TV blog: Bargain Fever Britain, Banished and other highlights

Benjie Goodhart / 06 March 2015

TV blogger Benjie Goodhart takes a sideways look at the banality of Bargain Fever Britain, the bling of the Billion Dollar Hotel, the breathless pace of Banished, and the wonderful, warm-hearted institution that is Comic Relief.

Review: Bargain Fever Britain, Tuesday, March 3, 8pm, ITV

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but apparently there’s been a spot of financial difficulty of late in this country, and as a result, we’re none of us eating as much swan as we used to. Fewer of us are buying sun-blushed ostrich-parfait in Waitrose these days, as we all sprint down to Costco to get our hands on some bargain reformed chicken innards.

This mind-bogglingly dull documentary takes the fact that we’re all shopping a little more carefully as its starting point, and then just stands around dumbly looking at it for an hour. Think of the most nondescript person you ever met. Imagine you’re stuck with them at a party, talking about stick insects and rail timetables for sixty minutes while nobody refills your glass. That’s this programme in human form.

We meet the man who has started a business selling out of date food (not prawns and chicken and stuff, but the longer life items like fizzy pop and pot noodles). He’s doing quite well, so we see him move to a bigger warehouse. There’s a computer glitch. Fortunately, it gets sorted.

Meanwhile, at Costco, we meet people who buy in bulk to make savings, like the woman who buys 40 tins of spaghetti at a time. Ooh, here’s intrigue: The store has produced some eight foot teddy bears, but they’re not selling all that fast. Hmm. It’s not exactly “Who shot JR?”

Oh well, we’re off to Shoe Zone now. Surely things will pick up from here on i… Oh. We’re watching men load boxes onto a truck. The truck’s getting quite full. Will they get all the boxes on the truck? Yes. Yes, they will.

Apparently, some people like to save money by shopping with coupons. Some people, it seems, use LOTS of coupons. People like Holly. Holly loves a bargain. She sent off for a free tin of cat food, and she doesn’t even have a cat! She gave it to a cat shelter. Her kids look relieved. Holly also bought a load of air fresheners for 50p each. She says they’ll make good stocking fillers. Kids look less relieved. “I didn’t get an X-Box for Christmas, but my bedroom smells like pinefresh disinfectant. What do you mean, you don’t want to come over? We could have pizza. My mum’s got 60 of them in the freezer.” She does. They were on offer.

Thank God for Holly, whose only-slightly-dull section of the programme prevented me from actually slipping into a dangerously somnolent state. Then it was off to a car dealership, where people – get this – go to buy cars. Apparently they prefer paying less for cars than paying more for them. Wow.

Having watched this programme for an hour, I still have no idea what it was meant to be about. It was filming people doing their shopping, and other people serving them. It was like being a security guard watching CCTV, except we weren’t getting paid for it. Apparently it’s a two-part series. Crikey. Maybe ITV got it cheap for buying in bulk.

Review: Banished, Thursday, March 5, 9pm, BBC Two

New South Wales, 1788. A group of convicts and their guards are the first settlers in Australia. Everyone there is violent, uncouth, ill-mannered and uncultured. 

The convicts are a rough lot, but they’re the Von Trapp family singers compared to the guards, who make Genghis Khan look like My Little Pony. Everyone is being made to do forced labour, and the food is very scarce. But it’s not all bad news. Fortunately, the criminals in 18th-Century England appeared to have not only remarkably good dentistry, but extremely fine features. It’s as if there had been a crime wave at a beauty pageant. Hurrah!

Two of these gorgeous, lissom characters have been sharing a bed, against the rules. The woman is caught, and given 25 lashes. This seems agonising, but happily, a few minutes later she’s skipping along like a spring lamb on a caffeine high. Just as well they didn’t catch her fellow. They’d have hung him. Or is it hanged. 

Oh dear. It seems he’s a man of principle. He’s insisting on being able to be with the woman he loves. “I will lie with her, and you may hang me for it.” Even as a teenager, I don’t think I was ever that desperate for a girlfriend. Actually, there was a patch aged about 16…

Meanwhile, a nasty bully prisoner is stealing a nice gentle prisoner’s food. Nice prisoner grasses. If found guilty, the nasty bully will be hung/hanged. The sliding scale of punishments for men in New South Wales seems to stretch from hanging all the way to hanging. Haven’t they heard of community service?

Turns out Mr Principles went to his woman, so he’s got to be hunged (I split the difference). Except the firm-but-fair Governor comes up with an alternative solution, and the two are married instead. Same difference for poor Mr Principles. His life is over. 

Banished is the complete opposite of Bargain Fever Britain, in that too much happens in the first episode. It moves at such breakneck speed, you're liable to have a nosebleed just watching it. And there are more holes in the plot than in a colander factory run by rabbits. But the cast is absolutely top notch, and the baddies are so unremittingly bad, and the goodies so saintly, it makes for a genuinely wonderful hour of entertainment. I loved it. Bring on episode two.

Continue to page 2 for Benjie's previews of The Billion Pound Hotel and Comic Relief.

Preview: The Billion Pound Hotel, Monday, March 9, 9pm, Channel 4

I love a luxury hotel as much as the next man. Well, I mean, I would love one, if I ever went to it. To my wife’s eternal irritation, I’m too much of a tightwad. She considers it a result if I book us into somewhere that the rooms aren’t available by the hour and the tea doesn’t have to be purchased from the nearest Greggs. If I actually book a double room, and she doesn’t have to sneak in through the window, she starts thinking it’s her birthday.

So we’re neither of us ever likely to get closer to the Burj Al Arab than this one-off documentary.  You know the Burj Al Arab – it’s the one in Dubai that looks like 1000ft sail. If you’re one of the 11,000 Brits who stay there every year, you’ll be familiar with its comical opulence. There’s more gold on display here than round Mr T’s neck. In fact, there’s over two square kilometres of gold leaf in the place, which gives you an idea of the of the hotel’s unabashed vulgarity. 

There are also 24,000 light fittings, electronic toilets, huge aquariums, leather floors, and suites eight times the size of the average UK home. These suites cost £10,000-per-night, which buys you a rotating bed and décor that looks like it’s been designed by Liberace and Barbara Cartland after a heavy absinthe session.

Luxury-hotel-porn seems to be de rigeur on TV these days. In recent months we’ve had the Shangri La in the Shard, Necker Island, and now this. It’s all quite fun, as far as it goes, but they’re a bit samey. We see lots of flashy rooms, meet the dedicated and slightly oleaginous staff, and get to watch people who may or may not pay enough taxes relaxing with their wives/money/lawyers. I think even I’m getting close to my limit for the genre. Soon we’re going to run out of top class hotels, and we’ll end up watching documentaries about the joys of staying in a Travelodge on the Wirral. 

There are nice touches in this, mind you. There’s the Uzbek lady on the hospitality team who gets her etiquette tips by watching the staff on Downton, or the beach party where the entire beach is carpeted because “no-one wants to walk on sand.” But there is also something soul-destroying about a place where you can buy a gold iPad for $10,000, or where, instead of chocolate, they sprinkle gold on top of your cappuccino. 

That’s why I’ve decided to take a stand. In a world of finite resources where billions live in unspeakable poverty, I will be boycotting the Burj Al Arab. Sorry, Mrs Goodhart, I know you’d love it there, but it’s a moral thing, see? Otherwise, I’d be there like a shot, of course…

Preview: Comic Relief – Face the Funny, Friday, March 13, 7pm, BBC One

This little blue marble we call home is a strange place in so many ways. The Duck Billed Platypus – that’s strange. Squeezy cheese in a tube? Strange. The films of Lars von Trier? Strange. But very little can be stranger than the fact that a two-hour flight from the Burj Al Arab there are people who have so little, they can’t even afford to eat. It is peculiar, is it not, that for the price of one night spent slumbering in air-conditioned splendour, whole families could be fed, clothed, inoculated, educated and supported for a year.

This isn’t a political rant – I’m not about to start manning the barricades and marching around in a donkey jacket sporting an interesting beard (though this is no longer a sign of political affiliation anyway, but instead simply means you work in the media). I’m no more a communist than JR Ewing. But I don’t actually like people dying. Call me a bleeding heart liberal.

Thank heavens, then, for things like Comic Relief. There are those who would tell you that charity doesn’t work. That it’s just pouring money into a bottomless pit. They tend not to be the ones who are dying, mind you. The truth is, in the last 30 years, the voluntary sector has become much more adept at targeting money to the right schemes, eliminating waste, and investing in infrastructure projects that can help people help themselves. Give a man a fishing rod, and all that.

Two years ago, Comic Relief raised over £100 million. The money has gone to help over 2000 projects in this country, and 350 in Africa. That is, unequivocally, a good and remarkable thing.

Comic Relief, then, is brilliant. But it’s also great TV. I mean, there’s always a fair amount of chaos, and people walking around with enormous oversized cheques (somewhere there is a giant whose account is getting rapidly emptied), but there’s also some inspired comedy, and some remarkable achievements. 

On the show this year, we’re promised Dermot O’Leary competing his 24-hour-dancing, the finals of the People’s Strictly and CR Bake Off, Let’s Play Darts, a James Bond sketch with Daniel Craig, David Walliams appearing with Catherine Tate and Prof Stephen Hawking, Dawn French as the Vicar of Dibley, a sketch featuring Russell Brand and the Chuckle Brothers (I told you the world was a strange place) and the return of Mr Bean (so it’s not all good news). And then there are the films. Oh the films. The reminder of why it’s all on in the first place.

I tend to get a bit lachrymose as it goes on. Especially after a few glasses of wine. It’s enough to make you dehydrated. Conveniently, I have a constant supply of clean drinking water to keep me going. Aren’t I the lucky one?



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