It’s New Years Day and I’m feeling charitable so this blog is brought to you in a whisper, with a cold flannel (for your forehead) and a bacon sandwich (for your mouth… if you need instructions on how to eat a sandwich, maybe don’t get out of bed yet). Read my round-up of the best Christmas telly and figure out what you want to watch on catch-up to keep the festive feelings flowing, and I’ll pop to the shops for paracetamol. Alright?
A classic tale of mismatched neighbours Andrew (Stephen Merchant, playing exactly the sort of person he always does) and Dev (Asim Chaudhry) from Bedford on a 9 hour mission to save Christmas and buy the must-have toy (Sparklehoof the Unicorn Princess) for Andrew’s daughter. Dev is the lonely chubby one, separated from his family at Christmas, and Andrew is the awkward angry intellectual, successful but bad tempered with a family who loves him for some unseen qualities. Dev teaches Andrew to be a happier man and a better father, and despite themselves they’ll be best buddies for life. Basically it’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles or Jingle All The Way for the small screen. It looks lovely with cosy camera angles suited to our suburban action heros. There’s great pacing throughout with real tension and subversive moments of mischief. Neither lead performance is all that over-the-top and their situation, while silly, seems entirely probable. An unexpected gem.
Have you seen Big Mouth on Netflix? It’s an animated series that is joyful, sordid, intelligent, stupid, revolting and tender all at once. Like the painful adolescence it portrays so well it almost defies description. It’s created by Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett and based on Kroll and Goldberg’s teenage years growing up in Westchester County, New York. Nick Kroll voices his fictional self. Can you imagine anything more cathartic to redress the issues of your adolescent years. It’s essentially an animated version of Mortified with a lot more jokes.
Our 6th graders surfing the hormone tide are Nick and Andrew and their friends Jessie, Missy and Jay. Sooner or later their own personal hormone monster comes calling and will not leave them alone. Maurice is the male monster come to frustrate, antagonise and educate the boys – he’s often-times unhinged and absolutely uncontrollable. Connie the ‘monstress’ is a particular favorite of mine. She’s a wildly insatiable earth-mother in-tune with her emotions and preaching body confidence to the girls. But in the next breath she’s telling Jessie “You want to scream at your mother and laugh at her tears”. Reader, a more accurate description of female adolescence does not exist.
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”.
In its quivering excitement last week’s Radio Times didn’t seem quite sure if it was advertising the American remake of this comedy (picked up by Funny Or Die and set to star Will Ferrell) or the Australian original. Happily for UK viewers the accents gave us a clue. No Activity sees three pairs of colleges all trapped in classic sitcom situations, cleverly linked to create something much funnier than the sum of its parts. And those parts are pretty funny to begin with. There’s a clever use of the classic cop show opening credits – it looks like it’s going to be dark, tense and packed with bad-ass action. But from the title we know that’s not going to be the case.
On a stakeout outside a suspected drugs warehouse is Detective Hendy, a young and ambitious chap and his senior Detective Stokes, who seems a bit of a bumbling dreamer. They’ve spent far too much time together and will discuss just about anything that pops into their mind. The chief concern in episode one is the plaster dolphin statue in the back seat that just might stand out to any watching crims, but Stokes couldn’t bear to leave it sitting there on the street for the binmen. Their later chat about how Stokes has a vasectomy face made me laugh out loud.
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.