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This Week on British TV: Killing Time Ahead of "Doctor Who's" Return

By Caspar Salmon | TV | April 15, 2011 |

By Caspar Salmon | TV | April 15, 2011 |

Wassup, rockers. It’s been a poor week for television, and I only have dregs of exisiting programmes to offer you. Is this Recession Britain, at long last? Has everything decent totally disappeared? Where is the effervescent cauldron of creativity that once was? Is the whole country just sitting back, watching DVDs of “The Killing” and waiting for “Doctor Who“‘s sexy return? Anyway, here are the remains of the day. Enjoy!


masterchef_2011.jpgUpon first viewing, I originally dismissed this new season of “Masterchef” — the show that promises to find the best amateur cook in Britain, even though surely the best amateur cook in Britain wouldn’t have waited so many seasons to reveal himself or herself . The early elimination rounds had been souped up into really overheated drama and were somehow not as compelling as they had used to be in past seasons, which often found hapless wannabes cooking inedible combinations of turkey and pineapple with a citrus biscuit, or a berry soufflé that failed to rise. The new show forewent most of that drama, by allowing candidates to cook their own food, which kind of defeated the point of the exercise: to check if any of them had a real cooking flair. The show had also become steeped in “X-Factor”-style histrionics, with flashing lights, tears, and manufactured drama.

But the show has actually picked up a lot, and all of a sudden “Masterchef” fans who had given up on it are coming out of the woodwork, all over the land, and getting back into it. For what this new season has done is to cut down on the ineptitude and concentrate on the human drama of the later stages. It found its 8 potential champions early on and has taken a slow delight in very gradually knocking one out each week. We’ve come to know these cooks, and everyone can now sense the drama building up.

So who’s left: well, there’s Sara, the bonkers Italian cook who has funny diction but makes a beautiful zabaglione; there’s Jackie, the insufferable vegetarian cook who I really hope gets knocked out very soon; there’s Tim the American cook - the mad genius who wears glasses and makes up bizarre combinations; and finally, Tom, the bluff British everyman, a kind of plumper, pastier version of Tom Hardy, who seems to have no particular defining characteristic. The four candidates are good, but I have no-one I’m especially rooting for at the moment, as in past seasons. There also seems to be no-one with a real, massive talent as in past years: these seem like able cooks, who do very well at most tasks, but fail to shine.

But it’s become interesting, all right. There was the surprise knock-out of Annie, the likable A* student who seemed to be a cert for the finals. There was the vegetarian episode. There was cooking for the critics, which finally saw the fall of James, the carpenter who made big, ruddy food and who fell flat on his arse with some terrible flavour combinations. That episode also saw insufferable Jackie, the vegetarian cook who I really hope gets knocked out very soon, cut part of her finger off and make a huge fuss about it. It’s been great.

The latest episode saw the four musketeers - Sara would be D’Artagnan, the energetic one; Tim is Aramis, the stylish one; Tom is Porthos, the fat one; and Jackie is Athos, the musketeer no-one ever gave a shit about - concentrating on pastry. First they cooked a croquembouche (look it up) for adorable old French chef Michel Roux, then they made high tea for some aristocratic old farts in a British stately home, and then - in a hilariously po-faced finale, they served tea to a group of old WW2 veterans. Judge Gregg Wallace solemnly informed the team that these heroes had fought for Britain, so he didn’t want to let them down. Er, fine, but if you give a veteran a slightly sub-par macaroon, it’s not like you’ve let down your country. It just means a sweet old dear gets to eat another boring piece of food with her dulled palate; she’ll have forgotten about it halfway through next week, anyway. My favourite bit of the episode came when Sara’s Italian pronunciation made it sound like she was saying it was a privilege “to cook for these zeroes”. Sara, they may not all have their own teeth, and some of them might imagine you’re their dead wife and try and pat your bum as you go past, but these people used to be attractive and intelligent! They’re not zeroes!

Anyway, the episode’s chief treat was that it was lovely watching some sweet old people eating sandwiches. I love old people. Who do you prefer, old people or babies? Babies smell better, but old people have got slightly softer skin, haven’t they, and everything they do is a bit more adorable because they’ve done it a billion times before, but better.

Sadly, no-one was eliminated this week and I’ll have to wait for the elimination of my nemesis, the insufferable Jackie, but I thought I should let you know that things are hotting up, so you can get watching it again and we can all reconvene to discuss the final in a few weeks’ time.

Twenty Twelve

Not much new on “Twenty Twelve” this week, apart from a moment when Jessica Hynes’s voice - the one I was raving about last week - slipped for a scene, and she reverted to her own usual Daisy-from-“Spaced” voice. It was a weird lapse, and one that made me think perhaps they’d filmed the scene a lot earlier, before she’d found her character.

Otherwise, the show carried on as usual, with a few slight missteps as normal and the odd moment of loveliness. This week’s episode saw the team interviewing candidates for a new position on the team, but the candidates who had applied were so completely off-kilter and silly, as opposed to the sort of incompetent, smarmy git who you would imagine to apply for such a job, that it kind of sank the whole epidose.

What was lovely about it, thought, was that it gave a bit more time than usual to the Olivia Colman character, and she invested her with a great deal of wit and finesse, and a sort of sad longing for her boss, that made her a rounded character on a show full of silly but likable caricatures. Olivia Colman is so up-and-down, as an actor - she is clearly moving into more dramatic roles, and I think will soon be vying for main roles in proper films - but she veers in comedy between irritating and magnetic. It’s very strange.

The Crimson Petal and the White

crimsonpetal.jpgThis continues to be pretty good - being best at representing its ere visually, with some really stunning cinematography that I must stop harping on about. After all, it’s not the cinematography I should be talking about, so much as its representation of prostitution which, as a commenter brilliantly discerned after my review of the first episode last week, I and the rest of Pajiba fully endorse. Prostitution is great, and I make sure I watch every program about it that I can get my hands on - when I’m not using prostitutes myself, that is. God, I love prostitution - as does everyone at Pajiba, especially Courtney and TK. Can I also be permitted to list some other things I love, that I have watched programs about and discussed here, over the last few months? I love war (“The Promise”), sexism and poverty (“South Riding”), old people dying miserably (“Getting On”), teenage death (“Accused”) and the Mafia (“Zen”). Why would I even watch programs about these things if I didn’t believe they were absolutely the most rad and excellent thing in the world?

But back to the cinematography in “Crimson”: it gives such a great sense of atmosphere, with drained colour schemes, wonderful dramatic close-ups from slightly below that give a sense of voyeurism somehow, and a sort of Gothic atmosphere imbuing all of the visual set-up, making each detailed shot a great Hogarthian tableau.

This latest episode fleshed out the characters a little more, but I must admit I’m having trouble with Romola Garai. I love her looks, and I find her endearing, but her line readings are so flat and drab. She does need to invest her character with a little more whoomph; I get that she’s showing the tawdry, soul-crushing effects of prostitution (oh damn, I let my mask slip), but her character must also have the pizzazz to lift herself out of her position and to hold a thrall over the others. Something of the dramatic architecture is lost, otherwise. In other news, Amanda Hale continues to give a brilliant performance - a sort of upper-class mirror image of Sugar, trapped in marriage rather than prostitution: another sort of slavery. She is so miserable, yet so hopeful and frail; it’s a wonderful acting job.

Jamie’s Dream School

jamie-dream-school-alastair-campbell-431x300.jpgAnd finally to the awful “Jamie’s Dream School”, which to all intents and purposes has been a flop. It was supposed to chime with our age, offering a D.I.Y representation of have-a-go heroes trying to set up a school amid difficult times. A more perfect summation of David Cameron’s intellectually retarded ‘Big Society’ policy could not be possibly be found. But like Cameron’s dumbass foundation policy, the show has failed to find any sort of popularity; like ‘Big Society’ it left everyone feeling bemused and a little bit cross. Why, we all wondered, can we not just leave specialists to run our schools and charities?

“Jamie’s Dream School” basically never captured anyone’s imagination, and never became anything more than a single-issue drama with uni-dimensional human narratives that never came to symbolise, as Jamie Oliver’s canteen food prog did, a wider issue in society. The result of this show seems to be that, well, kids can make it if they’re given a chance. Well, I mean, whooptydoo! Thanks for the info, dude! Everyone knows that. But the show never managed to argue what that chance might be, or how to stimulate children, or what education might do differently to educate everyone while responding to individual needs.

So, R.I.P, “Jamie’s Dream School.” May you be rethought a little better if you ever turn up again. And please, dear lord, can we get some better, newer shows by this time next week?

Caspar Salmon would like to applaud Angelique from “Dream School” for calling Alastair Campbell a prick. A lone good moment in a really depressing program.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.