TV Preview; The Great British Bake Off (Channel 4, Tuesday 8pm)
Plus: The Big Family Cooking Showdown (BBC2, Thursday 8pm), Victoria (ITV, Sunday 9.05pm), Diana: The Day Britain Cried (ITV, Tuesday 8pm), People Just Do Nothing (BBC3, Tuesday from 11am and BBC1 Saturday, 11.55pm), Astronauts – Do You Have What It Takes? (BBC2, Sunday 9pm), Solitary: The Anti-Social Experiment (Channel 5, Monday 9pm)
The Great British Bake Off, in the remote case you’d not noticed, is obviously the TV event of next week and, if the hype’s anything to go by, the entire year, decade or indeed century, moon landings notwithstanding. It’s back, you see, on Channel 4 this time, and qualifies as a news event not just another bit of telly.
You see, Bake Off and The Big Family Cooking Showdown, now the BBC and Channel 4’s respective flagships, are supposed to be engaged in a vicious war, the write-ups in the media mirroring the reports you see on the relationship between Donald Trump’s America and Kim Jong-un’s North Korea, or Rangers and Celtic. I too should be joining in with all that gladiatorial stuff.
I’m not so sure, though. Now that the BBC has shifted the scheduling of The Big Family Cooking Showdown so it isn’t directly up against Bake Off (insofar as anything can be “up against” anything in the age of instantaneous recording and playback), the competition doesn’t feel quite so fierce. You can, after all, happily enjoy all of the far-too-many culinary programmes you can find across the schedules, like all those soap fans who will jettison any amount of real-world activity to watch Emmerdale, EastEnders and Corrie consecutively.
Besides, I rather wonder whether the two shows aren’t feeding off each other symbiotically, the rivalry between them actually creating more interest than there would be in any single show devoted to amateur cookery. It’s a bit like if a baker’s shop found itself with a new rival opening up on a high street. After a while though, the area might actually become a magnet for baking lovers everywhere, and a veritable nut cluster of doughnut, revivalist real popcorn and marshmallow sellers and niche cupcake providers sprouted up around the place. Soon it would be almost wall-to-wall patisseries and boulangeries, and we would have ourselves the makings of a globally renowned cake retail experience. For flan fans and bun buyers it would be the equivalent of Jermyn Street for shirts or Harley Street for minor cosmetic procedures.
For some of us, though, the competition amounts to which show is the less tedious. This is not difficult to judge. Cooking Showdown is much duller than Bake Off, because there’s just more intelligence and creativity in Bake Off, notwithstanding its very familiar, almost ritualistic format. That means that even food sceptics like me get a little bit interested in some of the fanatically clever things the everyday cooks manage to come up with, their efforts and, sometimes, engaging personalities transcending the fundamental fact that baking isn’t really that exciting. Anyway, I want Flo to win, seduced as I was by her showstopper. Hope she makes it to the end of the run at any rate.
Talking of victoria sponge, ITV returns with the queen who was named after the cake, where we catch up with the young monarch having a bout of post-natal boredom. She should have tried a bit of baking.
I don’t think Diana, Princess of Wales had a cake or any other food named after her, which I suppose is just as well given her history of distressing eating disorders and generally miserable life. Even after two decades hers is still a moving story, and one that is still sending aftershocks through the British monarchy after the original earthquake that almost brought the whole structure of the House of Windsor tumbling down. In ITV’s Diana: The Day Britain Cried, Tony Blair pops up to take the credit for saving the monarchy and giving us the awful phrase “the people’s princess”. Can it be true that it was he and his advisers who wanted princes William and Harry to follow their mum’s coffin to prove the royals cared? I wonder if we’ll ever learn the whole truth about that.
Personal highlight of the week for me (I don’t think I’ll ever manage to get myself hooked on Bake Off, let alone Cooking Showdown) is People Just Do Nothing. This week’s see the Kurupt FM crew building their defences against an imminent attack from the enemy Kold FM gang, fresh contenders for the crown of Brentford’s foremost jungle pirate radio station, plus a master class in male charm given by MC Grindah (Allan Mustafa). The mockumentary is, as ever, stolen by “peacock” manager Chabuddy G (“the ‘G’ is for girth”, apparently), still living in the back of his Renault van with a tragically gold-painted bucket from his failed nightclub for a loo. This is comedy that is getting almost too exquisitely, painfully funny to watch, but, like that extra-hot curry, the one so potent that it’s even cordoned off in its own area on the Indian restaurant menu, it is absolutely irresistible and worth it. Plus, this show doesn’t sting so badly afterwards.
Finally I should mention briefly two utterly pointless exercises that devalued even the cheapened currency of modern television. Astronauts – Do You Have What It Takes? (BBC2, Sunday 9pm), ought to offer the winner a chance to fly to the moon or at least go up in one of those balloons that penetrates some upper reaches of the stratosphere (or whatever), but doesn’t even stick them on a stepladder to the attic of human dreams. In Solitary: The Anti-Social Experiment we have four volunteers banged up in a bland windowless pod for five days with nothing to do, a programme with absolutely no purpose whatsoever: valuable broadcasting time that could have been devoted to showing us how to make Swiss rolls or a tarte tatin. Sometimes I wonder if this country has its priorities quite right.