On The Box
In the life of this television reviewer, there are two words guaranteed to get a reaction - Coronation Street.
Whenever it is mentioned, there are three likely reactions; 1) Oh, I haven't watched that since Ena whasername was in it, you know, the one with the hairnet - and it was in black and white. Or 2) I used to watch it, but then it got too silly and smutty and I stopped watching it. Then there's 3) I wouldn't miss it, love it.
In recent years I have to admit I have moved from being a number three to two and back again. It hasn't been an easy transition, but now I'm reasonably settled - for the moment.
Recently, when TVNZ announced it was reducing the number of episodes it screened every week from three to two, I was not a happy chappy.
The Saturday slot was to be filled by yet another English food programme, Come Dine with Me. Like many, I suspect, I was even unhappier about that. What the world of television, in this country at least, does not need is even more imported cooking programmes.
At this stage, and you may have seen it coming, the almost inevitable ‘but' is about to be introduced. I've found I actually like the damned programme. A mischievous, unseen narrator, appropriately called Dave Lamb (an English comedian) is the star of the show. He snipes, jeers, occasionally cheers and ultimately ridicules pretty much everyone on the show.
Nothing is out of bounds. Physical appearance, accents, colour, religion, politics, he'll hammer home any disadvantage, perceived or real. The scenario is simple, there are four guests and each one hosts a dinner party, with the other three marking the host out of 10. The contestant with the highest score wins £1000 (NZ$1960)and that's just about enough money to bring out the bitchy worst in some of them.
It's a reminder of how human nature works and that it is so much easier, and more tempting, to criticise rather than praise. When I mentioned that to Mrs Brown she looked at me blankly and referred me (yet again) to the magnetised sign she placed on the fridge door many years ago: "I'm 51 per cent sweetheart and 49 per cent bitch - so don't push it!"
Of course. To be honest, when we watched one episode she did say she thought the narrator was quite cruel, in an occasionally funny way. Proving my courage I asked her whether she'd ever thought of taking up narration as a career, only to be met with the sort of look that instantly translated into a remember-what-the-sign-on-the fridge-door says.
My momentary lapse is immediately corrected and we get back to watching the show.
There was the voluptuous, but significantly overweight, pole dancer vying to be the hostess with the mostest. In some regards she certainly was, but the reality was she could actually cook better than she could pole dance. Despite having a pole in the dining room, whenever she mounted it she slid straight to the floor with a thud. Undeterred by that, she then did what any chic hostess would do - she produced her pet snake for everyone to have a cuddle. That got a reaction, but not as much as her belly dance. It has to be said she had quite a belly, in fact too much, for it be anything else than a disaster.
There was just no end to her on-the-night entertainment. There is usually one "posh" competitor and the rest are a mixture of ordinary folk with some culinary pretensions, but the only thing you can guarantee is someone is going to be unhappy.
It's a lot of fun in a voyeuristic way, and there's some half-decent food, although you can't help but wonder how Betty's hot-pot would go down with this lot.
Another programme that is proving more durable than some of its predecessors is Underbelly: Badness (TV3, Wed 8.30pm). The Underbelly series has been uneven in the past, ranging from very good to very average. Mrs B thinks they are all too violent and won't watch any of them, but the current series is one of the very good variety. It details real events that occurred in Sydney between 2001 and 2012. The star of the show is Jonathan LaPaglia as Anthony "Rooster" Perish, a nasty man who makes drugs and kills people who get in his way. Mercifully there is no gratuitous sex in this series, just a good yarn and some believable villains, with LaPaglia easily the standout. Once again the unseen female narrator adds some continuity and authenticity to the series, so give it a go.
Finally, by now we will all have watched the first episode of Downton Abbey (Prime, Thursdays 8.30pm), which was too late to be reviewed for this column, but I will do that next week.
- © Fairfax NZ News