In Search of Science iPlayer (first episode available until 27 August)
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.
Thankfully Alice Roberts, Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, is here to build the perfect female form – part science, part sci-fi and all nightmares. With doctors, sculptors and SFX experts she rebuilds her own body from scratch, and fixes the flaws that natural selection has embedded in our collective DNA. Her intentions are the best; making giving birth safer, solving the problems of our bad backs and giving us excellent sight and hearing. She unveils the life-size model in London’s Science Museum to gasps of amazement, but certainly not delight. Part elf, part bird and part kangaroo I think I’ll stick to human 1.0. Thanks all the same Alice.
Even thinking about writing this review makes me uncomfortable so I’ll keep it short. It feels disloyal to dislike Action Team given how much I adore Murder in Successville, how Vicky McClure and Jim Howick both are well on their way to becoming national treasures, and how I absolutely fancy the pants off Tom Davis. But putting all this aside, I offer you this warning. Guys, it’s not good.
On paper it’s got bags of potential – who doesn’t love a silly spoof spy comedy? Austin Powers is a cultural touchstone (if people don’t curl their pinky fingers when they say one million dollars, are they even worth your time?) and more recently Kingsman and Spy with Melissa McCarthy have been doing big box office business. So why not transfer it to the small screen? James De Frond and Tom Davis are surely the right men for the job, given how masterfully they combined cop show, comedy, improv and celebrity quiz show in Murder in Successville? And they’ve only gone and got Vicky McClure from the all-conquering Line of Dutyto keep a straight face as the straight woman. ITV were extremely confident, given the huge advertising campaign pumped out last weekend with posters everywhere, adverts on all commercial breaks and Vicky and Tom’s arses adoringing sofas at The Last Leg, Sunday Brunch and probably more besides.
Phil is friendly. Phil is kind. Phil is funny. But those qualities count for very little over at foodie magazine Eater where Somebody Feed Phil, the Netflix travel documentary eating its way around the globe was cruelly slated as “too cute”, “annoying” and having “no discernible point of view”. Conde Nast Traveler is much kinder, praising the positivity and optimism wrapped up in each delicious bite. So, which one is it? Sweet or sour?
This new to Netflix series is fronted by a gangly beaming Phil Rosenthal, a television writer and producer, best known as the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond. He had a similar show called I’ll Have What Phil’s Having on PBS in America, but this is the first time an international audience has seen his culinary adventures.
And what a road trip he’s on. In six hour-long episodes he covers Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) Bangkok, Tel Aviv, Lisbon, New Orleans and Mexico City. I’m immediately jealous of his experiences and his air miles. He begins in the exotic east, but this isn’t just an American on a gap year, as he’s keen to promote food closer to home too, understanding that not everyone can afford international travel. Each episode also runs the full gamut of food available for the budget conscious backpackers and the money-is-no-object crowd. We seem him try street food out in the road on plastic chairs, befriend old ladies in shopping mall cafes, try all sorts of strange things in cafeterias off the beaten track and other hole-in-the-wall cafes where you’d need a local guide just to find the place.
Comedy roast are not all that common in the UK, despite this being the home of the Archbishop of Banterbury, Bantom of the Opera and the Bantersaurus Rex (lads! lads! lads!). While we’re very much at home with taking the piss out of each other in the pub, the playground and all-office emails, this kind of vicious verbal sparring in front of an audience is a format that we’re just not used to in merry old England. We leave that to the Americans, and a proud history they have of it too. Instantly this new Comedy Central show is a bit out of step for the British audience looking for funnies, with a post-apocalyptic set, macho gunshot sound track, and the studio audience expected to shout and point as well as drink and laugh. It’s all a bit too much to believe we can multitask like this.
I love stand-up comedy, on tv and especially live (shout out to the excellent Fat Penguin club nights in Birmingham – if you’re in the Midlands check them out), but I turned this on and watched it through my fingers. I didn’t was this format to fail, but it was bound to be a disaster, right? As The Guardian said “Roast battles and insult comedy? No thanks, we’re British”. But despite the silly gunshot noises and the heavy reliance on Paper Planes by MIA, the battles themselves were not as aggressive as I’d thought. If anything the style is collaborative; usually solo comics acting as a team, building on each other’s jokes, laughing at themselves and visibly enjoying the experience. I was all set to hate it but the four comedians in the first episode did such a good job they quickly won me over.
This week, with the UK under deep snowdrifts we bid goodbye to the always summery Detectorists. As the watchful magpie reminds us, our heroes should be looking up not down. Their metal detectors are pretty useless in this case, and it’s in the branches of the lovely old tree, beneath which we’ve seen them shelter for so many years, where the trickster magpies have hidden their ancient hoard.
The tiny heartbreaks of this series have done their job and we are rewarded with stronger happier relationships. Lance with his daughter Kate and his girlfriend Toni, who are not at odds with each other for his affection, and who seem like they could be excellent friends. TV writers take note; women can be friends, not just bitchy rivals. It was a shock to see Lance’s horrible ex-wife Maggie return (played with relish and skill by Lucy Benjamin). She had a useful but very short storyline. Her evil plans were scuppered easily. Maybe she was a little underused?