Catch up TV review: Back, LEGO Masters, Cold Feet, Safe House, Taskmaster
Ivan Radford | On 10, Sep 2017
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(For BBC TV reviews and round-ups, see our weekly Best of BBC iPlayer column. Or for reviews of the shows on All 4’s Walter Presents, click here.)
Back (All 4)
Back! It’s a bold statement for a TV show to make, especially one that’s only in its first season, but Channel 4’s hilariously dark new comedy has the balls to proclaim it in big letters on the screen – and the substance to back it up. Back could refer to the reunion of David Mitchell and Robert Webb, as they team up long after the end of Peep Show to embrace another awkward double act: David plays Stephen, the uncomfortable, vaguely unsuccessful son struggling to process his dad’s passing; Webb plays Andrew, the foster-son of the family, who only stayed with them for a few weeks, but somehow has an even deeper, even more vocal, even more passionate connection with their late shared father.
Back could refer to Andrew’s return to his former family, a homecoming that rides a wave of false superiority, as the shallow charmer claims to be everything from a business tycoon to a doctor to impress the people he meets. Mitchell’s disgust at this intruder is pitched just right, partly a shrewd ability to see through his immature lies, and partly a petty sense of insecurity that never quite allows himself to feel anything.
As the spiky barbs pass back and forth, and even reveal the moving, vulnerable layers of grief beneath, it becomes clear that “Back”, perhaps, refers to none of those things: it’s the confident call of writer Simon Blackwell, who’s operating at the height of his game.
LEGO Masters: Season 1 (All 4)
Replace cakes with tiny plastic bricks and you’ve got the measure of Channel 4’s new family-friendly competition, a weekly tournament between people who really LEGO and other people who really, really like LEGO. Their task? To build LEGO things out of LEGO, because they really like it. This isn’t the first LEGO-themed programming that the broadcaster has aired, and it’s hard not to see it as cynical product placement, but it also manages to capture the same universal truth that made The LEGO Movie charming: it really is fun to play with LEGO and, with no instruction manual, see what your imagination can do. That’s true for people old and young alike, so it’s only natural that the show should give us a diverse array of competitors, all attempting to do such things as make a chair or design a centre-piece for a table. Take or leave the emotional backstories on offer: the banter, chaos and careful detail of each new challenge is impossible not to enjoy. The Great British LEGOff it is, then. If only you could eat the bricks too.
Cold Feet: Season 7 (ITV Hub)
Cold Feet’s reunion last year was a winning reminder than not all reboots are bad. With a cast still able to spark off each other and writing that’s full of wit, insight and heart, it was a genuine joy to see the gang back together, even if you hadn’t seen them together the first time around. One year on, can they repeat the same trick again?
The opening episode gives some hope for a repeat success, although the show’s age is starting to show. Perhaps it’s because there’s been less time away from the Manchester mates, or perhaps it’s because showrunner Mike Bullen has had less time to come up with storylines to do his cast justice. After last season’s superbly sensitive handling of Pete’s (John Thomson) depression, and Adam’s (James Nesbitt) nuanced journey from grieving over his wife to finding new romance – both ill-fated and sweetly-deserved – this first chapter’s plot strands feel a little tame. Adam and Tina (Leanne Best, graduating from newcomer to one of the best things in the show) are still together, worrying about whether to move in, while David (Robert Bathurst) is struggling to drum up business after his time in prison, until Pete feeds him a possible client (a flirty Siobahn Finneran). Karen (Hermione Norris), meanwhile, is struggling to deal with a young author whose success has apparently gone to her head. That and a subplot about Adam at a marketing firm are perhaps meant to highlight their own growing pains, but mostly come across as cheap jokes about Millennials – a shame, given how well the series usually handles generational divides. Add in some fantasy sequences (including a musical) and you sense that the show might be stretching a bit to make a splash. With the cast as likeable as ever, though, it’s still a pleasure to catch back up with these familiar faces: thanks to good will they’ve got in the bank, there’s more than enough time to slip back into the water and wait for dramatic waves to kick in.
Safe House: Season 2 (ITV Hub)
ITV brings another of last year’s big successes back for more. While Cold Feet benefits from its returning original cast, Safe House suffers from the departure of its central star: without Christopher Eccleston, there’s simply less of a reason to tune in, as our main character becomes Stephen Moyer’s Tom, a former police officer who becomes convinced that an old serial killer – “The Crow” – is back in business. And so her troubles Sam (Zoe Tapper), active police officer and tolerant woman in the face of a man intruding on a serious investigation. Director Marc Evans returns at the helm, and shoots the rugged coastline of Anglesey with appealing style, but Ed Whitmore and Tracey Malone’s script struggles to recapture the subtlety of the first season. Thank goodness there’s Jason Watkins in a supporting role to add some welcome gravitas to it all.
Taskmaster: Season 5 (UKTV Play)
UKTV Play once again premieres the first episode of a returning original series before it airs on TV – and in the case of Taskmaster, it’s a treat that should be hoovered up as soon as possible. Now in its fifth season, the frankly ridiculous comedy has become one of Dave’s flagship programmes, and with good reason: requiring contestants to carry out the most pointless, arbitrary tasks imaginable, it’s evolved into the Shooting Stars of reality TV, the I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue of tournament telly.
Continuing to vary up its contestants remains part of its key to success, with Season 5 seeing Aisling Bea, Bob Mortimer, Mark Watson, Nish Kumar and Sally Phillips all go head to head – the show, as always, deserves credit for not being the usual panel show sausage-fest. Basketball without hands and some water-based transport provide giggles, but Taskmaster has refined its premise to inspired simplicity: the requirement to bring in an object that makes an interesting noise will have you in stitches, while the challenge to give Greg Davies’ sidekick, the ever-deadpan Alex Horne, a “special hug” results in one of the most surprising, and disturbing, things you’ll see on TV this year. More please.