Reviews

This Week in TV: The Great British Bake-Off, In the Club, Who Do You Think You Are? and Our World War

In this week’s edition we have loads of cake, pregnant women and tales of poverty to get to so let’s not hang around any longer than we have to.

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With the ratings gradually climbing year upon year there was no surprise when the announcement came that The Great British Bake-Off was to move from BBC Two to BBC One. The news was met with mixed feelings for long time fans of the show like myself who felt that there may be one or two changes made in the transition. So imagine my delight when my fears were unfounded as, in their opening monologue, Mel and Sue made reference to Paul Hollywood’s Love Dungeon. Yes the smutty duo are still cracking the puns on a regular basis with the bakers being instructed to pop Mary’s cherry ahead of the technical challenge. I love how Mel and Sue haven’t been watered down and their joy of working on the show was evident when they fought over contestant Diana’s chocolate mousse. If anything the biggest change has been in Paul Hollywood who I’m sure has been instructed to be even more critical than he was on BBC Two. His piercing blue eyes almost stare into the contestant’s souls and even the slightest comment about how the bakers were preparing their dishes made them nervous. That being said Mary Berry doesn’t pull her punches either and was particularly critical of Iain’s scoring of his swiss roll and her comments were more than valid when it came to tasting the Irishman’s offerings. The production of the Swiss Rolls themselves was fairly hypnotic and I didn’t think I’d ever be as compelled as I was to focus on a dozen people making jam in a tent in Berkshire. But I feel that’s part of the charm of the Bake-Off, none of us really know why we’re watching it although we’re completely transfixed throughout the hour. Another great element, which the team have got perfectly right, is in the casting of our baking dozen.

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The most noteworthy contestant this year is Martha who, at seventeen, is the programme’s youngest contestant and is juggling being on nationwide TV with her AS exams. Despite her youth, Martha’s efforts were incredibly impressive especially considering the fact that she came second in the technical challenge. On the other end of the scale we had 69-year-old Diana, the Bake-Off’s oldest ever contestant, whose old-fashioned bakes apparently tasted great but lacked a certain finesse to them. Certainly the one to beat at the moment is Lincolnshire nan Nancy who won Star Baker after being consistently brilliant throughout the three rounds. However winning the award in week one doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll even be in the final and I don’t think Nancy should rest on her laurels. The biggest surprise in Week One was that unassuming builder Richard was one of the stand out performers as Paul Hollywood informed him he was in the wrong job after tasting his signature bake. Other noteable characters included self-confessed geeky baker Jordan, who I thought would be the first one to go, as well as Scottish war veteran Norman. However it was bubbly Claire who was this year’s first victim after having a couple of mishaps and arguing with Paul Hollywood after the first challenge. At the moment it’s hard to call who’ll be in the final but I wouldn’t be surprise if we saw a lot more of Richard, Nancy and Martha. What I do know is that the Bake-Off is still as enjoyable as ever with knowledgeable judges, likeable contestants and two hosts who always provide an anarchic tone to proceedings. In fact the only critique I do have about the Bake-Off if is that it constantly makes me hungry every time I’m watching it to the extent that I’m craving a massive slice of cake.

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And cravings play beautifully into our next programme; Kay Mellor’s drama about six pregnant women entitled In the Club. Mellor’s last major series, The Syndicate, followed a number of characters as they all attempted to adjust to the fact that they’d just one the lottery. In the Club follows a similar structure albeit replace lottery winnings with a sextet of newborn babies. Although I’ve never been a massive fan of Kay Mellor’s works, I’ve at least felt that she was a solid dramatist however that belief was shattered after the first episode of In the Club. These feelings are primarily triggered by the story involving pregnant Diane and her husband Rick who has been made redundant but hasn’t told her. Despite this storyline initially showing promise, the plot went silly when Rick randomly decided to rob a bank in order to pay for his kids’ pizza. Mellor also decided to insert a few issued-based storylines into In the Club so we had an age-gap baby courtesy of Hermione Norris’ divorcee and a lesbian couple in the form of Tara FitzGerald and Katherine Parkinson. At one stage in the drama it felt like everyone was pregnant with Christine Bottomely’s midwife even joining the number of expectant mothers. Of the six stories included in In the Club only the story of terrified schoogirl Rosie felt realistic and was the one aspect of the show that stopped me switching off altogether. Former Emmerdale star Amy Wren was perfect as the youngster who was covering up her condition from her widower father and was only confiding in Parkinson’s character via the latter’s blog. But after a promising start, even Rosie’s story began to lapse into cliché when her father crashed his lorry meaning that she may well end up an orphan. As you can probably tell I wasn’t the biggest fan of In the Club which has squandered the talents of some of our finest actresses in a script that doesn’t do justice to their collective talents. In the Club is far-fetched, cluttered and clichéd in equal measure and Mellor made me neither care for or believe in any of her characters and suffice to say I won’t be tuning in to watch the rest of the series.

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A lot of programmes are celebrating their ten year anniversaries this year most notably BBC One juggernauts The Apprentice and Who Do You Think You Are? The latter retuned this week with the channel airing a retrospective of the series so far before following it up with a new series. First to discover her ancestors’ deep dark secrets was national treasure and recent BAFTA fellowship recipient Julie Walters. I’m a massive fan of Julie Walters and her passion for discovering more about her relatives spurred on this episode. I personally think that the best episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? are the ones in which the celebrities investigate a family mystery. Some of my favourites have included Kim Catrall’s quest to discover what happened to her father and Larry Lamb’s mission to find out about his mother’s birth parents. Unfortunately Walters’ episode didn’t have a particularly strong story to it and instead focused on her ancestor Anthony Clarke; an Irish farmer who tried hard to stop the owner of his land increasing his rent. Whilst the episode gave us a good lesson in social history I wasn’t particularly taken with anything that went on. Like a lot of celebrities who take part in the show, Walters soon discovered that her family’s past was littered with woes including court cases and early deaths. However she did find out that she came from a long line of strong women who fought for what they believed in and this was a quality that she could at least link back to herself. But for the most part I was only watching Who Do You Think You Are? due to the fact that I like Walter herself rather than anything to do with her story. By the end of the episode we were given the requisite crying scene as Walters wept at the unmarked grave of Anthony Clarke. Whilst I’m sure the journey was an emotional one for the actress, the cynic in me can’t help but think that these tears were somewhat manufactured. From what I’ve witnessed in this first episode; I feel that Who Do You Think You Are? is running out of steam and that it may well be a case of ten and done for the BBC’s flagship family history show.

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Another anniversary that the BBC are keen to highlight is the centenary of the start of World War One. Several documentaries have already been produced to celebrate the event but for someone like me who isn’t particularly interested in military history, I struggled to find any level of interest in these quite serious programmes. That’s why I feel that BBC3′s Our World War was the perfect way to get youngsters interested in the topic of The Great War due to its focus on youthful characters. In a similar style to the channel’s award-winning Our War; this programme followed actors reconstructing three pivotal moments throughout World War One. The first episode focused solely on the beginning of the war as we followed Silk’s Theo Barklem-Biggs as Sid; a young soldier who was quite complacent about the war until the Battle of Mons began. Our World War did a good job of introducing the character so when the battle finally happened, during the second half of the programme, we cared about the British soldiers. Additionally, the creators of Our World War have tried to make the programme an immersive experience by including some incredibly rapid editing techniques, fantastic cinematography as well as some vivid work with different colours. Furthermore I enjoyed the use of modern music, including Cat Power’s ‘Red Apples’ and PJ Harvey’s ‘Big Exit which brilliantly accompanied some of the more harrowing scenes. In addition to be an incredibly well-thought out and engaging piece of TV, Our World War once again demonstrates how great BBC3 are at producing programming that appeals to its core audience. This is modern history told an innovative style for the Facebook generation and I fear that in a year’s time, when BBC3 moves online, shows like Our World War will no longer be produced.

Next Time: The Village, Tumble and Boomers

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