It’s just gone 5pm on Sunday afternoon and Top Gear’s Richard Hammond is trying to explain the Sydney Opera House by means of a collapsible wooden toy giraffe. A little later, just in case he hasn’t made his architectural point clearly enough, he deploys blocks of polystyrene and a World War One gas mask.
The show is called Richard Hammond’s Engineering Connections and it’s screening at the moment on 7Mate. With no promo to boost it, it’s very easy to miss, but a joy nonetheless.
Second tier free-to-air television stations – the ‘lesser’ ABCs, Sevens, Nines and Tens – are often regarded as desolate places where not much new happens. They are held to be mere vehicles for major show alternative timeslots, endless repeats of Everyone Loves Raymond and Seinfeld, or breathless encouragements to buy novel cookware and vacuum cleaners with bendy bits.
There is some justification to this – infomercial channels such as 4ME may only be of interest to the chronically medicated – but in among the dross and the drivel there are plenty of weird and whacky jewels to be found.
Talking of ‘whacky’, the first-run Wacky World Beaters on ABC3 (Sundays, 5.50pm) is a corker. It finds vibrant Aussie hosts Amberley Lobo and William Gill travelling around the world to compete in absurd sporting contests, such as jumping off piers or wrestling while dressed as a Yorkshire pudding.
The series is a fine complement to the lesser Aunty’s other triumph, Bushwhacked. This sees presenters Kayne Tremills and Kamil Ellis busting around remote Australia doing fun stuff like riding rodeo bulls and washing in camel pee.
The commercial channels are also rich hunting grounds for the beautiful and the bizarre. Go’s Toy Hunter (6pm, weekdays), for instance, features American Jordan Hembrough rummaging through people’s attics and pulling out vintage playthings worth – to collectors – impressively large amounts of money.
The station also shows the US version of Top Gear (various times), which is a lesson in why a franchise is sometimes a very dumb idea.
Over on Eleven, Snog Marry Avoid? (Tuesdays, 9.30pm) provides ample evidence that some English girls are, if not easy, then at least greasy. The show features a procession of young Brit nightclubbing horrors, each given a makeover to reveal (sometimes unsuccessfully) their ‘natural beauty’.
More unflattering flesh, this time medically framed, can be found on Gem, in the hit series Embarrassing Bodies (various timeslots, post-8.30pm). Not for the weak-stomached, the show finds Brit doctors encouraging the young, the fat and the ‘ugly’ to show off their diseased gross bits in extreme close-up.
Not quite as deliciously nauseating, but another must-see car-wreck featuring the vain and the foolish nonetheless, is Bad Ink (7.30pm, Tuesdays, 7mate). This US reality series boasts Dirk and Ruckus, two improbably named Las Vegas tattoo artists, who travel the land covering or redesigning tragic ink-work for people who once drank a crate of Budweiser and decided that a tatt was a great idea. With episode titles such as ‘Trampstamps gone wild’, you know it’s a winner from the get-go.
Shows to look out for