Just for Play-Play: the Best of Catch-Up TV

Join me for a catch up on the best of catch-up…

Can Science Make Me Perfect? iPlayer until 16 July

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Alice and James Cameron’s Avatar Alice

The annual talk of an ideal summer beach body never really takes the argument to a logical conclusion:

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.

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‘Roast Battle’ – Comedy Central

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.

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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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New Comedy for October 2016 – Seeing the Future

The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting colder, and suddenly there’s a bunch of new comedy series on tv. Here’s your guide to great things returning this week, and one show that we can really do without…

YonderlandSeries 1 Episode 2 ©Ollie Upton / BSkyB
The Council of Yonderland baffles Debbie once again

Yonderland (Sky 1) Sunday 16th October 6pm

Written by and starring the cast of Horrible Histories, this show now returning for Series 3 is unrestrained by facts or learning and transplanted to a fantasy land on Sky1. Nice and normal Brummie housewife Debbie Maddox (Martha Howe-Douglas) is the saviour of this strange and silly land. She tries to impose some order on the chaos (fighting inept demons, going on mystical quests, dealing with the totally insane ruling council) while keeping her unbelievable double life secret from her husband Pete (Dan Renton-Skinner – brilliant in everything). If you’ve not seen the first two series, treat yourself because they’re all on Sky Catch Up right now. It’s the kind of show you need to watch recorded as Series 1 especially would make you laugh so loud and hard that you’d miss the next punchline and have to rewind it.

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‘Horizon: Jimmy Carr and the Science of Laughter’ – On the Box

As part of BBC sitcom season, last weekend the BBC’s flagship science show Horizon covered the topic of laughter and comedy with familiar telly star and hard-working stand-up comic Jimmy Carr in the host’s chair.

It began as an awkward panel show with documentary sections and a little stand-up twirl on a tiny mini-stage that Jimmy seems to favour on tv. It was a consciously crappy set littered with generic science props, like they’d rifled through the dumpster from 1990’s-era Room 101. Jimmy should have been good at working in a strange hybrid situation (8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown is usually spot on) but this wasn’t good, despite his best attempts… so more like 10 o’Clock Live then.The studio audience were nervous, and nervously laughed at how nervous they were.

Once the science started it was pretty interesting, if no less awkward. Sticking three Professors on a little sofa is not going to make the evening any less ungainly. Fortunately Jimmy asked incisive questions of the academics and showed his own comedy intelligence. No surprise here as he has co-written quite a scholarly work on the subject of comedy with Lucy Greeves called The Naked Jape – I got a second-hand copy off the internet last year and was thoroughly entertained and learned a lot. If you can get hold of a copy I heartily recommend it, whether you’re a stand-up comedian or just a lover of comedy.

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‘Shakespeare Live! from the RSC’ – On the Box

Wow! The Royal Shakespeare Company and the BBC should get together more often. Shakespeare Live! on Saturday night BBC2 was fabulous heady mix of serious high-brow culture, show tunes and comic relief. The whole format made me think of Comic Relief or Children In Need, a telethon with sketches, songs and dance.

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