Ah. The first Bank Holiday-delayed Telly Addict. It feels like a milestone. Shot on Tuesday morning instead of Monday, we apologise for its late running. After a couple of weeks of scouting the listings for shows worth reviewing – and in many cases, finding valuable things that I might ordinarily have missed – it’s all on a plate for me from now ’til Christmas. The new season is with us. And what better signifier than the return of The Great British Bake Off (BBC One)? Back for its seventh series, it is, I am happy to report, the same. This is what we want. Mary Berry makes the early claim that she is “expecting the unexpected,” but she has the wrong end of the spatula. It is the expected we expect.
There is no point in me trying to convince you of the Bake Off’s value if you remain immune. If you didn’t like it before, you won’t suddenly like it now. Indeed, at some point it will surely have to stop rising, as it were, and plateau, or gateau. The last series averaged 12.3 million viewers, making it the most popular show on the BBC, and possibly on TV, outside of international sporting occasions. It’s a dozen bakers baking. That’s it.
Certainly, the smutty annotation of Mel and Sue is vital to its appeal, and the cold, hard stare of Paul Hollywood, and the wet bunting, flapping, and the occasional squirrel (or, possibly a first for this series, a pheasant). We don’t need a scandal involving bins, or theft, or fridges, just 12 well-intentioned home cooks, cooking – and helping each other. You don’t get that on most competitive shows.
By the way, I’ve said this on Telly Addict and typed it on Twitter and it was tumbleweeds both times, so allow me one final crack at it. The Bake Off contestant whose name is Selasi is promising. This is my assessment of him: I rate Selasi highly. [long pause] No? [longer pause] No? [even longer pause] Alright. [tumbleweeds bounce across the lawn at Welford Park]
I was encouraged to give MasterChef Australia (shown here on the disarmingly named channel W) a look, as I’m such a fan of the UK version, and the first 16 minutes of the opening show of its eighth series – which runs for 63 episodes! – made me appreciate MasterChef UK even more. Gosh, it’s run at such a high pitch. Everybody’s shouting and squealing and fanning their faces (unless that’s just because it’s Australia and it’s hot) and whooping and cheering. I feel tired just typing about it. But for all the reasons I like Bake Off and some of you don’t, you might like the sheer volume of MasterChef Australia. After a brief taste of it, the prospect of Gregg shouting in my ear seems like a blessed relief.
The big guns are being rolled out by the terrestrial channels. Although Versailles turned out to be a surprise hit, by shoving it out during the summer holidays, the BBC weren’t exactly cooking with confidence. Likewise Brief Encounters on ITV, which also seemed to create a buzz. (Sorry.) Ripper Street (BBC Two) and One Of Us (BBC One) are the first two big new dramas of the season, one returning for its fourth series – having been on Amazon Prime since January! – the other something fresh and seemingly self-contained like an Agatha Christie made by Universal Studios in 1931. I’ve made my ardent feelings about Ripper Street known before. If anything it has improved since Amazon re-mortgaged it. Though three years have passed and a lot of scrubbing up has taken place in Whitechapel, its principals, and its principles, are intact, and we rejoin the story.
I have never forgotten Matthew Macfadyen’s Inspector Reid warning a wrong’un back in series one, “Do not dicker with me.” Who wouldn’t be thrilled by such rich, fruity, arcane language? I once wrongly attributed an absolute belter of a speech by Reid to chief writer and creator Richard Warlow when it was, in fact, penned by Toby Finlay, and these things matter. His overt presence shall be missed this series (or is it season, now they’ve gone all Amazon?), but I feel him lurking in the dugout.
One Of Us, not so keen. I am hugely enamoured of writing brothers Harry and Jack Williams after their astonishing, fleet-footed first series of The Missing and cannot wait for the second. But this doesn’t hit the same heights of subtlety and nuance. It’s a Gothic melodrama in which everybody’s a suspect and thunder and lightning and torrential rain stand in for jeopardy, even though there’s plenty of jeopardy already. It’s too hysterical for my tastes. But I look forward to The Missing.
Here’s a pheasant instead. Exit, pursued by air.
Oh, and the “item on the coffee table” this week is a Puzzled puzzle book from 1987 for which I drew the cartoon cover. It was, at the time, my job. I had to eat.