Bear’s Mission with David Walliams, Tuesday 14th May, 9pm, ITV
I watched this show with my children for the first time ever. Not the first time I’ve ever watched TV with them, you understand: Heavens, my parenting style is pretty much to put the telly on, slump down next to them and start snoring or checking my Fantasy League team on my phone while they devour whatever singing dinosaur or lantern-jawed superhero they’re into this week. It was the first time I’d ever watched a programme for work with them. But I had to watch it yesterday, time was running out, and I wanted to watch the Liverpool v Barcelona game (that, at least, was one decision I got right).
Never again, I tell you.
It may not seem like it, but I actually take pretty detailed notes when I’m watching something for work. Generally speaking, this is easier when I don’t have an eight-year-old girl climbing all over me demanding I tickle her, and an eleven-year-old boy asking for Doritos every 17 seconds and trying to discuss the finer points of Fortnite (it’s a computer game – don’t ask!) Indeed, at times my challenge seemed so insurmountable, it made what was happening on the screen look easy by comparison.
The constant barrage of verbiage from my progeny was particularly irritating, because I am a fan of these shows with Bear Grylls. It’s a pretty basic formula – you take a celebrity somewhere remote, you make them go up/down something precipitous on a piece of string, submerge them in something freezing, feed them something entirely inedible and then take advantage of their enfeebled mental state to ask them some personal questions.
And it works. It works partly because Grylls seems like a fairly open, enthusiastic and guile-less interviewer, and partly because you’ll answer any question if it’s put to you by the bloke who’s keeping you alive through this hellish ordeal. But, perhaps most of all, it works because the whole thing takes place away from the sterile, fake environment of a TV studio. Something about being out in the elements, among (and sometimes against) nature, seems to bring out a straightforward honesty in people.
So it is in this programme, where Walliams talks about everything from his career to parenthood, his epic cross-channel swim to his battles with depression. Of course, in amongst these moments of sincerity, there is the predictable (and very funny) smattering of camp tomfoolery that is the Walliams trademark. Before he meets Grylls, he worries: “We’re both really alpha. Two very butch guys together. Things are going to kick off.”
All in all, this programme gets a firm thumbs-up from the whole Goodhart family. My wife found it an excellent opportunity to have an hour-long snooze (which shouldn’t be taken as a signifier of anything, the woman could snooze through a tornado). My daughter enjoyed both the dangerous challenges and the tickling I was forced to administer at regular intervals. And my son announced that he thought the manky old rat they skinned, gutted and cooked for lunch looked ‘really nice’. This was less than an hour after it had taken him 20 minutes to eat a single mouthful of green beans. Challenges, I suppose, mean different things to different people.
Nadiya: Anxiety and Me, Wednesday 15th May, 9pm, BBC One
“I’m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never gonna say ‘I can’t do it’. I’m never gonna say ‘maybe’. I’m never gonna say ‘I don’t think I can’. I can, and I will.”
Nadiya Hussain’s rousing and deeply moving speech upon winning Bake Off in 2015 was an inspirational moment for millions of people (not least Mary Berry, who wept, bless her heart!) It felt like she was talking to all of us, to anyone who had ever suffered from moments of self-doubt. Which, let’s face it, is everyone, unless you’re an absolutely insufferable twit.
But it turns out she was talking to herself. Because, for as long as she can remember, Nadiya Hussain – brilliant, talented, kind, funny, clever Nadiya Hussain – has suffered from horrendous anxiety. Here’s another quote, this time from the opening sequence to this programme.
“I know that having anxiety is probably one of the most lonely, most isolating things to have, because you are your own worst enemy and you live inside your head.”
Plenty of you reading this will be able to relate to this sentiment on an almost visceral level. For those of you who can’t (lucky you!) it is entirely true, only worse than that. Sometimes much worse. I know what I’m talking about. I’ve been on medication for anxiety for the last 26 years. (I know, I know, I barely even LOOK 26, but I swear it’s true). I am incredibly fortunate – the medication works a treat for me, and I am able to lead a pretty much normal life (except that most people don’t spend their days being paid to watch TV in their pants). But the beast raises its ugly head from time to time, and when it does…
26 years ago, I didn’t really know about anxiety. I thought I was going mad, that I was the only person ever to experience these utterly debilitating symptoms. Fortunately, in the ensuing years, the conversation about mental health has come an incredibly long way, and people feel enabled to be open and honest when they’re struggling. But even factoring that in, making this one-off documentary, part of the BBC’s Mental Health Season, is an act of faith, and of courage.
It was worth it. This is the best film about anxiety that I have seen. Hussain’s ability to describe her feelings, and her willingness to lay her psyche bare, mean that we are given a profound insight into what it is to live with her level of fear. Spoiler alert: It’s not easy. “It’s got to the point in my life now where that’s all I am now. I’m just the panic, I’m just the anxiety, and I don’t want to be that anymore.”
It seems that anything can induce a panic attack in Nadiya. The idea of not having her life mapped out in an unbreakable routine fills her with horror. Everything must be just so – and any deviation from the norm will cause her to panic. She once had a crippling anxiety attack when the supermarket substituted coriander for parsley in her weekly shop.
So finally, Nadiya decides to get help. (Why, why, WHY do people wait so long?) She goes to see a cognitive behavioural therapist, an absolutely marvellous chap called Professor Paul Salkovskis, and their work begins.
What follows is at times hopeful, even exhilarating, and at others deeply frustrating. It is also profoundly moving, as some extremely unpleasant memories from the past come to the fore. But what makes this documentary ultimately such a compelling and emotional watch is Nadiya herself. You root for her, because she is so relatable, so eloquent, so brave, and so entirely likeable.
You can, Nadiya. You can and you will.
The best… and the rest
Saturday 11th May
Queen Victoria: My Musical Britain, 9pm, BBC Two: Historian Lucy Worsley looks at the role music played in Victoria’s life, and how she used it as a tool to unite the nation in tumultuous times. And to think, the Cheeky Girls hadn’t even been invented yet.
Secrets of the Royal Wardrobe, 9pm, Channel 5: Once upon a time, Channel 5 was obsessed with football and films. Then it was bailiffs and traffic cops. Now it seems to be royalty. The obsession continues unabated, with this feature-length doc exploring a seemingly infinite number of royal wedding dresses. Might be time to clean out the shed, chaps…
Sunday 12th May
British Academy Television Awards, 8pm, BBC One: Graham Norton presents the big one, the primus inter pares of TV awards, the BAFTAs, live from the Royal Festival Hall. Expect lots of gushy speeches, and a few people who will be looking to sack their stylist in the morning.
Louis Theroux: Mothers on the Edge, 9pm, BBC Two: The documentarian visits two psychiatric units in the UK where vulnerable mothers can be treated whilst being allowed to live alongside their babies.
Monday 13th May
Victoria’s Palace, 9pm, ITV: One national treasure visits another, as Sir Trevor McDonald (and his excellent successor Julie Etchingham) visit Buckingham Palace to tell the story of how our Vicky turned it from a drab an unloved pile to a home and an iconic national institution.
15 Days 1/4, Channel 5, 9pm: Showing over the next four nights, this thriller is about four siblings who return home to scatter their mother’s ashes and read her will. But this is one family reunion destined to end in murder.
Tuesday 14th May
Years and Years, 9pm, BBC One: This promises to be a real treat. Russell T Davies (the man behind last year’s fabulous A Very English Scandal) has written a drama about the Lyons family spread over a number of years, and starring Emma Thompson, Russell Tovey and Rory Kinnear. I expect little short of greatness!
Wednesday 15th May
The Virtues 1/4, 9pm, Channel 4: Batten down the hatches: This four-part series is not an easy watch. But it is an extraordinary one, as tends to be the case with writer-director Shane Meadows’ work. Stephen Graham is utterly compelling as Joe, a recovering alcoholic who goes to Ireland in search of the past as his life begins to unravel.
Thursday 16th May
David Harewood: Psychosis and Me, 9pm, BBC Two: Also part of the BBC’s Mental Health Season, this one-off doc sees the actor telling the story of a psychotic breakdown that led to him being sectioned at the age of 23. He talks to those who knew him at the time, and to others who have suffered similar episodes.
Friday 17th May
Puppy School, 8pm, Channel 4: New dog owners get advice on how best to raise their puppies, so that they will go on to be responsible, caring members of society with good jobs and stable relationships. Or, at the very least, so they won’t wee on the floor.
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