making a trophy-shaped 3D cake. Manford’s decision to craft The Ashes from scratch was a bold one that didn’t pay off especially when he opted to stand it on a Battenberg base. Meanwhile David James continued his downfall by presenting an American Football Helmet trophy that cracked whilst on its way out of the oven. In possibly the episode’s funniest scene both Mel and James’ fellow bakers had to help him hoist the cake onto a serving plate. The round really came down to Samantha Cameron’s surfboard cake against Maddy Hill’s Swiss Roll yoga mat with both garnering praise from the judges. However there was no doubt in my mind that Samantha Cameron was going to win especially after seeing her work in the canapé round. I do feel that Sam came across quite well and her joy at learning to make new types of pastry was quite endearing. In fact this combination of celebrities worked a treat and there wasn’t one of them that wound me up the wrong way. More than anything all of the stars that take place have to be applauded for giving up their time for the great cause that is Sport Relief. Watching the appeal segments with Claire Balding in Africa hammered home why the stars are giving up their time to make sweet treats and why we should be doing all we can to help the cause.
From celebrities baking sugar-heavy treats to celebrities trying to cut out the sweet stuff with ITV’s latest factual entertainment format Sugar Free Farm. I winced when I first heard the concept of Sugar Free Farm especially considering that ITV’s last farm-based celebrity reality show was the shocking Flockstars. However I was surprised with how much I enjoyed Sugar Free Farm primarily as it was easy show to watch and for the most part the producers seemed to have chosen the right combination of famous faces to appear on the programme. Sugar Free Farm’s concept is quite simple as six celebrities live on a farm where all sugar-based products are banned from consumption and they have to work where they live in order to source products for their predominantly healthy meals. It was interesting to hear the celebs talk about why they’re taking part on the show most notably former Brookside star and lad’s mag favourite Jennifer Ellison who has really ballooned since I last saw her on TV. Part of the reason for Ellison’s weight gain is her diet, which mainly consists of chocolate bars and fizzy drinks, which she attributes to her busy work day where she runs her own dance studio. Ellison was certainly the most endearing member of the group and the scene in which she got a baby calf to drink a bottle of formula was rather tear-jerking whilst a later moment where the actress almost collapsed was equally shocking. As a big fan of The Chase, I was also interested on how morbidly obese quiz genius Mark ‘The Beast’ Labbett would come across on the show. I am happy to admit that he was the one member of the group who didn’t really play up to the cameras and was also the most irritable if he didn’t get fed on time. Also providing the laughs were comedian Rory McGrath and Towie star Arg the latter of whom really didn’t get on my nerves as much as I thought he would. The one celeb who irked me was Jayne McDonald primarily as her reason for appearing on the show was weak and she appeared to be trying to hog Jennifer’s spotlight after she decided she felt poorly at the same time as her younger colleague. But overall Sugar Free Farm was an interesting experiment that was well executed and one that I found oddly compelling so much so that I’ll definitely be tuning in next week.
This celebrity specials continue as we journey over to BBC Two for The Real Marigold Hotel in which eight famous pensioners try to decide if they want to spend their twilight years in India. The strong concept of the programme was enhanced with an interesting group of characters most notably Miriam Margolyes who to my knowledge rarely takes part in these sort of programmes. Margolyes definitely established herself as the joker of the group as well as the one who needed the most looking after a fact that was best exemplified in a scene in which she tried to find a public toilet in the middle of a busy Indian shopping district. The task in the first episode was for the group to decide if they could survive on their own or if they needed staff, something I could’ve told them straight away. Although chef Rosemary Shrager jumped at the opportunity to show off her culinary skills the rest of the group struggled to source ingredients for her dishes or buy essentials they needed for the home. After a rough day, the group unanimously decided to spend money on staff and the rest of the programme was then devoted to other pursuits such as visiting temples and discovering the spiritual side of the country. I thought the second half of the programme dipped significantly as the producers struggled to decide what content to include. In fact the most interesting moments saw Wayne Sleep and Patti Boulaye take part in an early morning ritual and Rosemary trying to get some inner peace. The first episode ended with a party including an odd cabaret show where former Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy and darts legend Bobby George became a strange double act and performed a turn that nobody quite understood. Despite an uneven tone, The Real Marigold Hotel had a lot to like mainly a group of interesting characters who had a lot to say about their situations. Other than the eccentric Margolyes I thought it was Bobby George who came across as the most likeable and I found that he was the one member of the group who was giving the move to India the most consideration. Although I’m not quite convinced that I’ll stick with The Real Marigold Hotel this was a really charming programme that took the tired celebrity travelogue format in an interesting and colourful direction.
Finally we come to possibly the most harrowing programmes I’ve seen in a long time and one that makes me a little upset about BBC Three’s move online. Murder Games: The Life and Death of Breck Bednar looked at how the fourteen-year-old of the title was groomed online and finally killed at the hands of eighteen-year-old Lewis Daynes. Going into Murder Games I felt it would be a dramatised version of the story but instead the majority of director Katherine English’s film was interviews to camera with Breck’s family and his online gaming friends. Murder Games told the story of how Breck first met Lewis as the owner of online server that he and his friends used to play games and chat on after school. Breck and Lewis soon bonded over their shared love of coding and over time the latter tried to isolate the former from both his friends and his mother. I personally found the interviews to camera quite gripping as I garnered an understanding of who Breck was from the way that both his friends and family spoke about him. If he was anything like his friends then I would say he was an eloquent and thoughtful young man who used the internet in the same way as many other teenagers. Murder Games looked how easy it was for Lewis to manipulate Breck into trusting him even after the other boys in his gaming circle grew suspicious of the lies they were being fed. It was also interesting how even Breck distanced himself from Lewis just before his murder and only went round to his house when he learned that Lewis wanted to leave him the company. Just like Channel 4’s The Murder Detectives, I found Murder Games more gripping than many fictional crime dramas and the way the police talked about the case was particularly haunting. Seeing Breck’s family celebrate his sixteenth birthday was an incredibly emotional moment and I was tearing up as the credits rolled. The one element of the piece that I found quite unnecessary were the dramatised sequences which featured Laurie Knyaston as Breck and Sam Clemmett as Lewis. Although I can understand their inclusion, I do feel the story could easily have been told without them and at times I found the scripted conversations between the pair to be slightly unrealistic. Overall though I do feel that this is the sort of programming that she be shown to younger teenagers as it will fully educate them about the perils of online grooming. I would hope that a programme like Murder Games would still get a prime time slot after its airing on BBC Three’s online service as it needs to be seen by as many youngsters and their parents as possible.
That’s your lot for now, remember you can always follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites to get more of my views on TV and I’ll see you next time.