This time we have a laugh as we go back to the tent, get political and spend time with relatives.
It’s getting to that time now where the BBC starts preparing us for Comic Relief with a number of shows leading up to Red Nose Day itself. Coming up over the next couple of weeks we’ve got The People’s Strictly and Let’s Play Darts to look forward to, but this week we got the series that most of us have been looking forward to. That series is a four-part celebrity version of The Great British Bake-Off with the winners from each episode going on to a champion of champions show on Red Nose Day itself. Although this isn’t the first time we’ve had a celebrity version of The Great British Bake-Off, it’s the first time we’ve had famous faces in the tent since the show moved to BBC One. Therefore instead of sportsman I’ve never heard of, we have an Absolutely Fabulous reunion with Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders competing against one another. Competing alongside them are legendary singer Lulu and the brilliant Dame Edna Everage who came out of retirement purely for this show. As with most celebrity versions of popular skills-based formats, the stars weren’t as accomplished as those who feature on the normal Bake-Off. Therefore you could see that judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry were being extra lenient when it came to their assessment of the contestants’ creations. However, even on their best day, Paul and Mary couldn’t put a positive spin on most of what Dame Edna Everage produced as she didn’t seem to be taking the competition seriously at all.
In comparison Jennifer Saunders, whose husband Ade Edmondson is a former Celebrity Masterchef winner, was on the ball throughout the course of the show. Her biscuit homage to French Toast and her cake recreation of Edina Monsoon’s bed were both impressive for a novice baker like herself. She was even excelled during the tricky technical challenge of making fruit tarts, which seemed to vex her fellow bakers. Rather than watching The Great Comic Relief Bake-Off for the skill of the contestants you mainly tune in to be entertained. I feel that we definitely were provided with many memorable moments; from Dame Edna’s giant cookie having to be wedged out of its tin to Joanna accidentally adding coffee to her showstopper cake rather than cocoa. I wasn’t at all surprised when Jennifer won the day, and became the first celebrity to go on to the grand finale, however that’s not really what the show’s about. Instead the celebrity Bake-Off is sort of meant to encourage novice bakers from around the country to make their own creations for a charity bake sale. I feel the efforts displayed by the four ladies in the tent this week demonstrated how, with a little hard work; it’s quite easy to create something that at least looks impressive. I applaud all tonight’s contestants for giving up their time for what they all realise is a worthy cause and, judging by the star power involved, no-one was appearing simply to enhance their profile. If we needed any other reason to get our own bake sale going then Ed Byrne gave it to us in a heart-wrenching film from Uganda. Although it seems that Comic Relief comes round quicker every year, it’s still worth everyone’s time to at least donate something and contribute to what is a worthwhile endeavour.
Next up we have two comedies starting with a brand new BBC Four offering in the shape of Asylum. In the past BBC Four have offered up such hits as The Thick of It and Getting On; however I don’t think that Asylum will ever be added to that pantheon of greats. Asylum stars Ben Miller as Dan Hern, a sort of Edward Snowdon/Julian Assange type who is wanted by the CIA on charges of treason. Hern seeks asylum at the El Rican embassy who agree to take him as it boosts their profile to have such a notorious freedom fighter in their establishment. A year later though, everybody has forgotten about Hern and the El Ricans seem to be tiring of him. Things get worse when Hern is forced to share his room with childlike hacker Ludo Backslash; who is seen as a trendy criminal due to his celebrity connections. From there the sitcom gets quite predictable as Hern starts to get increasingly frustrated in the way that Ludo is treated as a hero despite the fact all he did was upload a few movies. The self-important snob and the childlike character is an odd couple that has been seen in comedy before and therefore Asylum really had nothing new to offer. Although it’s written by the talented Kayvan Novak, who also stars as the embassy’s head honcho, there’s really nothing memorable on offer here. The only gag I laughed at was one about Groundhog Day and I found Ludo really annoying to the extent that I found the unlikeable Hern quite sympathetic. It’s good to see Ben Miller re-exploring his comic roots and the role suits him well but Asylum is ultimately a rather forgettable piece of work which I’m sure won’t return for a second run.
More impressive was the second series of Uncle which began its run on BBC Three this week. When Nick Helm’s sitcom debuted last year I wasn’t that impressed and only watched it sporadically. However, it’s clear that the cracks from the first series have been ironed out and this year Helm and the team are back with a much slicker product. Since series one Andy and his nephew Errol have been meeting in secret after the latter’s father took a restraining order out on the former. Their secret liaisons, which have basically involved playing video games, have been going on for a year and still neither parent suspects a thing. The only problem is that Andy is now struggling to write songs and instead working at a carpet shop from which he is desperately trying to get sacked. Meanwhile Errol’s mum Sam is training to be a therapist and is putting her hours by attempting to get through to a girl with an eating disorder. Sam’s scenes are the basis for one of episode one’s great recurring gags when she tries ‘Good Will Hunting’ her patient by telling her ‘it’s not your fault.’ Other highlights include Andy’s attempts to get sacked and his failure to maintain any type of willpower. Now that the cast are more comfortable in each other’s company the chemistry is a lot better than it was the first time round. Helm and Elliot Spencer-Gillett are especially great together and bounce off each other perfectly; whilst the always reliable Daisy Haggard is brilliant as Sam. If I were to offer one criticism it’s that I don’t think the songs particularly work however, on the whole, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Uncle and will definitely be going back for more.
Several weeks ago I commented how I would try to stick with both of Russell T Davies’ interlinking dramas; Cucumber and Banana. Since then I’ve given up on Cucumber altogether but am sticking with Banana after learning that the E4 show doesn’t always interlink with the action of its Channel 4 sibling. The past three weeks have given us three very different stories my favourite of which still has to be that of maintenance worker Scotty and her obsession with middle-aged Yvonne. The drama was so well played by both Letitia Wright and Rosie Cavaliero that it was hard not to fall in love with these characters. Similarly episode three told the tale of hard-working lesbian Sian who seemingly couldn’t balance both work and her relationship with the more laid back Violet. It’s a testament to the writing of each individual episode that I’d like them to last longer than the thirty minute running time as I start to warm to the characters. This is certainly true of the most recent episode which featured transgender actor and stand-up Bethany Black as Helen; a transgender woman who was dealing with a clingy ex-boyfriend. I felt that Black excelled in the role and by the end I got quite emotional as we learnt just what she’d had to go through since her childhood. I was also interested to learn that Black was the first ever transgender actor to play a transgender character on UK TV. Banana’s groundbreaking nature should be applauded but what I like more is how you really start to feel for the characters during the individual episodes. I have to say that, if the characters from Banana were given their own show, it would be infinitely more interesting than the imbalanced Cucumber. As it is the kids play second fiddle in the main show and only have their stories told briefly on E4, which I personally feel is a crying shame.
Next Time: The Casual Vacancy, Indian Summers and House of Fools