‘The Circle’ – Channel 4

The Circle is a new social media reality show, launched in the week that Channel 5 has finally confirmed what viewers have known for years. Big Brother, once the undisputed king of reality shows, is dead as a dodo. It’s strange times indeed in telly land. The Circle was trailed heavily on Channel 4 for weeks, with each advert being a full instruction manual for the show, not really helping the initial audience reaction that it was overly complicated. Then before and after every ad break the presenters Alice Levine (My Dad Wrote a Porno podcast, coming to HBO in 2019) and Maya Jama (dunno, off some youth radio show at a guess) took the opportunity to again explain the rules in painful detail. We get it  – you’re expecting the audience to be on the thicker end of the education spectrum.

So this is the start of three weeks of Alice and Maya talking about a bunch of people talking to themselves in their pokey little flats, sorry apartments, with an all-knowing Alexa console for company unless they’ve had the foresight to bring their own baby or  turtle for company. The twist on the classic Big Brother format is that they don’t ever meet face-to-face. All contact is conducted via a specially-designed social media platform – the eponymous Circle. The total number of contestants vying for the £50,000 prize is eight which is surely more than enough. But apparently people who get evicted get replaced! Dear God –  is this Black Mirror? Is three weeks actually eternity? Will it ever end?

Circle+hero
Alice and Maya explain the rules again, and again, and again – we’re none the wiser

So down to the fundamentals – how do you get people to like you? Are you true to yourself, as every Insta bio assure us is the way, the truth and the light, or are you more controlling of the image you portray to the world. Do you edit out your bad bits and concentrate on your good bits, both in your personality and your physicality or is it slightly repulsive to be so obviously manipulative? Is all this false advertising even ethical? Some of these contestants have said fuck ethics and they’re halfway to scamming retirees out of their pension as a sketchy African prince.

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‘Horizon: Clean Eating – the Dirty Truth’

Sometimes the BBC’s flagship science programme serves up a well-timed piece of investigative journalism, and this was a doozy. Dr Giles Yeo is a geneticist studying obesity at Cambridge University, so is well placed to investigate ‘clean eating’, a recent diet craze and social media sensation. He nicely separates fact from fiction in the bizarro but strangely attractive world of green juices, spiralized vegetables and Instagram meals.

Dr Yeo is a bit of a superstar, with a calm demeanor in the face of utter nonsense and appalling pseudoscience. I would not want to play him at poker. He looks super cool driving a Mustang around America. His style reminded me of Louis Theroux; he’s very kind to nutters. He is measured and thoughtful;  willing to engage and break bread with crazy people (although of course not actual bread – it’s got the twin evils of gluten and grain in it and it will KILL YOU DEAD!!) He seems patient and doesn’t get riled easily. I’d just want to shout, which sadly doesn’t have the desired effect on idiots. He on the other hand is happy to listen and then explain with empirical and measurable data exactly why your claims are nonsense.

The first person he meets is food writer and clean-eating superstar Deliciously Ella (seriously, I’m not about to accept advice from anyone with a cutesy baby name, on any subject, ever). Her cookbooks and philosophy seem like entry-level woo. It’s largely sensible advice about diet – eat more fruit and veg, eat less processed stuff, cook from scratch more. However she then claims she cured a rare illness she was suffering from by making changes to her diet. This big change to her diet seems to have worked for her, and good for her. But what works for one person may not work for another. In fact, a radical change in diet may be significantly unhealthy if you discount your doctor’s advice and just work by what’s popular on the internet or what looks pretty on Instagram. Can you see how easy it is to slip into nonsense?

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‘The Crown’

Missing your Downton Abbey Sunday evening fix? Fancy a posh period drama? They don’t come any posher than this. Dramatist Peter Morgan (who wrote the film The Queen from 2006) offers us a new biographical series about Queen Elizabeth II and her family, disappointingly not called Keeping Up With The Windsors. It’s one of the most lavish and expensive period dramas ever made, and everyone who watches this sort of telly was startled to find out it wasn’t going to be broadcast on the BBC, the go-to broadcaster for Grandma-friendly programming. New commissioning behemoth Netflix apparently paid £100 million for the first 20 episodes, so you can see why the Beeb might have said no, in a year where they couldn’t find enough change down the sofa to keep Mel, Sue and Mary in their big tent.

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“The Crystal Maze for SU2C” – On the Box

Dah dah dah daaaah, dada! Dah dah dah daaaah dah dah dah dah daaaaah! Name that tune! Even written in that shoddy fashion I bet you can guess. Has there ever been a more exciting quiz show theme? I don’t think so.

It’s a welcome return to The Crystal Maze last seen in 1995. This was one-off celebrity special of the much-loved 1990s game show with the aim of getting you to part with your cash for the Stand Up to Cancer charity. Special programmes are on Channel 4 all week, which culminates in a Comic Relief-style live show on Friday night.

David Tennant was mentioned in contention for the host duties, but quickly after that story leaked Stephen Merchant was confirmed. He looked fabulous in his Richard O’Brien outfit, holding hands and running around with the contestants, but just looked plain silly with a shaved head. (However, if he raised extra dosh for SU2C with a sponsored head shave then good on him.) Happily the orignal (and best) host Richard O’Brien popped up on screen at the start to give them a riddle to unlock the maze.

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The Great British Sell Off

Alarming news for the legions of Great British Bake Off fans as the BBC have lost the contract to broadcast the baking behemoth. The series now on tv will be the last to be broadcast on BBC1.

Channel 4 announced last night that it has signed a three-year deal with Love Productions. The first programme, a celebrity version for the charity Stand Up To Cancer, will come in 2017.

Love Productions said negotiations with the BBC had been prolonged to say the least – taking place for a year! When talks with the Beeb fell through they signed a deal with Channel 4 the same evening. They don’t hang about.

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‘House of Hypochondriacs’- On the Box

Important note: this blog post was written after watching the show and I’ve left it exactly as written at the time, but please see the comment from Shaun (a participant on the show) below. He’s not happy with how his comments were edited by Channel 4, and I’m very thankful for him contacting me to set the record straight.

I am not well.

It’s a virus, or a weird skin thing, or very possibly both. I need to leave it alone and it’ll get better and I need to hurry to Clinical Photography and get pictures taken to aid diagnosis. I need to continue life as normal and I need to stop using soap, cut myself off from all contact with humans and animals and never even look at another kiwi fruit for the rest of my life.

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