TV review: Sue Perkins: Along the US-Mexico Border

Benjie Goodhart / 04 September 2020

On TV this week Sue Perkins takes a journey along the US-Mexico border, while a new cookery show with Mary Berry explores classic comfort food.



Sue Perkins: Along the US-Mexico Border, Monday 7th September, 9pm, BBC One

I love Sue Perkins. I love her every bit as much as I do Miriam Margolyes. Clearly I am drawn to entertaining lesbian thesps who have turned their hands to travel presenting. I suppose everyone’s got their type.

Actually, Sue really is rather like Miriam, in some respects. Both are frank, funny and forthright, and not afraid of allowing their own opinions to seep into their programmes. Those who see the BBC as a cesspit of socialist wokeness will doubtless be appalled at the dogmatic nature of a travelogue with Sue or Miriam at the helm, as they hold forth on their views about immigration, or human rights, or Donald Trump. Basically, Sue is like a mini-Margolyes, only less inclined to talk about her bosom.

In this excellent, thought-provoking and frequently moving two-part series, Sue Perkins is travelling the length of one of the most controversial borders in the world – that between the US and Mexico.

She begins her journey in Tijuana. The Tijuana-San Diego post is the busiest border crossing on Earth. But it’s Friday night, and Tijuana is a party town, so Perkins has her mind set on other things for the evening. She meets up with a local guide, Matthew, and announces: “I wanna drink tequila out of a space hopper and dance all night.” You’re unlikely to get her confused with Alan Whicker, that’s for sure.

Matthew and Sue find a shop the size of a superstore, selling nothing but tequila. Thousands upon thousands of bottles. They appear determined to try all of them. Maybe Tijuana does that to visitors. Anyway, the cameras show impressive discretion by switching off, and the next we see of Sue, she is looking rather jaded, having breakfast at Matthew’s house. No, no, not like that. She’s been back to her hotel and everything.

In fact, she’s travelled across town to breakfast with Matthew and his family. And it’s not hard to see why. Apparently Matthew’s mother serves the best breakfast in Tijuana. I certainly like the cut of her jib. Breakfast consists of deep-fried tortillas with chocolate and chilli. Go right ahead and sign me up for Mexican citizenship, I’m all in. It certainly beats a slice of toast and half a grapefruit!

There is discussion of Mexico’s welcoming, open-arms approach to immigrants, something that the gentleman to the North seems to abhor. Sue visits a shelter for Honduran refugees, and meets a single mother of three young kids, who has travelled for months, facing uncertainty and hardship on an unimaginable scale, to make a better life for her children.

Next, she meets a different kind of immigrant: ageing Americans who have decided to retire to northwest Mexico. There are 200,000 of them in the area, and by the looks of things, they’re there for the weather, the affordability, and to get drunk and stoned. It’s a bit different from my mum’s retirement community in Battersea.

As the programme continues, the wall becomes more and more significant. We meet a family separated by it, who can only touch fingers through its holes. We cross into America, and meet the policeman trying to stem the ceaseless traffic of people and drugs into the US. We encounter the couple who own a ranch where around half-a-million illegal immigrants have been arrested over the last 30 years. And we travel to Los Algodones, a Mexican border town which boasts more dentists per capita than anywhere else in the world, catering for American clients who can’t afford dental insurance and sky high premiums in the US.

As ever, Perkins is a delight. What is most evident, besides her wit and joie de vivre, is her humanity. She seems to share in the joys and tragedies she encounters, and has a visceral reaction to the pain of other people. It brings the subject alive, and makes for compelling viewing. Part two follows tomorrow night.

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Mary Berry’s Simple Comforts 1/6, Wednesday 9th September, 8pm, BBC Two

We are indeed blessed with the televisual matriarchs this week. Sue Perkins and Mary Berry may not be peas in a pod, but they are both national treasures, and I, for one, feel happier when they pop up, large as life and twice as colourful – on my tellybox screen.

Even better, Mary’s new series is one dedicated to recipes that are both simple and comforting, which is the way I like my food. And my women. (That is a joke, please God nobody either take that seriously or pass it on to my wife, who is far from simple, and is capable of being far from comforting if I say the wrong thing).

“This is the food that makes you feel that everything will be all right,” says Berry soothingly. And, for half-an-hour at least, the cares of this hectic and rather disturbing new world melt away, and we are left with our heroine pottering around the streets of Paris, sampling the food and showing us how to make it at home. This was filmed, needless to say, before Covid. It would be monumental lunacy to let the crown jewel that is Mary Berry go gallivanting around Europe at the moment. If I had my way, she’d be kept in a hermetically-sealed house and tested every fifteen minutes, just to be sure.

Actually, judging by the shot of Notre Dame, this was filmed before the fire, which was 18 months ago. Just how long ago did they film it? Are we likely to see Napoleon walking in front of the camera at some point?

Anyway, Mary loves Paris. Of course she does. It’s all food and fashion. She is the living embodiment of the place. First off, she’s popping into a Fromagerie. “The smell is wonderful,” she coos. Far be it from me to contradict the oracle herself, but I’ve never been into a cheese shop that didn’t make me want to liberally distribute my breakfast all over the premises. The places always smell exactly like the school First XI changing room after a particularly hard match on a warm spring day. And yes, I did mention that largely to shoehorn in the fact that I was in the First XI at school. (It was a small school…)

Then, tout d’en coup, we’re in Mary’s kitchen. And she’s showing us how to make a croque-monsieur. Even I can do that. It’s a sandwich. Apparently, says Mary, the translation of croque monsieur is ‘Mr Crunchy’. Why do things sound so much better in foreign languages? Would you be as inspired by Giuseppe Verdi if he was plain old Joe Green?

Back on the streets of Paris, and Mary is looking for somewhere to have a crêpe. I said crêpe. She finds a chap selling them from his café window, and asks if she can have a go. The proprietor agrees like it’s a perfectly normal request. She makes her own crêpe, and then appears to walk out without paying. That’s the way you roll if you’re Mary Ruddy Berry. Back to her kitchen, and she’s making blinis with a crab and fennel salad. I have to say, it looks like just about the most delicious thing I have ever seen in my life.

Now she’s having lunch in Paris, surrounded by adoring men. She is, as I believe we’ve established, Mary Ruddy Berry, after all. In the UK, the average lunch break is 22 minutes. In Paris, the working day is basically a long lunch, with 22 minutes of work scattered on either side of it. God they’re civilised. And there’s plenty of wine with the meal. “For lunch, we are limited to eight glasses,” jokes one of her companions. I can’t see Mary having eight glasses of wine. I suspect she has one-a-day, and two at Christmas.

There’s still time for a divine-looking slow roast lamb recipe, and a visit to a bakery, to see how croissants and baguettes are made. And to a vintage couture shop, where Mary Ruddy Berry tries on various outfits, and looks absurdly fabulous in everything. She is extraordinary. When I grow up, I want to be Mary Berry. I appreciate there are one or two holes in my plan, but I’ll iron them out.

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 5th September

Britain’s Got Talent, 8pm, ITV: The entertainment behemoth returns for the live semi-finals, after the series was so rudely interrupted in May. The socially-distanced show will feature a virtual audience wall, and Ashley Banjo filling in as guest judge for Simon Cowell, recovering from his broken back.

The Palace vs The Press: Royals Under Fire, 9pm, Channel 5: Documentary examining the relationship between the younger, media-savvy royals and a scandal-hungry press pack.

Piers Morgan’s Life Stories 1/3, 10pm, ITV: Featuring an in-depth chat with Vinnie Jones, who opens up about his grief at losing his wife, Tanya, to cancer last year.

Sunday 6th September

Soccer Aid, 6:30pm, ITV: Dermot O’Leary and Kirsty Gallacher present live coverage of the pro-celebrity football match between England and the Rest of the World in aid of Unicef. As well as a host of former footballers, the celebs involved include Olly Murs, Jason Manford, and the nation’s PE teacher, Joe Wicks.

Louis Theroux: Life on the Edge 1/4, 9pm, BBC Two: The film-maker reflects on his quarter of a century making documentaries, and catches up with some particularly intriguing contributors from his extraordinary back catalogue.

The Mega Council Estate Next Door, 9pm, Channel 5: Documentary looking at lives on either side of the economic divide in Islington, where the rich and poor live shoulder to shoulder.

Monday 7th September

Inside Animal A&E, 8pm, ITV: New series, charting the comings and goings in two of the UK’s busiest animal hospitals.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire 1/5, 9pm, ITV: Jeremy Clarkson returns with another series of the classic gameshow, this time with no studio audience, which presumably limits the possibility of any awkward coughing, which could be either coronavirus or cheating.

Inside Chelsea: Britain’s Wealthiest Borough, 10pm, BBC Two: Mehreen Baig investigates life in the Royal Borough if Kensington and Chelsea, where annual salaries are three-times the national average.

Tuesday 8th September

Eat Well for Less? 1/6, 8pm, BBC One: Gregg Wallace and Chris Bavin look at ways to live frugally whilst not existing entirely on tinned beans. This week, they help the Macbeth family from Windsor.

Wednesday 9th September

Nadiya Bakes 1/8, 8:30pm, BBC Two: Nadiya Hussain shares her love of baking with some of her favourite recipes, including blueberry scone pizza, and a spicy Asian toad in the hole.

Thursday 10th September

The Martin Lewis Money Show: Live, 8pm, ITV: The financial guru kicks off his new series with a live special, answering viewers’ queries and helping families sort out their money in these economically burdensome times.

Friday 11th September

The Romantics and Us with Simon Schama 1/3, 9pm, BBC Two: The historian explores the remarkable and far-reaching legacies, cultural and otherwise, that the romantic artists left on the modern world.

Atlantic: A Year in the Wild, 9pm, Channel 5: The broadcaster embraces its inner-Attenborough, and spends a year charting ocean life. The first episode deals with life on the Atlantic in winter.

It’ll Be Alright on the Night, 9:30pm, ITV: David Walliams takes the Denis Norden role, guiding visitors through a series of out-takes and bloopers from the cutting room floor.

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