Reviews

This Week in TV: The Great British Bake-Off, New Tricks and Humans

This week we look at the return of two of BBC One’s most popular show and the final episode of one of this year’s most accomplished dramas.

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When it first started I had no idea what sort of a phenomenon The Great British Bake-Off would become or that it would be one of BBC One’s biggest ratings winners. A show about being baking cakes, hosted by a pair of likeable comediennes and judged by a cook book supremo doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. However, due to its gentle nature and amiable contestants, the Bake-Off has gone from strength to strength with its first BBC One series last year being its most successful to date. I did feel that this may well be the series where the Bake-Off starts to believe its own hype as often happens when shows garner massive audiences. Initially I felt that this might be the case as this year’s twelve contestants started the show by talking about how big an opportunity this was for them and how scared they were when they first entered the tent. To me this opening sequence smacked of something that wouldn’t be out of place on a Simon Cowell produced show but thankfully the show soon got back to normal. Mel and Sue were on hand with plenty of puns and some jokes that just didn’t work out especially the one in which the latter tried to joke around with contestant Paul about the security in the prison where he worked. Once again the contestants were a diverse bunch with the youngest being 19-year-old Scot Flora and the most unusual being Eastern European body builder Ugne. There was also travel photographer Ian, hat-wearing musician Stu, the constantly petrified Nadiya, jovial fireman Mat, loveable Alvin and Tamal who often uses the syringes from the hospital where he works to inject flavour into his sponges. I’m just hoping Tamal doesn’t get these mixed up at some point and put Mary Berry to sleep whilst leaving some poor patient without any anaesthetic before their operation.

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One of the biggest joys of the Great British-Bake Off is just seeing close-ups of cakes as I think the love of sweet things is a universal emotion. Cake Week is always one of my favourites as I feel it features challenges that most amateur bakers could try at home. If I was a fan of nuts I’d certainly try to make Mary Berry’s walnut cake however I think it would take me longer than the hour and forty five minutes that were given to the bakers ahead of the technical challenge. The opening Madeira Cake challenge was similarly easy enough however some of the bakers tried to show-off and were given poor feedback as a result. For example both Mat’s gin and tonic glaze and Ugne’s use of Thyme were both chastised whilst eventual Star Baker Marie’s simple citrus Madeira won out. Talking of classics, the Black Forest Gateaux was the cake that the bakers had to create in their showstoppers and once again it was those who attempted too much who found themselves at the bottom of the pack. I did think it would be curtains for Dorret after her gateaux collapsed due to the fact that she had to rebake her sponges a second time. However it was Stu who’d cocked up so monumentally over the last three challenges that he was sent home with the final nail in his coffin being his decision to add beetroot to his Gateaux. Stu’s creations were particularly derided by an uncharacteristically harsh Mary Berry who accused him of trying to be too clever leaving Paul Hollywood to add some kind words before the musician exited the tent. This bizarre change of personality aside, nothing much has changed about the Bake-Off and that’s rather a good thing. The combination of lovely looking treats, likeable contestants, knowledgeable judges and jovial hosts is a winning formula as far as the Bake-Off is concerned. After a dodgy first couple of minutes, I settled into the show and by the end of the first episode I was already invested enough in the fate of most of the contestants. Although I’m still worried that the Bake-Off may not live up to the success of its previous series, I know it my heart it will as long as it doesn’t divert from the formula that made it such a joy to watch in the first place.

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Another show returning this week is New Tricks which is back for one last series after its once mammoth viewing figures have trickled down in recent years. Part of the reason for the audience’s decline might have something to do with the fact that the majority of the original cast members departed the show several years ago with Dennis Waterman being the last actor standing from the initial quartet. However it appears that not even Waterman could see things out to the bitter end as his character Gerry Standing left the show in the concluding part of this series’ opening double bill. The supposedly wittily title ‘Last Man Standing’ was almost an origins story as both episodes contain numerous flashbacks to 1983. This was due to the fact that the gang were investigating the murder of Gerry’s old boss Martin Ackroyd whose remains were discovered during a house renovation. The suspicion fell on corrupt coppers turned protection racketeers Warren McCabe and Don Bryant who had been in the back pocket of the notorious Chapman family for many years. However it was clear that Gerry was holding back information from the rest of the team and by the end of the first episode he’d been arrested as a suspect. Obviously this wasn’t go to last and the second episode filled in the blanks as the audience learned exactly why Gerry had been acting so strangely. Gerry’s concluding episode ended with a twist of sorts however anybody who’s seen more than a couple of episodes of a TV drama would be able to work out exactly what the character’s ultimate fate was. Additionally the episode also introduced us to the character of Ted Case (Larry Lamb) who will be replacing Gerry as the newest member of the UCOS team.

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As somebody who only got into New Tricks late in the game I always saw it as a show that relied on the strength of the central story. In the case of the opening two episodes I felt Gerry’s tale was more compelling as it went on and climaxed in a rather realistic way. However I did have a problem with the occasional use of slapstick humour which reared its head in the first episode when Gerry left the rest of his colleagues to look after his grandson. Luckily the concluding chapter more than compensated for these early sins with the combination of general peril for the central characters combined with a couple of light-hearted quips that didn’t detract from the overall plot. I’ve always viewed Waterman as the weakest member of the central cast although these last two episodes allowed him to play to his strengths. I especially enjoyed the chemistry between him and Nicholas Lyndhurst’s Danny with the pair attempting to avoid the gaze of the Chapman family whilst clearing Gerry’s name. The drama’s longest-serving star Anthony Calf also impressed me as he helped to mastermind the events that closed the episode in a way that made them easier to believe. I’m personally looking forward to seeing what Larry Lamb can do in the next few episodes as he impressed me in his small cameo in the most recent episode. Lamb is definitely a better actor than Waterman and hopefully he’ll be able to slot in nicely alongside Lyndhurst, Denis Lawson and Tamzin Outhwaite. With all of the original cast members now gone I do think this is the right time for New Tricks to end and I’m glad that Waterman’s exit came at the start of the series so it was given time to breath. However, despite relative new cast members taking centre stage, I do still hope that a long-running show like New Tricks does get the chance to go out with a bang rather than a small whimper.

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Whilst not ending with as much of a bang than I would’ve like it to have, I wouldn’t say that Channel 4′s brilliant Humans concluded with anything like a whimper. Instead series one’s denouement was somewhere in between as Hobb’s plans to create a new breed of concious synths was thwarted by the rather mundane Hawkins family. What I liked about Humans was the compelling relationships that formed between the human characters and their robot counterparts a lot of which were exploited in this week’s finale. Chief among them was the friendship between the emotionally stunted Hawkins matriarch Laura and family synth Mia who convinced her to tell Joe the truth about her late brother. These smaller moments helped out an episode which was lacking in genuine tension and whose more dramatic moments were rather pedestrian when compared to what had come before them. One of the more disappointing elements of series one of Humans is how some of the most interesting stories had been dropped including George’s relationship with his stern synth Vera and Pete’s marital difficulties. I’m sure neither of these will be picked up in the already announced series two and instead all the events will revolve either around the Hawkins family and the family of synths headed by Leo. The only real cliffhanger we received was courtesy of the deceitful Niska, who has always been a bit of a loose cannon, and has seemingly hoodwinked the good natured Hawkins clan. Despite my reservations about this final episode, Humans has offered something a bit different and has livened up the usually dull summer months that we have to endure on British TV. Thanks to some smart writing and great casting Humans has offered up memorable characters as well as some engaging set pieces which I’ve found rather compelling. Although perhaps not the most consistent of shows, Humans will still go down as one of my favourite programmes of the year so far and I would still contend that it’s one of the best dramas that British television has offered up in the last twelve months.

Next Time: Who Do You Think You Are?, Mountain Goats and Young, Free and Single

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