‘The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell’ – Netflix

Sometimes TV shows come along and they’re more than one blogger can handle. Welcome to this original collaborative effort between yours truly at Dead Pixel Test and Birmingham food blogger extraordinaire Laura who writes over at Full to the Brum. Your usual Dead Pixel Test fare is above, seasoned with Laura’s unique take on this singular show, and her thoughts in full on each episode is your delicious dessert buffet below.

In the week where TV fans are lamenting the silencing of an animatronic cat, I might have just the thing to cheer you up. The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell is a strange box of delights, released on Netflix in the build-up to Halloween, which is of course goth Christmas.

This out-there show is based around wholesome pastimes of baking, crafting and sewing but Christine specialises in some shocking creations. And she sets out her stall early. The first thing we see is Christine painting what seems to be an actual human skull and then absentmindedly biting off a spiders leg. Our host is a totally glamorous 1950s housewife with a sort of romantic Snow White look about her. Her set is a gorgeous pastel coloured kitchen with gothic hints in the spiderweb patterned kitchen cabinets. It’s as if the Stepford Wives weren’t obliging robots at all but had their own secret coven.

Odd enough right? Well, lets meet her team. Christine’s rag-tag adopted family are all incredible puppets made by the Jim Henson Company. The stand-out star here is resurrected roadkill Rose who leaks partially digested food out of her seams. Not letting a little thing like that hold her back she’s a insatiably horny murderous scene-stealer, with hobbies including eating herself into a diabetic coma, torturing neighbours and humping gnomes. Rankle is the sarcastic talking mummified cat from ancient Egypt (a descendant or ancient ancestor of Salem, depending on how you see it) who still expects to be worshiped. Big cuddly Edgar looks to be part Bigfoot, part werewolf, there’s a giant one-eyed fuzz ball in the basement and huge but useful tentacles that live in the fridge. The creatures, especially Rose and Rankle, definitely get the best lines. These Henson creations are certainly not kid-friendly and the show would be hideously saccharine without them.

For a program ostensibly about baking, it’s astounding that zero cakes actually get made. It’s like joining an episode of the Great Transylvanian Bake Off mid-way through a showstopper challenge when the dull and messy jobs are done. Christine’s specialities are sculpting, painting, and decorating with enviable precision. Everything she produces is extremely obsessively beautiful, everything is a masterpiece. Piped royal icing teeth and claws seem to be her trademark, which looks like the fiddliest job ever. If Marilyn Mason ever gets married again he knows who to get in to do the buffet.

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‘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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‘Somebody Feed Phil’ – Netflix

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.

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‘The Bug Grub Couple’

Even the most ardent carnivore must admit that now, in 2017 our desire for big fat burgers and crispy chicken is not sustainable. We don’t have the farmland, the water, or the grain to feed all these animals. Now meat consumption is increasing rapidly in Asia and India we really have a problem. A protein innovation is required and fast. So, inspired by South East Asia (and I’m sure many other countries too) how about insects?

Meet Sarah and Andy. She’s an entomologist and he’s a chef. They met and fell in love while working in a restaurant and never expected their career paths to cross. Together they run a farm in St Davids, Pembrokeshire and, alongside the beef herd, their main concern is their busy farm cafe. It’s a real one-off. Welcome to Grub Kitchen. Fancy a pan-fried locust or a bug burger? This is the place for you. The locusts look like how you’d expect but the bug burger looks quite normal and insect decorations have to be added to make it look special. One customer calls it a “suspiciously tasty veggie burger”, but there’s no hint of suspicion here. This couple are evangelical about their bugs and the new way of eating we should all be embracing to give poor old planet Earth a break.

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‘Santa Clarita Diet’

I think we can all agree that 2016 was rubbish, punctuated by the occasional depressing shitstorm. So far, 2017 is just bleak, barely registering on the Shrug Scale of shit-we’ve-all-just-got-to-get-used-to a.k.a. the new normal. So it’s the perfect time to turn your brain off, get grizzly and relish some zombie face-munching fun.

Welcome to Santa Clarita, a deeply boring middle-class suburbia somewhere in dull dry Southern California. Sheila and Joel are good-looking super-normal upwardly mobile estate agents (or realtors as they say over there) quickly sliding down the slippery slope into a totally ridiculous situation. Poor Sheila dies, only she doesn’t. Life goes on as normal, as best they can, while she, Joel and their teenage daughter Abby deal with the fact she is now a zombie.

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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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‘Delicious’

There’s something about a flirty Dawn French pouting at Emilia Fox over a chopping block with a massive shiny cleaver sticking out of it that cannot be ignored. And that’s precisely why Sky 1 covered massive billboards with their likenesses. Mmmm delicious, I thought to myself, I wonder what that’s about. And then I thought about dinner, because obviously.

Well, episode one was at great pains to tell us, unfortunately via the means of a lengthy and extremely dull exposition not even saved by Iain Glen’s mellifluous tones. Yes, that’s another Game of Thrones graduate, more recognisable as Ser Jorah Mormont getting sunburnt and heartbroken in the desert with his Khaleesi. Mate, she’s just not into you. In Delicious he plays Leo, head chef at a fancy hotel in Cornwall. Beautiful skinny current wife is Sam (Emilia Fox) and his ex-wife who strangely seems to live in the exact same tiny village is Gina (Dawn French), the only person in it who actually looks like food is a pleasure not a burden.

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