TV review: The Vicar of Dibley in Lockdown

Benjie Goodhart / 03 December 2020

Dawn French returns as Rev Geraldine Granger in a three-episode special of The Vicar of Dibley in Lockdown. Plus, in Nadiya’s American Adventure, Nadiya Hussain takes a food tour of Louisiana and California.

The Vicar of Dibley in Lockdown, Monday 7th December, 8:50pm, BBC One

I’ll admit, 2020 hasn’t been a vintage year in the Goodhart household. My wife is still suffering the after-effects of the daily mauling she was given by the kids during three months of home-schooling. My son has spent so much time on his games console, he now has buttons instead of fingers, and bleeps instead of speaking. My daughter has gone from a shy, gentle poppet to a bristling ball of ten-year-old attitude who can curdle milk with a casual glance. Even the dog has developed a seriously irksome vomiting habit, and is probably going to have do go on some hideous and prohibitively-expensive hypo-allergenic diet.

But me? I’ve really outdone myself this year. As someone who is prone to regular bouts of anxiety anyway, 2020 has seen me reach new and Olympian levels of neurosis. I have, at various times, been worried about everything from social unrest to starving to death, with a little sprinkling of Covid mutating into something more lethal, and just a soupcon of the world becoming a dystopian wasteland. But way back through the mists of time, all the way back in May, I remember having a conversation with a friend, and admitting that I was terrified by the prospect of the nation being in lockdown come the winter.

My friend scoffed at me, incredulously. “Of course we’re not going to be in lockdown in the winter. It’ll be over long before then.” Hmm. It’ll all be over by Christmas. Where have I heard that before?

The thing about being anxious is that very few things take you by surprise. This isn’t because we are more prescient than anyone else, but simply because we’ve probably worried about every conceivable scenario, so whichever one turns out to be real, we’ve already run through in our minds a thousand times.

The other thing about being anxious is that the scenarios we envisage in our heads are never, ever as bad in real life as we’d predicted. When I imagined a Covid-blighted winter, people were gathering around fires in dustbins, and scavenging through the gutter for their Christmas dinner. The howling wind would whistle through our house, because all the windows had been broken by rioters, and we had to huddle round a candle for warmth after the national grid had ceased to operate.

In truth, it’s not going to be a total breeze for the next few months, but there is plenty to look forward to. Christmas is coming, and if we choose to, we will be able to spend it with two other households. And pretty soon, life will start to edge back towards normality. And in the meantime, there’s telly.

This is turning into a sort of cheap and badly-phrased pep rally from a motivational speaker. What I really wanted to say is this: Everything will be alright. Rev Geraldine Granger is back with a series of online sermons, dispensing her dubious wisdom and boundless bonhomie, and the world is a considerably better place for it.

This new series consists of only three episodes, each one just ten minutes long – but they are a delight. The concept is simple enough. Lockdown has hit Dibley. (For some reason, I just checked Oxfordshire’s tier level, and can reveal to you that, if it really existed, Dibley would be in tier 2). So Geraldine is delivering her sermons to the congregation via Zoom. This charming and upbeat look at the foibles of the last year, from the pen of Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer, is a cheerful take on the more absurd aspects of life under Covid.

The first episode begins with her sermon of 19th April. Dibley is still coming to terms with lockdown, and Geraldine is keen to convince one parishioner that he can come back from hiding in the woods, explaining that staying 2m from people refers to metres rather than miles. She also delivers her Easter message which, unsurprisingly, has more to do with chocolate than Jesus.

Next, we fast forward to May 17th. Geraldine is answering questions from local schoolchildren, tackling tricky issues including whether Jesus was better than TV street magicians, and why he only brought Lazarus back from the dead, rather than everyone who ever died. It’s a fair question!

Finally, in her sermon from Sunday 14th June, we catch up with Hugo Horton (James Fleet) who is struggling with being locked down with his father, who has some irritating habits. Unfortunately, that particular apple may have fallen fairly close to the proverbial tree.

These three sermons form the first ten-minute episode, and viewers will have to wait another week for the next dispatch from Dibley. Alternatively, the BBC has said it will screen the whole lot in a half-hour showing later this month. However you choose to watch it, just make sure you do. It’s a ray of sunshine, and everything you’d expect from the winning combination of Dawn French and Richard Curtis.

Nadiya’s American Adventure, Thursday 10th December, 8pm, BBC One

A show about American food? That shouldn’t take long. Just grab a few shots of people tucking into burgers, fries, hot dogs and steaks the size of Milton Keynes, and you’re pretty much there, right? The only other show I know about American cuisine is called Man vs Food, and it involves a guy eating comically vast portions of cardiac-unfriendly food while people in baseball caps chant “USA, USA” in the background. Having said that, this new two-part series is presented by the effortlessly lovely and distinctly demure Nadiya Hussain, so I’m guessing they maybe tone down the machismo a little.

The show sees Nadiya Hussain travel to Louisiana and California, to investigate the food produced by America’s enormous cultural melting pot. And there’s not even a chip (sorry, French fry) or a burger in sight.

First stop is New Orleans. I know all about food in New Orleans. As a 19-year-old, I spent a week there, with four of us sharing a room above a 24-hour diner, The Hummingbird Grill. There was no air conditioning, presumably because that might have made it too chilly for the cockroaches, and there was one shower and toilet per floor. Though it wasn’t easy to distinguish which was the shower and which was the toilet. But the food was greasy, meaty and delicious, and always served with a smile. It was one of the happiest – and I’ll admit, drunkest – weeks of my life.

Thankfully, Nadiya is a little more refined. She’s arriving at the start of Mardi Gras, where the season is kicked off with an enormous cake party. Not surprisingly for such an enthusiastic baker, she is thrilled. She visits a bakery where they make something called a King Cake, which they sell almost 2000 of in a day, in spite of the fact that it looks like something a five-year-old would make out of glitter.

Next, though, there’s a change of pace, and mood, as she visits the Lower 9th Ward, a predominantly African American area that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and hasn’t really recovered. She meets a remarkable man called Burnell, who decided to serve his community by setting up a grocery store in the shell of an old, flood-hit building. Today, it is not just a store, but also a barber’s, a laundrette, a restaurant, and a community hub. Nadiya cooks her own version of a Po’Boy sub, filled with friend chicken, cucumber and spices, which looks ridiculously good.

From there. She heads South, to the shrimping town of Galliano, an old Cajun community. Here she meets great grandmother Alzina Toups, who runs her own restaurant, Alzina’s Kitchen, that is booked up six months in advance, in spite of existing in a sign-less old welding shop. Alzina, incidentally, is 93. She teaches Nadiya how to make gumbo and jambalaya. I was once taught how to make jambalaya, though it wasn’t by a 93-year-old Cajun great grandmother, but by an absurdly massive Scotsman in his trunks who was mainlining JD-and-cokes while he cooked. I wonder whose dish turned out better, mine or Nadiya’s.

There’s still time for a catfishing trip on the Bayou, then cooking said catfish in an okra stew with a Bangladeshi twist. After that, it’s back to New Orleans, where Nadiya meets a marching band and bakes them a rocky road dish that I imagine could make you morbidly obese just by looking at it. Finally, she meets members of the city’s sizeable Vietnamese community who introduce her to a Vietnamese crab and crayfish boil, which may just be the best-looking dish I have seen on TV in years.

In amongst all of this, holding the whole thing together, is Nadiya herself, whose enthusiasm and charm are so winning it’s difficult not to smile when you watch her. This is just the show for a chilly winter’s evening, to lift the spirits and get the tummy rumbling. Just make sure you’ve got something to snack on when it’s done.

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 5th December

Britain’s Wildest Weather, 8:30pm, Channel 4: As if 2020 hasn’t been suitably preposterous enough, we went and had all sorts of weird weather in the UK this year, from floods to heatwaves. This documentary uses footage from across the UK to illustrate the most extreme events. Take cover!

It’ll Be Alright on the Night, 8:30pm, ITV: David Walliams presents the best TV clangers from the last 12 months, including bloopers from Jonathan Ross, Ant and Dec and Jeremy Clarkson.

Sunday 6th December

Jamie: Keep Cooking at Christmas 1/2, 8pm, Channel 4: The chef looks at a series of edible gifts you can make for your loved ones. Perfect. Mrs Goodhart is getting a piece of toast for Christmas. Buttered, if she’s been good.

We Love Dad’s Army, 9pm, Channel 5: A feature-length documentary looking at one of the best-loved sitcoms in TV history. Cast member Ian Lavender, and celebrity fans, including Jonathan Ross and Kelly Holmes, recall their favourite moments. I used to watch with my parents, who laughed until tears rolled down their faces. Happy days!

Gary Barlow’s Night at the Museum, 9pm, ITV: The singer plays tracks from his new album (sigh) and greatest hits (yay!) in a special gig filmed at London’s Natural History Museum. Special guests include Alfie Boe, Ronan Keating, and the eternally-delightful Michael Buble.

Monday 7th December

Luxury Christmas for Less, 8pm, Channel 4: Helen Skelton and Sabrina Grant reveal a series of tips on how to make your money go further at the supermarkets this Christmas.

Coronation Street: 60 Unforgettable Years, 8:30pm, ITV: Joanna Lumley narrates this feature-length look back at an astonishing 60 years of the world’s longest-running TV show, featuring contributions from cast members past and present.

Inside Poundland: Secrets from the Shop Floor, 9pm, Channel 4: Documentary following the retailer as it bids to shed its bargain basement image and move upmarket. Poundland as the new Harvey nix, anyone?

Tuesday 8th December

The Royal Variety Performance 2020, 8pm, ITV: The annual two-hour entertainment extravaganza is back, and this year it boasts a galaxy of stars, including Sheridan Smith, Michael Ball, Gary Barlow, and a special appearance by the human inspiration that is Captain Sir Tom Moore.

Accused: Trial in the Outback 1/2, 9pm, Channel 5: Two feature-length documentaries, on consecutive nights, tell the story of the legendary 1980 trial of Lindy Chamberlain, whose baby was taken by a dingo on a camping trip in Central Australia. The story was made into a film, A Cry in the Dark, starring Meryl Streep.

Wednesday 9th December

Queens of the Street, 9pm, ITV: A documentary celebrating the women who have walked the cobbled streets of Weatherfield over the last six decades. Contributors include some of the Street’s favourite daughters, and some celebrity fans.

Christmas in New York: Inside the Plaza, 9pm, Channel 4: Cameras go behind the scenes to find out how Christmas is made extra special for guests in a hotel where rooms can go for up to £30,000 per night.

Thursday 10th December

Snackmasters, 8pm, Channel 4: Fred Sirieix returns with the show that challenges expert chefs to recreate some of the nation’s most popular snacks. Tonight, can they come up with a passable Quaver?

The Martin Lewis Money Show: Live, 8:30pm, ITV: The financial guru returns for a live special, advising viewers on how to make their money go further during this year’s festive period with a difference.

Death Row’s Women with Susannah Reid, 9pm, ITV: The Good Mornming Britain presenter travels to Texas, to meet a Dallas housewife convicted of killing her son, and accused of killing another son, but who maintains her innocence 23 years later.

Hoarders, 9pm, Channel 5: Who doesn’t like a good documentary about a hoarder, hmm? This one meets some of the nation’s most prolific hoarding offenders, in 60-minutes of telly that is bound to make you feel better about the state of your own home!

Friday 11th December

Jo Brand’s How to Stay Sane in a Mad World, 8pm, Channel 4: The comedian comes up with a selection of fun, creative and Covid-friendly ways to remain level-headed during the pandemic.

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