Reality bites for a genre now in a pickle
The programmes to watch and the ones you really want to miss
And so the weather bomb (or "winter", as some traditionalists are calling it) exploded this week with such ferocity that it threatened to muss the coiffure of the beeb's "man in Portstewart", Chris Buckler.
The portents of climatic Armageddon were sort of vindicated with shots of coastlines being a bit excessively wavy. Like The Railway Children on steroids. But getting excited about seasonally appropriate weather is what we do best, after banter about oil and gas prices, and segregated schooling.
Really, it was all a desperate media attempt to contrive high drama out of unpromising local conditions. But let's not talk about The Fall this week. Instead, let's focus on the similar high promise/low yield crop of reality shows currently presenting for our pleasure, like a troupe of amorous baboons. Most of the old favourites are wending their way to some sort of climax in time for Crimbo and a desperate shot of the old festive Viagra, while studiously ignoring that fact that the old thrill has long gone.
The Apprentice has ran out of so much puff lately, even "Sir" Sugar's usual hot air can't sustain it. This week's "pudding" theme was apt, as a quick glance at the line-up of the final five narcissists devoid of business acumen confirmed.
Meanwhile over at Strictly, if Pixie Lott not getting through to the semis was a "shock" to people, I shudder to think how they're going to handle imminent welfare reform.
And the first show to limp across the finishing line, I'm A Celebrity..., barely registered a "wha?" on the "whateverometer".
"Foggy's won!" a friend messaged me on Sunday night, offering so little in the way of context that, for a moment, I thought she was referring to Last Of The Summer Wine.
Foggy, of course, is the likeable speed king Carl Fogarty - the newly crowned "king of the Jungle". As I flicked over to witness the tears, the triumph, the inappropriate touching, I got a sense that even Ant and Dec were drifting into automated game face - possibly thinking, like me, about that Byker Grove 20 Years On reunion special.
Nevertheless, 'Melanie Sykes is all smiles as she lands in the UK' screamed the Daily Mirror. "Foggy will now forever be known as the man who ate camel penis and ostrich anus, but the Superbike champion is so much more," promised the Express, as tumbleweed drifted across the existential plane known as declining viewing figures.
Even that noted "primate of hate", the malevolent proboscis monkey that is Katie Hopkins, couldn't get any poisoned purchase by favourably comparing CIA torture tactics with life in The Jungle. I mean, she would, wouldn't she?
Are we in the dying days of the reality/celeb fix? If Tumble and Jump have taught us anything, then I truly fear for the future of society. But clearly there's only so many kinds of televised holding pens for people who have issues with self-awareness.
The punchline to this is that it was the celebrity-free edition of Story Of A Lifetime that knocked it out of the park this week. A so-called ordinary woman's moving and important account of her horrific ordeal. No mugging or preening for the camera. And more incendiary than any weather bomb.
Nail-biting to the denouement, The Missing is missing nothing
Not since I received an invitation to a “lunchtime rectal” in fifth form has a (The) Missing character caused so much consternation as that dodgy mayor Deloix. As the gripping BBC1 child abduction drama reaches conclusion, it still refuses to yield anything in the way of a front-running culprit. Liaison officer Mark Walsh is well shifty, but then there’s the French paedophile bloke. Some people even tell me they think it may be James Nesbitt’s character, violent dad Tony Hughes, who’s behind Ollie’s disappearance. Although, if it were him, it would render the entire show a red herring so giant it could feed the sizeable list of suspects. The fact the programme makers have managed to take us to the very brink of the final episode with nobody knowing for sure, and everybody having an opinion, is the mark of a properly engaging and gripping televisual experience. The kind we used to call water-cooler TV. It’s right up there with Broadchurch, and reminds again that James Nesbitt is a rather tasty actor. It’s easy to forget, you know. As I said, my money’s on the dodgy mayor, but you know what? It’s really about the journey, not the destination with TV this enjoyable.
Switch on to The Secrets Of Quantum Physics. Big science made big fun on BBC4. And this week, I surprised myself by laughing hard at The One Show. In a good way. Mind you, John Cleese was on it, and he did say the ‘B’ word. And new Scandi-drama The Legacy is already shaping up to be must-see TV.
Ever heard the phrase “grin and bear it”? That’s what it looked like Hollywood funnyman Ben Stiller was doing for the duration of Bear Gryll’s Wild Weekend (Channel 4). “I don’t know why I’m doing this,” he lamented at the very start. Took the words right out of my mouth, Benji.