‘The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice’ – Channel 4

With this new series of The Great British Bake Off Channel 4 is spoiling us. Can you remember way back to last year when we watched the first series after Love Productions split from the BBC through our fingers as the nation waited to be able to say “I told you it would be rubbish!”. Can you remember our collective confusion, bewilderment and joy because it was still good, maybe even better than before? It was very much the London 2012 Olympics of food-based competitive TV shows. What a glorious time to be alive (and able to properly digest gluten)!

And with Sandi, Noel, Prue and Paul making a glorious return to the tent on Tuesday nights there’s a new generous helping of sister show An Extra Slice on Fridays. Fortunately Jo Brand, the consummate professional that she is, was fine with the move from the Beeb to Channel 4 and nothing much changed at all. But now the show is settled the programme makers can confidently make some long-overdue changes. Extra Slice suffered because it always felt very rushed in the half hour format that Channel 4 inherited from Auntie Beeb, and of course the adverts we were all loath to accept ate into that time, so it was 23 minutes of telly at best. Speaking of adverts in Bake Off, who would have ever guessed we’d miss Dr Oetker and his choir of irritating singing cakes. Amazon spent £5 million on the prestigious slot to advertise the Echo and all they can come up with is forgettable line drawings? “Alexa show me an advert worthy of 6.1 million viewers”.

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Just for Play-Play: the best of catch-up TV

In Search of Science iPlayer (first episode available until 27 August)

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This Brian Cox fronted series was first shown but unfortunately missed back in 2013. Yes it’s all about scientific wonders, but as it deals with the history of British science pioneers there are fewer gorgeous desert sunsets and less opportunity for attractive lens flare than in most of his TV shows. The fascinating stories highlighted here show how science and public perception have often been at odds with each other. It was just Darwin and his monkeys offending public sensibility. The lesson here for all is the importance of proper public engagement – sharing knowledge and showing the benefits of new scientific breakthroughs to assuage any misgivings about strange and startling discoveries. Science needs good PR, and that’s just as true now with the outcry over GM crops as it was with Professor Giovanni Aldini whose research on corpses inspired Frankenstein.

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Bigger, better, brutal – it’s ‘Battlebots’!

 

Jontosaurus laments the loss of Robot Wars on the BBC, again, and finds his mechanical carnage a little bit further away from home…

‘Murica. Anything we can do, they can do better. And, in fairness, when it comes to any and all types of warfare, that statement is truer than most. It is sort of a stereotype attached to our friends across the pond that they like to do things bigger, better and brasher than we do. We laugh about it, but it is perhaps why they have gone on to become the superpowers they are. It is also undoubtedly the reason that a loudmouthed caricature such as Donald Trump can be legitimately voted into the highest political job in the United States. We could delve into the psychology of such things, or we could just take some time out to acknowledge that sometimes, bigger and bolder is undoubtedly better. Battlebots makes this statement true.

With the BBC harshly axing their rushed reboot of Robot Wars– sadly, understandably after its modest viewing figures- there is once again that gap in the UK television market for robotic carnage. And whilst Battlebots is a long way away from being prime time terrestrial viewing, it can hopefully fill that gap for some of us until the BBC inevitably reboot Robot Wars in a decade’s time and them promptly axe it again.

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Mechadon proving that everything really is bigger in America

Battlebots itself is a reboot of the old American television program that aired at around the same time as the UK’S Robot Wars did. Whilst America also has Robotica, a sort of Robotics Olympics, and also its own version of Robot Wars (presented by WWE’s Mick ‘Mankind’ Foley, God rest his soul), it was always Battlebots that epitomised everything the US combat robot scene had come to represent. Big, hulking, super-heavyweight robots fought each other in the arena, but instead of the house robots, the arena is instead filled with various hazards including a hammer that would make Thor’s Mjolnir blush at its own inadequacy, and some huge buzz saws that are sharper than a catty drag queen’s comebacks. Bouts are three minutes long and if you thought the UK’s efforts caused severe destruction, this is nothing in comparison to what the American competitors can manage.

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‘The Bridge’ – Series 4, Episode 1

This is a full review of The Bridge: Series 4, Episode 1. Don’t read on unless you’re completely up-to-date on the BBC2 schedule.

Hey, you can come out from behind the cushion now. Is everyone ok? Take a deep breath, shake your fist at BBC2 for making you wait a whole week for the next episode and let’s process that remarkable hour of television.

So The Bridge is back with a bang, gleefully ramping up the tension, messing with our expectations of Saga and Henrik, all while introducing the usual cast of victims, ne’er-do-wells, and various hangers-on, some of whom will inevitably be added to the final body count.

We begin with a striking close up of Saga’s face, silent, dark and isolated. She wakes and sighs, remembering she’s in a nightmare she can’t escape from. She’s been in prison since the end of series 3 and I was worried her character development and personal resilience would be set back to zero but she’s doing her best. She awaits the outcome of her retrial for her manipulative mother’s murder. Remember she has a motive, no real alibi (she was set up to be alone in a graveyard when her mother died) and there was forensic evidence all stacked up against her. It sees a new witness has come forward, but Saga’s simple belief in right and wrong, and the power of the law has been firmly shaken. And she’s floundering. If she’s not a cop then where does that leave her. Without the job who is she?

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‘The City and the City’

“Nowhere else works like the cities”. This is the first line of BBC1’s new drama based on the 2009 ‘weird fiction’ novel by British author China Miéville, an exotically named man actually born in Norwich. His book has been adapted for TV by screen writer Tony Grisoni.

The cities in the title are Besźel, which looks like the Eastern Bloc of 30 plus years ago mixed with cafes and people from 1970s Istanbul and Ul Qoma which is glimpsed only briefly in the first episode. These streets look brighter, cleaner, and more advanced. The colour pallets are quite different in each city; dingy yellows for Besźel and clean blues for Ul Qoma. Like the inhabitants, the viewer always knows where they’re looking.

The two cities actually occupy much of the same geographical space, but the inhabitants wilfully ‘unsee’ the areas they’re not allowed to view. Early on Commissar Gadlem (Ron Cook) gets out his overhead projector, and lays two acetate maps on top of each other. That’s a good way to get your head around it.

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‘Hard Sun’ Episodes 1 & 2 – BBC1

After the mauling that The Guardian gave BBC1’s new cop show/ sci-fi drama you’d be forgiven for thinking the BBC were presenting a badly-written festive pantomime like A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong . This was the tone of the preview published at 11am yesterday. The actual 4 star review landed a few hours later calling it gutsy and ambitious. Same newspaper, very different opinion. Great work guys – don’t make up your mind about something, teach the controversy.

So safe to say this end-of-the-world drama written by Neil Cross of Luther fame is polarising opinions. Twitter seemed suitably impressed and a lot of people were very happy to realise the series was all set ready to binge on iPlayer. We put the second episode on straight away but now I’m not sure how much more of it I want to see.

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‘Detectorists: Series 3, Episode 2’ – BBC4

It’s only episode 2 of the current series of Detectorists and already we can see the wheels in motion that will bring this story to a climax. The farmer’s fields that Andy (writer, director and star Mackenzie Crook) and Lance (the wonderfully versatile Toby Jones) have been searching for five years finally being to reveal its secrets in the form of a handful of Roman coins. The boys are finally getting close. But then so is the looming deadline – their permission to search this patch of blissful countryside is over forever in just 6 short weeks. Photon Harvest Solar Electricity (a name so ridiculous it sounds entirely plausible) will have their solar panels in place and it’ll be game over for our favourite detectorists.

Happily our least favourite detectorists are back too in the form of Simon Farnaby as Art (Horrible Histories is poorer without his talents) and Paul Casar as Paul aka the dastardly duo of Simon and Garfunkel. They come waving the white flag and assure Lance and Andy that all they want to do is share permissions and work together. To which Lance and Andy respond with schoolboy teasing, of course. Simon and Garfunkel deserve nothing more.

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