Catch up TV review: Victoria Season 2, Channel 4’s Bake Off, Cannonball, The Crystal Maze
Ivan Radford | On 03, 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.)
Victoria: Season 2 (ITV Hub)
Victoria is back, and she’s got a baby in tow. That’s the major new source of conflict, and the big selling point, of the ITV drama’s sophomore run. And there’s something to be said for a TV show that explicitly focuses on discussing the boundary between a woman’s domestic duties and professional role, particularly when the woman in question is a. an independent person determined to make her own way in a world of men, and b. the Queen of England. It’s a shame, then, that this doesn’t really go beyond her insisting that Prince Albert (Tom Hughes) stops cutting her out of the loop and doing her job for her – instead, it turns to discussions of the British military’s ill-fated presence in Afghanistan and Albert’s ideas for helmet designs. (It’s a shame that nobody titters whenever anyone says the word “helmet”.)
But if ITV’s royal series gets off to an understated start, it’s a joy just to see Jenna Coleman back in the lead role, turning moments of inconvenience into moments of genuine amusement (one scene involving a daft bicycle contraption is a highlight) and stubbornness into satisfying ruthlessness. Hughes doesn’t do more than whisper in his thick, German accent, which is partly what stops the dramatic stakes from escalating, but when she’s in full flow, addressing the public at the christening of a ship, it’s hard not to be roused. The presence of an outspoken Diana Rigg as the young Queen’s new Mistress of the Robes is the icing on the cake.
The Great British Bake Off (All 4)
And so, less than a year since the scandalous poaching of a national treasure, Channel 4’s remix of The Great British Bake Off has finally been spooned on to our plates. And the result is – whisper it – really quite good.
After all the fears of the show being transformed beyond recognition into an edgy, rude, commercialised disgrace, the opening course of the all-new Bake Off was reassuringly familiar. “Shizzle is nizzling,” said one. “How do you squeeze the moisture out of a courgette?” asked another. So far, things were about as edgy as a blancmange.
That was the secret to Channel 4’s approach: keep everything the same, from the format to the tent and even the theme tune. The dozen contestants are as typically varied as ever, including oldest-ever baker Flo (71), science-obsessed Yan, Russian migrant Julia (who bakes while Facetiming her nan) and amateur blacksmith Kate (yes, really).
Paul Hollywood is as smarmy as ever, as he shakes the hands of impressive bakers (yes, Hollywood Handshakes are already out in force – build your brand, Paul) and flirts with the women. Prue Leith, meanwhile, does well in Mary Berry’s shoes, although her feedback mostly seems to consist of describing things as “dry”. In fact, it’s that criticism that suggests things might become surprisingly different, as Paul becomes the nice judge and she becomes the nasty one.
It’s that kind of tweak that serves Channel 4 well, and it’s echoed by Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig, who smartly turn their awkward outsider status in the tent into a joke in itself. Toksvig is the adorable, witty host we’ve all come to love, while Fielding, in the words of Twitter, looks like a goth who’s turned up at his gran’s birthday party and is trying to be polite. He’s so eager to do it right that he goes from double entendre, past single entendre, and straight to talking about taking his trousers off. With Bake Off now in its eighth year, perhaps it’s time for a change of ingredients – Mel and Sue will never be replaced, but now, there’s certainly no risk of Bake Off becoming stale. Yan even throws in a Peter Beardsley reference, for good measure. And one melon-inspired showstopped has to be seen to be believed. As for the ad breaks, what better excuse to make a cup of tea between slices of cake?
The Crystal Maze (All 4)
Between Bake Off and The Crystal Maze, Channel 4 is fast gaining a monopoly on Britain’s favourite household names (particularly household names with iconic pieces of bespoke architecture). It’s easy for this reboot to be overshadowed by the return of the Bake Off tent, but it doesn’t deserve to be, as the programme retains everything about it that once made it a classic – the random array of easy-but-difficult challenges, the theme tune and cheesy running between zones, and, finally, normal human contestants. It’s about time that host Richard Ayoade got to try his schtick on regular people, rather than quote unquote celebrities, and it’s a delight to see that he’s just as withering and mean, even as he’s self-aware and entirely unserious. The show has yet to see anyone genuinely impressive take on the Maze, which is a shame, but if that gives Ayoade more ammo for his sarcastic encouragement (“Does she know what ‘adjacent’ means?”), that’s a minor quibble. He’s still in his element here, and long may that continue.
Canonball (ITV Hub)
As The X Factor returns once again to ITV, the more intriguing addition to its Saturday night line-up is the reality TV show it’s chosen to accompany it: Cannonball, a new water-based tournament presented by Freddie Flintoff. Intriguing, that is, until you actually watch it: this is one of the worst gameshows to be broadcast by ITV in the last decade. And that’s saying something. The series sees 24 people take on three different challenges: skimming along the water on a body board, after racing down a slide, bouncing off an inflatable blob to see how high than can go, and bowling down a ramp in a zorb and trying to knock over some pins. Mayhem is clearly the aim of the game – everything is painfully wacky and tediously zany – but you find yourself wanting some sense of structure, as we cut between each stunt with no purpose, point or interest. Then, we randomly arrive at the finale, which sees people try to swing onto a target in the water… only for every single one to land in exactly the same spot. The editing team have fun with the choice of music, which is punctuating by each belly-flop, but nothing can make this boring, tedious, repetitive spectacle entertaining. It’s the equivalent of watching a cat jump in a swimming pool on YouTube for 60 minutes. It desperately wants to be fun. It shows.