Mutiny, Monday March 6, 9pm, Channel 4 (second episode on Tuesday March 7)
230 years ago, Captain Bligh and a handful of his followers were cast adrift by mutineers in a tiny boat, with a couple of days of food and water.
They sailed 4,000 miles to safety, navigating their way across a hostile Pacific Ocean, in one of the great feats of maritime history. Now, a group of 21st-Century men is attempting to recreate the endeavour, under the guidance of former SAS man and world’s hardest bloke, Ant Middleton.
Being at sea, argues Middleton, is “the hardest environment to survive in.” For a start, the boat is basically a rowing boat with a sail and the food consists of the occasional hard biscuit and a bit of dried meat.
Of all the various challenges that have been undertaken for our televisual gratification, this strikes me as being the most brutal, both physically and psychologically. Right from the word go, the crew is forced to confront searing heat, freezing cold, malnutrition, and the potential arrival of a slightly unwelcome tenth crew member, a thin chap wearing a black hood and carrying a scythe.
Why do they do it? According to crewmember Rishi, “when I’m on my deathbed, I want to look back and say ‘I did something amazing’.” Which is all very well, but my attitude would be to try and ensure my deathbed didn’t occur a couple of weeks hence, on the deck of a glorified rowing boat, surrounded by foul-smelling, desperate men waiting for you to die so they can eat you.
As the scale of the task at hand swiftly becomes clear, the key to the success of the mission is for the men to stay united. That, it quickly becomes apparent, is simply not going to happen…
Hidden Restaurants with Michel Roux Jr, Wednesday March 8, 8pm, Channel 4
I’ve always liked Michel Roux Jr. While other guest judges on Masterchef stomp around all hatchet-faced, seemingly delighting in crushing the fragile egos of the nervous contestants, Roux is always there with a cheery smile and an encouraging comment. As my mum used to remark, “If you don’t have anything positive to say…” Mind you, I’m not sure I’ve stuck absolutely religiously to that tenet as a TV critic.
Anyway, Roux has always struck me as one of the good guys of the business, which is why it was such a shame to discover, towards the end of 2016, that he was paying his chefs at Le Gavroche as little as £5.50 an hour.
At that rate, it would take you a standard working week to afford the fixed price menu of £212. After that, I was worried that every time I looked at Roux I’d just see an enormous money-sponge, but here he is, all twinkly charm and enthusiasm, and blow me if I haven’t forgiven him everything. He just seems so… so very nice. I know nice isn’t a word any writer is ever meant to use, but it just seems to sum Roux up. In a world where chefs are encouraged to be brutal, sweary demagogues with diva-like tendencies, he’s a breath of fresh air.
And this programme is every bit as nice as the man himself. It sees him travelling to a handful of the least known, quirkiest and most far-flung restaurants in the UK, before returning to cook some of the dishes that they have inspired in a little pop-up restaurant in an Oast House in Kent.
Roux has a pleasing diffidence about him. He doesn’t shout and gurn and guffaw at the camera, but instead imparts with quiet wisdom his passion for good food and simple flavours.
Tonight, he journeys to the West Country, where he finds some absurdly charming restaurants. There is the floating restaurant, built on a load of old barges, in the middle of the estuary of the River Ex. There’s a restaurant set inside a sculpture in an ornamental garden. It has no kitchen, so everything is cooked on chains above a fire pit. And there’s an impossible picturesque woodland restaurant in Somerset, where the chefs cook one thing only – goat.
Roux has a pleasing diffidence about him. He doesn’t shout and gurn and guffaw at the camera, but instead imparts with quiet wisdom his passion for good food and simple flavours. And the photography in the series is a delight. Almost every frame looks like it could be a painting.
All of that said, I have one minor quibble. And it applies not just to Roux, but to pretty much every chef on television. Every time he finishes cooking a dish, he tastes it, and goes into paroxysms of delight. But it’s a dish he made himself. If a friend of yours cooked a meal, sat down with you, and then spent the entire meal declaiming their own culinary brilliance, you’d tire of it quickly enough – no matter how nice they were.
The best… and the rest
Sunday March 5
Five Gold Rings, 6:40pm, ITV: Phillip Schofield presents a new game show where two teams compete to win up to £25,000. I have been sitting here for ten minutes, and I cannot think of anything else to say about this programme.
Monday March 6
Couples Come Dine with Me, 5pm, Channel 4: Twice the fun/potential for disaster, as various couples compete to find out who is the best cook/the meanest drunk/has the worst taste in curtains.
Travel Man: 48 Hours in St Petersburg, 8:30pm, Channel 4: The peerless Richard Ayoade travels to Russia with comedian Rob Beckett, for entertainments including an armoured tank, caviar, vodka, and a herring in a fur coat.
How’d You Get So Rich? 10pm, Channel 4: Comedian Katherine Ryan meets the super-duper-uber-wealthy, and asks them for the secrets of their success. Watch with a notepad, a yacht brochure, and an overreaching sense of ambition.
Tuesday March 7
Top Gear, 8pm, BBC Two: The Evans-less car show returns with Matt LeBlanc at the steering wheel. Will the show take the chequered flag, or are we in for yet more car crash TV?
Wednesday March 8
A Killing in My Family, 10pm, Channel 4: This Cutting Edge film meets eight families attending a residential weekend for kids who have been bereaved by murder or manslaughter.
Thursday March 9
Crufts 2017, 4pm, Channel 4: Clare Balding is at the NEC in Birmingham for the (frankly rather baffling) canine beauty pageant, where all the dogs seem to have longer names than a French aristocrat.
Brexit: Britain’s Biggest Deal, 9pm, BBC Two: I have a theory. If the Remain camp had simply put out leaflets saying “If we vote to leave the EU, as a nation we’ll pretty much not talk about anything else for the next five years,” they’d have won by a landslide. Anyway, here’s some more, as the difficult-to-spell Laura Kuenssberg examines the complexity of the task ahead.
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