Hello and welcome back quite a lot to get through this week so let’s get cracking.
Here’s a new recipe for you – take eight large spoons of cynicism, four seemingly diverse but similar opinions, one ubiquitous presenter, twelve pounds of emotional manipulation, a couple of recycled lines all stirred together by TV’s most powerful spoon. The end result should be similar to Food Glorious Food the new cookery programme produced by Simon Cowell in which people from all around the country bring their dishes to be tasted by four judges who ultimately decide which dish will be mass produced by Marks and Spencer. The four judges in question are Lloyd Grossman who here serves as Mr Nasty criticising several dishes for being boring or ordinary and he believes that he is an expert just because he puts his name to a number of pasta sauces. Anne Harrison of the WI is sort of the matriarchal Mary Berry figure although she neither has the likeability or knowledge that the baking goddess possesses and instead comes off as quite a difficult woman to please. Beehive baker and Masterchef finalist Stacey Stewart is ‘the quirky one’ and therefore gets to talk about pants a lot as well as referencing ‘me nan’ about as many times as Christopher Maloney did on The X-Factor. All this means that the most likeable judge is Tom Parker-Bowles, and yes that is Camilla’s son, who is on hand as the food history expert and actually gets what the phrase ‘constructive criticism’ actually means. The whole thing is hosted by Carol Vorderman who adds nothing at all to the overall feel of the programme to the extent where she may well have not bothered turning up.
The gist of Food Glorious Food is that each of the judges awards a number of rosettes during each regional event; the first episode was based in Malvern, with them then choosing one dish to take forward to Judge’s HQ where the overall winner of the heat will be picked. The dishes that didn’t quite make it included the unappetising sausages in milk, the historically crippled pudding cake and a salmon stir fry presented by Grossman’s biggest fan who went off him after he called her dish boring. Meanwhile the more successful entrants presented pheasant paprikash, dragon cheese and leek pie and a Welsh broth known as Cawl which was cooked by two women one of whom added a sense of danger to proceedings when she injured herself and had to be taken away to the nearest ambulance. Up to this point I found Food Glorious Food to be a slightly quirky mix of the Antiques Roadshow and The Great British Bake-Off which had the charm of neither and really should’ve been on during the day. Then the last offering of the day turned up in the form of a Pimm’s Jelly created by the students of the Star Bistro a cooking college set up to encourage disabled children who had a passion for food. Now I’m not for one minute knocking the achievements of the college or the talents of the kids both of which are admirable but I thought their inclusion here was simply to provide the sort of emotional manipulation that Cowell-produced shows are known for. It was evident from the moment that Stacey gave these kids a rosette that they were going to win the heat and I wouldn’t be surprised if they went on to get their jelly on the shelves of Marks and Spencer. Overall Food Glorious Food hasn’t done anything to improve the reputation of Simon Cowell and instead has continued to tarnish it as here he has presented the antithesis to the extremely popular Great British Bake-Off a programme which is full of charm and food history elements that are missing from this ITV show. It seems from the ratings as if the show has got off to a less than auspicious start and the bad news for ITV is that they’ve still got nine episodes of this tripe left to air.
Thankfully ITV turned their fortunes around slightly by airing supernatural drama Lightfields directly after Food Glorious Food. Lightfields is the unofficial follow-up to the 2011 series Marchlands as both feature the history of their titular property over a number of decades with all the stories being linked by a common tragedy. The Lightfields of the title is a farmhouse which in 1944 is home to the Felwood family whose daughter Lucy (Antonia Clarke) becomes very attached to Eve (Dakota Blue Richards) a girl who has come to Suffolk with her sister to escape the war in London. As Lucy starts to get jealous of Eve’s extravagant lifestyle she also begins a relationship of sorts with the American G.I. who Eve had her eye on and soon after tragedy strikes for the Felwoods as the Lightfields barn is set on fire with several possible victims inside. The house is next occupied in 1975 by Eve’s sister Vivien (Lucy Cohu) and Vivian’s daughter Claire (Karla Crome) who are renting the property while Vivian is attempting to write a book. However it appears as if the house still has the spirits of the previous owners while Vivian is starting to remember certain events from the summer of 1944 which she claims to have no recollection of. Finally we move to the modern day where Barry (Dany Webb) and his wife Lorna (Sophie Thompson) are now attempting to turn the farmhouse into a successful B&B while caring for their grandson Luke (Alexander Aze) as his mother isn’t around and his father Paul (Kris Marshall) is a bit of an ass. Barry also welcomes his frail father Pip (Michael Byrne), who is Alice’s brother in the 1944 scenes; however it appears as if Pip has returned with a purpose while Barry isn’t even aware that Pip had any siblings. The first thing to say about Lightfields is that it is very silly with a lot of the horror being completely obvious from light bulbs turning on and off to scary voices being heard on tape recorders. What makes it work for me is the conviction of the cast members and the story which, while not being particularly subtle, is engaging nonetheless. The period detail is well done, if not a little clichéd while every generation is shot in a slightly different shade in order to differentiate between the three stories. After episode one I’m definitely most interested in the 1970s story thanks in part to the fantastic performance from Karla Crome as Clare this girl who has been dragged to an unfamiliar house with her mother and has to attempt to get over her parent’s divorce single-handedly. While Lightfields might not be the best drama around it’s easy to follow, entertaining and has a talented ensemble cast so for now I’m just going to relax and not let the silliness of the plot spoil my enjoyment.
It was a fairly monumental week for ITV as the network also welcomed back Ant and Dec for the first series of Saturday Night Takeaway in four years. The show has retained a lot of the most popular features including Win the Ads and Ant Vs Dec however there are some fairly significant changes. The first being that Kirsty Gallagher has been replaced by Pussycat Doll and Dancing on Ice judge Ashley Roberts which was a shrewd move as she and Dec share a bit of history following him drooling over her during her time on I’m a Celebrity. There was also a problem in that Little Ant and Dec have shot up a little bit and now the real Ant and Dec are the little Ant and Dec so a new diminutive version of the hosts was found in a talent search which was presented as a pastiche of The Apprentice. There were also a couple of new segments including one in which celebrities let Ant and Dec control their every move which to me had an hilarious start with Louis Walsh making a complete fool of himself which I personally always find entertaining. Something I wasn’t a fan of was the new Twitter segment in which the pair get an audience member to remember what they’ve said in their tweets mainly as I feel that this was dreamt up by a producer rather than it being a part of the show that Ant and Dec were genuinely enthusiastic about. Overall though this is classic Saturday night TV which combines elements of Noel’s House Party, Don’t Try This at Home and even Morecambe and Wise to create a familiar product that the whole family can watch together. I have to say though that my favourite part of the show came right at the beginning when Ant and Dec spoofed the new baffling ITV idents by washing a dog in a bowl mainly because this highlighted what most of us like about the Geordie duo namely that they’re both likeable and incredibly funny.
Something that I struggled at times to both like and find funny was the new BBC2 sitcom Heading Out which is surprising seeing as it’s created and stars the very likeable Sue Perkins. Perkins stars as vet Sara who is approaching her 40th birthday and still hasn’t told her parents that she’s gay a fact that annoys her neat-freak best friend Jamie (Dominic Coleman). This first episode sees her meet a beautiful potential love (Shelley Conn) while at the same time attempting to dispatch a recently deceased cat that the pet cemetery refuse to take off her hands. The end of this episode introduces the central concept in that Sara’s friends have given her six weeks to work with life coach Toria (Joanna Scanlan) in order for her to feel comfortable telling her parents about her sexuality or Jamie will reveal the truth to them instead. There were certain elements of Heading Out that worked well and I think it’s good that in 2013 we have a sitcom with a gay female lead who is embracing her sexuality however at the same time she seems slightly ashamed of it. These sort of darker moments are balanced out by the dead cat storyline as well as certain overtly comic characters such as the aforementioned Toria and Sara’s assistant vet Daniel (Steve Oram). The main problem I had though was Perkins playing the lead role as I found it hard to separate Perkins the actress from Perkins the person I’d seen hosting the Bake-Off and wearing silly costumes on The Supersizers. At the moment I feel that Heading Out has certain things that work really well but other elements that really need improvement however overall this was a promising start for a sitcom which certainly has its heart in the right place.
We end with another show with its heart in the right place in Richard Curtis’ TV film Mary and Martha which attempts to highlight the importance of giving money to Comic Relief in order to buy more malaria nets to protect millions of young African children. The drama sees Mary (Hilary Swank) pull her son out of school after he is being bullied and randomly decides to take him on an adventure round Africa where he ultimately dies after being attacked by a mosquito while asleep. Meanwhile we also meet Martha (Brenda Blethyn) whose son Ben (Sam Claflin) goes out to Mozambique to become a teacher at an orphanage before he also dies of malaria after giving away his medication to the children who he believed needed it more than he did. The death of their children from the same disease sees a bond form between the two women who ultimately decide to try and lobby the American government in order to get more money donated to Africa for malaria prevention. I did find it hard to criticise this drama mainly because it has a charitable spirit and everybody involved obviously believes in the cause but at the same time I felt it was poorly-paced with plenty of clunky dialogue. Obviously Curtis is a screenwriter who has never been known for his subtlety and here he demonstrates this shoe-horning statistics into his script and never really giving me any reason to care about the character of Mary. While I found Swank a little bit annoying I enjoyed the drama whenever Brenda Blethyn was on screen and to me she was the star of the show while excellent support was given by James Woods as Mary’s sceptical politician father. Overall I have to praise Curtis the charity-organiser rather than Curtis the script-writer for getting his points across throughout this film but at the same time I can’t help but think that the same thing could’ve been achieved by airing a number of those appeal videos where the celebrities go out to Africa.
Remember you can always follow me on Twitter @mattstvbites and I’ll see you next week for more of the same.