There’s no denying that Matthew Perry is a talented and funny actor. I watched The Whole Nine Yards the other night and was struck by his exceptional physical comedy, needing to rewatch a particularly splendid pratfall because I was laughing so much.
He obviously wanted to bring out his book to explain the demons that have pretty much plagued him all his life, almost certainly stemming from the time he flew alone from his mother in Canada to his father in LA – aged FIVE. That’s a big deal, granted. But just because he wanted to write it doesn’t mean it was the best idea to do so.
There were some intriguing snippets about his Friends cohorts (although not as much as I’d have liked), especially around his lingering crush on Aniston. There were some new and interesting stories I found out about him; his former prowess as a tennis player, his friendship with Hank Azaria, his courtship with Julia Roberts. But again and again, we had to hear about the latest drugs he imbibed which should surely have killed him, or booze imbibed which should surely have killed him, or rehab he tried which nearly killed him, or relationship he fucked up which felt like it killed him.
Sure, it’s his book and he can write whatever he wants. But a lot of the material comes across as quite self-entitled and whiny, dare I say it. Especially when he bemoans his sorry state and says he would switch it for a normal person's life in an instant. He got a lot of stick on Twitter for slagging off Keanu Reeves. Clearly there’s some undisclosed beef here, cos Reeves seems an unlikely object of his ire. But like dear Lady Bracknell observed, once looks like misfortune, twice carelessness. Some pages after his remark that Keanu ‘still walks among us’ when such legends as River Phoenix are dead (which you could perhaps excuse as a moment of thoughtlessness), he mentions it again.
Then there’s also his insistence on how very famous he is and couldn’t then, or even now, go anywhere or do anything because of it. Sure, all six of them were mega stars and are still recognised by a lot of people. But there’s vast swathes of the world that would have no idea who he is, thanks very much, and would easily walk past him in the street. No doubt if you’re surrounded by yes men, arse-kissers and screaming multitudes at highly publicised events, you imagine you’re the stuff of gods. But he’s not. I can’t think of anyone who’s globally famous to merit that level of grandiosity. Possibly the late Queen would come close.
Chandler was always my favourite ‘Friend’, in part because I’m also an only child and quite often wisecrack my way out of awkward situations and make people laugh to like me (certainly did the latter at school to avoid being bullied). I still love watching Friends, even though there’s sections that don’t fit the mood of the time now (the fat-shaming and porn references particularly). And yes, Perry did contribute substantially to the scripts and deserves credit. I, as an actor, can separate character from an actor, but it's always been apparent that the Friends characters DID resemble their real life counterparts substantially (although Perry wryly remarks on how Chandler did better in the marriage stakes). But I have to block out the stuff I learnt about him when watching. It’s not on the level of meeting heroes being a disappointment, far from it. But I’d hoped for more self-awareness from him, more to admire, truth be told.
rise and fall
The latest ‘WTF will people do next in a desperate bid for their 15 minutes?’ saw this unreality show, scheduled in an almost nightly glut over a few weeks in a slot late enough to allow for the swearing. From the same stable as The Traitors, this was an altogether brassier mare, not least due to the inclusion of rightwing GB News rentagob Sophie Corcoran, recently complaining about her university education going to the dogs because of Covid disruption, yet perfectly happy to take time out herself eating dog food in a bid to win wonga.
That was just one of the challenges the ‘grafters’ had to carry out to obtain money for the eventual winner (up to £100k was the maximum, they managed to get it to around £85k). Others included nearly electrocuting themselves, sitting in an ice bath and licking a whole load of crockery. They were parked down in the basement of a building somewhere on The Thames, although they wouldn’t know it because they never saw daylight. The ‘rulers’ did however. They had a glorious view over London and Sheryl, saucer-eyed as she surveyed the Houses of Parliament, exclaimed (in a voice that went up to eleven) they should let her into there to ‘sort things out.’
She was just one in a number of characters, for long gone are the days we are permitted to be entertained by ordinary folk. There was Ramona, whose protrusions entered a room a few seconds before she did. I know it’s unsisterly to comment on it, but her preferred attire, of suit jackets and no shirt thereby displaying her bra, barely contained said items. Anyway, she was as loud as Sheryl and continually referred to herself in the third person as ‘lady boss’ which is a hard pass from me.
There was also builder Jack, for whom the term Jack the Lad was invented; Sydney, who he engaged with in what I learn is a ‘showmance’ (as in a romance purely for the purposes of a show); Marina, the unnervingly over-confident 18-year-old, all bluster and bravado unmatched by performance. The same was true at the other end of the spectrum with 69-year-old Jeff, boring everyone rigid with how many years (417 at the last count) he’d run businesses for; slightly unhinged Joas, who engaged in a spat with Sophie and got himself evicted on the spot; enthusiastic Isaak, Ali (who sensibly left after a day); thoroughly nice Joanna and so many more.
I got a bit confused in the end with all the comings and goings. People would be evicted from the penthouse only to pop up again in the basement, and each time there was a ‘rise vote’ (whereby a grafter got their chance to go up to the penthouse), the rejected potentials would be sent back down. That lift saw more action than a whore’s drawers. As many a comment on Twitter said, it seemed like the rules of the show had been made up the night before in the pub. It was flawed from the start; whereby the original six rulers were selected by the group when they’d only just met each other, or in the case of Rachel and Sheryl ignoring that and just charging into the lift; to the end when the winner was chosen by a trio of rejectees rather than the group as a whole.
Alliances were formed and quickly cast aside, contestants were accused of being snakes or bad leaders and therefore needing to be ejected from the Red Room. The ‘good ruler’ accolade was probably the most nonsensical part. All any of them did was decide on how many shifts the basement dwellers did, bicker and backstab. A better leadership challenge would have been planning and executing a task a la The Apprentice, or mediating a dispute, rather than exacerbating it. The grafters meanwhile, talked as if they had spent all day down t’pit slaving on their 'work shifts', rather than the (admittedly unpleasant) challenges which lasted no more than twenty minutes.
The rulers certainly dressed themselves as if they were on The Apprentice though. The shoulder pads and lip gloss could rival Dallas, as they walked in slow-mo down one of the corridors of power, their stomachs groaning under the weight of the mega buffet they’d just gorged on. The grafters had to exist on soup and bread that they made themselves, cold showers, a dorm of uncomfortable beds and jumpsuits in mostly unflattering colours.
In the end the final two were Eddy; a man from a privileged background, whose family lived in a stately home, yet had apparently fallen on hard times; and single mum Sydney, who worked as a delivery driver. Of course Eddy won. This is capitalist Britain, how could he not? And after all, he’d done all the grafting and motivating and baking in his time in the basement, whereas Sydney had been part of a tense standoff when selected to the penthouse that saw the team lose £14k.
I didn’t particularly mind Eddy winning, but by that point, nobody really cared. It seems unlikely it will return for another series, like the equally bizarre The Love Trap Channel 4 foisted on us a couple of years back, also fronted by a kinda smarmy, sardonic, smirking presenter. Nor is it likely any of the participants will emerge as bona fide ‘slebs’, a view not shared by them as a number have recently eagerly created Twitter accounts, with an ‘all enquiries to my agent’ type bio. Of course, there’s often a vacancy in The Cabinet, maybe they’ll end up there.
Having binged Happy Valley's all 3 seasons in one go, I felt a need for some more dour Brits barking incomprehensible garbage as they charged up and down waggling their truncheons.
I don't know why I hadn't cottoned on to HV before that - I suspect the name put me off (I KNOW it's ironic) and also I thought it was a long running saga like Silent Witness, where I'd have to spend several years catching up. When I discovered I was only 12 hours behind come the recent iteration, I was in there quicker than Hancock onto the kangaroo testicles. (odd analogy, I know, it's Sunday).
Anyway, this offering had not just cops and drug dealers, but a corrupt cop to boot, therefore shades of LOD (all about the acronyms). I excitedly sat down to watch Better.
It was ok, but the central charcters were not half as engaging and the whole thing just felt a bit flat. And I was peeved that they bumped off the best character in it, the excellently Dickensian named Vernon Marley, played by Anton Lesser. His character was complex and intriguing, the rest felt paint by numbers.
Masterchef: welcome Anna
Three weeks into Masterchef The Professionals and it’s same old, same old. But no it’s not, because Monica has absconded. Mutterings about busy schedule, spending time with family, yada yada. Maybe she just got fed up with Shrek, aka Gregg Wallace. Back of the queue love, we all got royally narked by him before he even joined the party. Perhaps we should sign him up for a post in The Cabinet, he’d be gone in a jiffy then.
The new intro still features Shrek a-gurning and Marcus doing his wounded Bambi look up to the camera, but now there’s new kid on the block Anna Haugh, all butter wouldn’t melt expression (not surprising with the amount they put in, you’d need antifreeze to cut through that), with slight coquettish edge. A coquettembouche, one might say.
She may resemble Heidi with her hair sort of plaited round her head, but her big, sometimes startled, faun eyes can turn steely upon occasion. When one of the hapless men was flapping about his dish being ready for the critics (for as we know, they will actually die if their food is not served up immediately), she declared he’d just have to put on his big boy pants and get on with it. Quite right, you don’t get anywhere in the kitchen if you’re not ruthless. Those of us with long memories remember Marcus from his pre-judging days as nasty guest chef reducing the poor contestants to tears. It’s almost completely buried, but every now and then the mask slips.
You know the dream where you’re back in school assembly and suddenly realise your pants have fallen down? That is what I feel the skills test is and I’m forever puzzled that it’s the opening round. You don’t do black belt first, so why don’t they let them settle in with their own dish, before plunging them under intense scrutiny (and Shrek’s dribbling) at close quarters? Only a tiny amount actually do well in this challenge, but those that do bizarrely often mess up in the next round. In the Covid days, they introduced a safety measure regarding numbers where one judge watched the test from a back room via hidden camera. Like someone limping long after their leg has been amputated, this remains despite everything else being back to normal and the contestants hugging each other like billyoh.
You can imagine the production team: ‘We’ve bally well paid for this monitor and headphones [are those sanitised between judges?!], so we’re gonna keep it in. Anyway, it means we can get a running commentary on what’s happening.’ Errm yeah, but we’ve already watched how it’s supposed to be done, plus we’ve got Shrek and the other judge making cod pantomime expressions of dismay throughout and you know, the power of our own eyes and minds. We’ll manage. Or they could at least let the contestants watch the dish as it’s prepared and copy it. Sure it can be entertaining in a ‘watch behind the cushion’ way, but it’s unnecessarily cruel and not a good indicator of talent.
Speaking of talent, Head Office have obviously had words about the diversity factor and barked an order to the effect that if the competition has its usual glut of heavily tattooed, white men in their twenties, someone’s head is for the chopping block. So you get some intriguing characters such as Tasoula with her ‘Eight Degrees of Turnip’ creation.
Shrek got a bit above himself in one round, mimsying that he didn’t like Anastasia’s ice cream. Marcus and Anna smiled indulgently, in the way that you let a toddler think it’s helping with putting the shopping away, knowing that he was talking out of his rear end. He probably stamped his feet offscreen, demanding that his longevity in the post meant a third contestant be allowed to go through too, because HE didn’t think she was good enough. Complete waste of time, as the third contestant William mucked up completely in the next round and was out on his ear, while Anastasia’s brilliance continued. Shrek’s opacity can never be punctured, nor his vocabulary expand to more than calling everyone ‘mate.’ Marcus’ smile that doesn’t reach his eyes is always telling here. Shrek is not his mate, nor ever will be.
Masterchef: the egobank has landed
Silly Celebrity season once more, as witnessed by the intro sequence of gurns, faked poses and Minty from Eastenders juggling satsumas. He was joined by Gareth Choirmaster Malone; Mel Blatt, formerly of All Saints; reality performer Mojo, and Legend Chris Eubank, henceforth to be known as Egobank. He is definitely the most legendary legend there’s ever been in the history of legends and in case we didn’t realise this, he’d adorned his dapper suit with a gold star in case he didn’t get one immediately he’d set foot in the kitchen.
Clearly Gregg Wallace (aka Shrek) knew he was in the presence of greatness and came up to take a selfie, which I’ve never witnessed before.
‘Do a boxing stance,’ commanded Shrek. Nobody tells Egobank what to do, so he did a thumbs up instead. There were many thumbs up in his two episode tenure, along with shoehorning a mention of, ‘Winning the World Championship in 1990’ (trips off the tongue doesn’t it?) into as many conversations as he could manage, as well as a liberal sprinkling of ‘stupendous’, ‘delicioso’ and ‘fantabulosus’.
Egobank has some balls though. In the first challenge, while everyone else is knocking up tarte tatin or chocolate cheesecake and Mojo is gibbering at having to take the shells off her prawns, he is cooking his ingredient, a piece of squash, in stock and herbs. Not for him any accompaniment of protein, carbs or any other vegetables such as mere mortals might use, the single squash is all he needs.
‘Halfway through!’ bellows Torode (Toady), as Egobank jiggles his one pan with his one ingredient. Fifty minutes to boil a veg! So much time has he, that he can write some ‘inspirational’ words next to it.
It needed for Shrek to say firmly, after this Emperor’s New Clothes display, that while the piece of squash was very nice indeed, when he cooked next, they’d like to see ‘a little more cookery’ from him.
Everyone did very well in this first round, as best a start as Shrek could remember. Cliff Parisi, aka Minty’s, dry sense of humour was chucklesome, having admitted he cooked once a year at a barbecue. ‘What do you want to do?’ enquired Shrek, ever Paxman-like in his forensic questioning. ‘I want to open my own restaurant, invite you down and you give me a five star review.’ As he turns out his tart, which oozes rather, ‘I think it’s beautiful, but then I am its parent.’
Next round, as they sampled the poutine and guessed the ingredients, Egobank informs us that creating the dish is not as difficult as having a tooth knocked out in the ring. His is not just good, it’s fantabulous, as he cocks his thumbs aloft and the camera pans to his pan, where some hunks of meat are bubbling unattractively in an oil lake.
Later he bursts into ‘Good Morning’ from Singing in the Rain.
‘He’s the one you want to ask about that,’ says Shrek, indicating Gareth.
‘Stick to the cooking,’ mutters Gareth. Egobank’s eyes narrow and Gareth attempts a backpedal, but he doesn’t mean it. He’s busy continually eyeing up Mel’s dishes, who is clearly Number 1 in the class to his Number 2, and trying to guilt-trip her into letting the rest of them catch up.
Next day they were tasked with making pasta pesto. No packet and jar affair obviously. Egobank was guided step by step through the pasta making process but still managed to produce something barely edible, except in his head, where he gave it an 8. Had he tasted it?
‘I can see the taste with my eyes’. We’d best get onto the Rouxs and the Ramsays and tell them they’ve been doing it wrong all this time. Cliff cheerfully describes his pasta as, ‘old bootlaces. I wouldn’t make my pasta, I can tell you, I’d buy it, it’s only £1.25.’
Next, pro chef Freddy Forster came with four recipes for them to attempt. Of course he wasn’t as much of a pro as Egobank, notwithstanding his achingly slow chopping of tomatoes and reluctance to put coriander in his dish, as he doesn’t like it.
‘I’m having to do half the dish for him,’ says Freddy sagely, a tic starting to form in his eyebrow, although he draws the line at actually cooking the damn thing for him, which is why it’s overcooked. This is in direct contrast to Mel, who has all the skills and none of the over confidence.
Then onto a dish from their heritage that’s important to them. Cliff poshes up his pie ‘n’ mash with parsley, giggling in glee. Egobank makes a decent fist of his ackee and salt fish, but luckily the judges knew there was only so long this charade could run and the viewers at home could have a rest from incessant eye-rolling.
‘Thanks, Chris,’ said Shrek, dismissing him.
‘Pleasure,’ said the man, as if bestowing a favour, head almost knocking the edges of the door on his way out.
Onto the cooking for past contestants and Cliff is feeling the strain. ‘I’m like a spent sausage,’ he says wearily, as Mel whizzes past him at a million miles an hour, cooking up a storm. Gareth is also bustling about competitively but luckily Cliff’s Greek lamb knocked it out of the park. As he and Mel cakewalked around the studio, it felt justice had prevailed.
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.
Beware the love trap...
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...
The Archers: 0, staged: 1
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.
Masterchef: knockout time
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….