The Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up to Cancer, Tuesday 5th March, 8pm, Channel 4
We live in a golden age of telly, and this is a golden week. Indeed, the week couldn’t be any more golden if it was a candelabra given by King Midas to Liberace, with Spandau Ballet playing in the background. My advice for the next seven days is to ensure an industrial supply of ready meals and snacking treats, stay indoors, cancel all social occasions, switch off the phone, draw the curtains, and play dead if anyone knocks on your door. Just pop on the box and let all the televisual goodness wash over you and clog up your synapses with pure, high grade, uncut class A entertainment.
Not least among the absolute joys on offer this week is this completely triumphant opening episode of Celebrity Bake Off. If you’ve not seen Celebrity Bake Off before, it’s like your common and garden Bake Off, only with celebrities, and nobody can bake, and actually they don’t really care anyway. And if you’ve not seen your common and garden Bake Off before, we have nothing more to discuss and you are dead to me.
The series, which is raising money for Stand Up to Cancer, features a genuinely spectacular line up of guests, including Jeremy Paxman, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Jess Phillips MP, Our Girl’s Michelle Keegan, Johnny Vegas, and Olympian Nicola Adams. But first up, tonight’s opener features comedians Jon Richardson and Russell Brand (complete with ever-expanding beard, he looks like a delightfully evil Santa), Paralympic legend Hannah Cockroft, and a massive truckload of Hollywood stardust in the form of John Lithgow.
The format for the show is the same as ever, so we start with a signature challenge. This week, it is to make 12 brownies, that must be gooey in the middle, decorated, and identical. Straight away Jon, who is notorious for his neurotic fastidiousness, is worried about keeping his workstation clean. “Do we get time for tidying factored in, or do we have to do that during the hour-and-a-half?” I am increasingly of the opinion that my wife should have married Jon Richardson. I think she may agree.
Jon is making vegan brownies. “It’s important for me to have the moral high ground, in case I don’t win.” And, let’s face it, he’s unlikely to win many awards with a vegan brownie, particularly if he spends half the time bleaching his work surface and scouring his oven. Russell, meanwhile, is making a brownie featuring a popular commercially available biscuit that he is not allowed to mention, though there are several references to p-p-p-picking it up, so you don’t need to be a genius to work it out. His brownies will be decorated in homage to his beloved West Ham, so presumably will be slightly stale, with a soft centre, and an injury-prone striker (I think that analogy may have stopped working by the end). Hannah is going for cookies’n’cream brownies, and John is paying chocolatey tribute to the ‘special relationship’ with brownies decorated with the US and UK flags.
And on we go, to the technical. “If the technical is Marmite on toast, I’m on to a winner, as I had that yesterday,” says Jon. It isn’t. I won’t reveal what it is, but suffice to say, some of the creations look remarkably like a caterpillar that has been repeatedly trodden on. Finally, there is the showstopper. One of the contestants has taken the brief and turned it into something surprisingly graphic – no prizes for guessing who.
The whole thing is an absolute riot. Of course, nobody really gives a stuff who wins, including, I suspect, the contestants themselves. The four of them work really well together, and Jon and Russell are on magnificent form. And halfway through, there is a video of Karen, a mum to six-and-eight-year-olds, who has terminal cancer. It’s a slap in the face, a reminder of why the programme is made in the first place and why, in its own way, this ridiculous, uproarious programme about daft people baking ridiculous creations is the most important programme you will watch all week.
Home, Tuesday 5th March, 9:45pm, Channel 4
In a week filled with such stellar televisual treats, I had absolutely no intention of writing about a small, relatively low-key Channel 4 sitcom making its TV debut. But then I watched episode one. Followed, in fairly quick succession by episodes two, three, four, five and six. It is gentle, warm, humane, sad, laugh-out-loud funny and – I genuinely mean this – an absolute masterpiece.
The action begins with a family arriving home from their summer holiday. As Peter (Rufus Jones, who also wrote the show) takes a bag out of the car, he is confronted by the somewhat alarming site of a head poking through the luggage in the boot. It belongs to Sami (Youssef Kerkour), an asylum seeker from Syria, who snuck in at a garage near Calais.
Peter is horrified, and clearly threatened by Sami (who, it has to be said, is a giant of a man, though very much of the gentle variety). But Peter’s partner Katy is of a rather more sympathetic nature. She wants to give him money, but on finding she has none in her purse, gives him a Café Nero loyalty card instead. It has two stamps on it, she explains, so after seven more coffees, Sami will get a free one.
After a run in with the police involving the best Marmite joke you will ever see, Sami is arrested and taken to immigration services, where he announces his desire to stay in the country. “I love United Kingdom. Winston Churchill, Elizabeth II, Top Gear – even the one with Joey.” And so begins a journey that will change all of their lives. Peter and Katy, it emerges, are at a crossroads in their fledgling relationship, and Katy’s son John (Oaklee Pendergast) is very much of the opinion that he does not want Peter to be his new father. But when Katy makes the decision to invite Sami into their home, the family dynamic takes a battering.
There is so much to admire here. The performances are uniformly outstanding. Rebekah Staton is a brilliant comic actress, at times beautifully understated, at others happy to ham it up. Rufus Jones is brilliantly uptight as Peter, yet crucially manages to make a potentially loathsome character hugely sympathetic. But it is Youssef Kerkour, as Sami, who steals the show, with a breath-taking performance. To be as funny as he is, and still carry with his every movement and facial expression such exhaustion and sadness, is an astonishing achievement. He deserves every award going and I hope his work is recognised.
But above even that, there is the writing. Jones, of whom I was only previously vaguely aware as an actor, and not at all as a writer, has created something that is quite unique. To write something that is moral, humane, educational and political, without ramming any of that down your throat, is impressive. To do it, and still maintain the credibility of the characters, making each step on the journey believable, and tying all of the strands together, is even more so. But to do all of that, and also make a comedy that is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny is simply brilliant.
The best… and the rest
Saturday 2nd March
All Together Now 1/6, 7:30pm, BBC One: Return of the distinctly odd, but oddly watchable, musical talent show where success is measured by how many of the 100-strong judging panel stand up and join in with the contestants.
The Jonathan Ross Show, 9:25pm, ITV: The evergreen cheeky chappie returns with a new series of his chat show, with appearances tonight from Samuel L Jackson, Brie Larson and Seann ‘Love Rat’ Walsh.
Sunday 3rd March
Race Across the World 1/6, 9pm, BBC Two: All credit to the Beeb for coming up with this genuinely fascinating concept. Six pairs of intrepid travellers have to get from Greenwich to Singapore, via five different destinations, without taking a plane, or using mobile phones or credit cards.
Monday 4th March
Louis Theroux: The Night in Question, 9pm, BBC Two: Theroux’s documentaries are always thought-provoking affairs, as well as rare treats, and tonight’s promises to be no different. He travels to US college campuses to investigate the epidemic of sexual assaults and meets both victims and those accused of the crimes.
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire 1/5, 9pm, ITV: Clarkson is the epitome of the Marmite presenter (there it is again! I should get sponsored…) but love him or loathe him, there is still something intriguing about watching people answering questions for increasingly huge amounts of cash. One things for sure – the biggest cash winner is the one sitting in the quizmaster’s chair.
The Bachelor, 10pm, Channel 5: Fifteen women compete for the affections of one man, business owner Alex, in a dreadfully tawdry show that I will in no way be recording and watching in its entirety with my wife. Definitely not.
Fleabag, 10:35pm, BBC One: One of the runaway comedy hits of recent years, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s extraordinary, shocking and moving comedy is not for the faint-hearted. But if you don’t mind a hefty dose of vulgarity and frank sexual references with your humour, this is the stuff of genius.
Tuesday 5th March
London: 2,000 Years of History 1/4, Channel 5, 9:15pm: Historians Dan Jones and Dr Suzannah Lipscomb, and engineer Rob Bell, explore the history of London, tracking its development from an insignificant Roman trading post to one of the great megacities of the world. Tonight, London’s first thousand years.
Derry Girls 1/6, 9:15pm, Channel 4: Lisa McGee’s inspired sitcom takes the unpromising setting of Northern Ireland during the troubles in the early 90s and turns it into comedy gold. Her protagonists – four teenage girls and their sappy English male cousin – show that there was more to the place than bombs and balaclavas. The profoundly moving conclusion to series one, which won the radio Times’ TV moment of the year, shows just what an emotional punch great comic writing can pack.
Wednesday 6th March
MotherFatherSon 1/8, 9pm, BBC Two: No lesser luminary than Richard Gere is starring in this new drama, alongside Helen McCrory who plays his aristocratic estranged wife, in a tale about politics, business, and the nature of family.
The Real Marigold on Tour 4/4, 9pm BBC One: Another charming series comes to an end, with force of nature Rosemary Shrager and world’s nicest man Paul Nicholas joining the Krankies on a jaunt to Mexico. Arriba!
Retiring in India - the Real Marigold way
The Real Marigold on Tour: series 2
Thursday 7th March
Travelling Blind, 8pm, BBC Two: Amar Latif is an enthusiastic traveller who happens to be blind. In this intriguing one-off film, he is accompanied to some of Turkey’s more remote locations by comedian Sara Pascoe. What begins as a travelogue-with-a-difference quickly becomes an odd-couple adventure as it emerges that the pair have distinctly different approaches to foreign travel.
Celebrity Apprentice for Comic Relief 1/2, 9pm, BBC One: Celebs including Sam Allardyce, Amanda Holden, Rylan Clark-Neal and Rachel Johnson try and impress Grumplestiltskin himself, Lord Sugar, with their dubious business acumen, in this two-part Comic Relief special.
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