Great British Menu – LifeStyle FOOD, 7.30pm, Monday–Friday
You might think your appetite for competitive cooking was sated about the same time the hue of Matt Preston’s cravat became more interesting than whatever it was he shovelling into the mighty orifice directly above it. That only means you are yet to acquaint yourself with The Great British Menu (GBM).
Whereas Australian cooking shows have a penchant for stuffing oversized kitchens with upwardly-mobile bogans of the amateur variety, this super-successful British series (now in its eighth season) pits professional chefs from across the UK against each other like a clash of Michelin-starred Titans.
And don’t they make them work for it! Three chefs compete first in Regionals (this week it’s Wales), where the winner emerges only after a week-long cook-a-thon – they’re judged first by a luminary peer, and then a panel of “expert” judges whose credentials appear to be posh narkiness and the ability to eat eight full meals in a single sitting without recreating the restaurant scene from The Meaning of Life.
But GBM isn’t just fine dining with a scorecard. There’s a brief to be cooked to and this season it is food to make you laugh; the ultimate winners having the honour of presenting their dishes at the banquet for Comic Relief, Britain’s megalithic annual showbiz fundraiser.
Which is not to say the brief is always interpreted with universal success. Take last week’s Titanic-inspired smoked beef main. Because nothing makes you laugh like 1500 people drowning in freezing Arctic waters, does it?
The kitchen is competitive and, occasionally, catty. Watching these top chefs sweat as the verdict is pronounced on their (not always wonderful) food is top fun – these boys and girls really, really, want to win.
Verdict: Not television’s Fat Duck, but always more-ish.
And sometimes, things don’t go to plan:
Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom – ABC2, 5.47pm, Monday–Thursday
If you are anything like us you inadvertently watch a lot of kids’ TV. Except sometimes it isn’t so inadvertent, as I realised the other day when I caught myself standing up and yelling at the TV during an episode of Bananas in Pyjamas, “Just shut up, Amy, you smug bitch. Shut up!”
You see Amy (a teddy bear) was telling Rat (a rat) that the honeycakes B1 and B2 (bananas) had baked … well, it probably doesn’t matter. But what does matter is there are altogether wittier shows your children can enjoy while simultaneously preventing you from screaming at animated bears.
Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom is about a mildly subversive community of tiny elves and fairies who live at the bottom of a farmer’s garden and raise very minor amounts of hell. It is surreal, literate and very funny, owing more to the tradition of Monty Python than Play School.
Tension between the characters is playful and chaotic, with Wise Old Elf’s curmudgeonly do-goodedness constantly being derailed by Nanny Plum’s arch bluntness and causal wand-waving. And most refreshingly, Ben and Holly comes free of contrived moral messaging. Its lessons are subtle, ambiguous (after all, we want the little ones to be able to think for themselves, don’t we?) and wrapped in surprisingly deadpan humour.
Verdict: There’s welcome spice in this fairy dust.
Hidden Movie Gem
Walkabout – NITV, 9pm, Monday
Walkabout is an extraordinary film set in an extraordinary landscape. It begins in Sydney but quickly shifts to the outback after a father, driven by a despair unknown to the audience, drives his two children out of town and kills himself.
Marooned in a hostile land, the pair – a teenage girl and her younger brother – would surely die if not for the assistance of a young Aboriginal man, played by David Gulpilil in his first film role. What follows is an aching, tragic story of miscommunication, sexual awakening and the doomed clash of two cultures.
Viewed on one level, Walkabout is an allegory of European settlement in Australia. Certainly, the white kids in their school uniforms look displaced in the desert; a land that is beautiful and ancient and stark.
But there is more to the film than this. It is about the disconnection, not just across cultures, but between and within human beings. Walkabout paints a contrast between ancient and modern Australia, but it also joins the two and the connection is the darkness and confusion found in every human heart.
Made in 1971, the movie also offers a lot to reflect upon in regards to what has been achieved, or otherwise, in bridging the divide between black and white Australia in the intervening 42 years.
Verdict: Australia’s raw, bleak beauty is a poignant backdrop for this sad but compelling story.