Catch up TV review: Vlogglebox, Outlander, The Autistic Gardener
Ivan Radford | On 02, Jul 2017
What’s available on-demand on Freeview? Keep up-to-date with our weekly catch-up TV column, including reviews of shows on ITV Hub, new releases on All 4 and a guide to My5.
(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.)
Vlogglebox (All 4)
When Channel 4’s Gogglebox became an overnight smash hit, it was only a matter of time until the inevitable spin-offs would come. Sure enough, first there was Sprogglebox, which saw children voice their opinions from the living room sofa. Now, along comes Vlogglebox, a show that aims to look at what teenagers are watching. It’s a smart move, but one even smarter than you might think, as the show doesn’t watch them watching telly on the couch, but on the bus, in the park, and anywhere else they can get a mobile data signal. Airing on E4, the result gives us the closest thing mainstream media has got to capturing the way that kids stream content in the modern age, as they react to everything from Jaden Smith’s white Batman music video to bees bonking on a window sill to Jimmy Fallon and Miley Cyrus busking in bad wigs. YouTubers link it together, adding a sincere sentiment to an undeniably commercially-driven project, but you wish that the show gave us a wider look at the world of online video than short viral clips and memes – from web series to vloggers’ own videos, there’s a whole lot more to YouTube than James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke.
The Autistic Gardener (All 4)
You can almost hear the cogs whirring behind Channel 4’s decision to commission The Autistic Gardner, a series that manages to combine a popular pastime (gardening) with a hot-button mental health issue (autism) and TV’s fondness for documentaries with the least subtle title possible. But ignore the preconceptions that come with the title and this documentary (back for Season 2) emerges as a gentle, genuine affair. Our hero is Alan Gardner (“I’m a gardener, literally: it’s my name”), an autistic landscape designer who goes about transforming people’s backyards into something beautiful. With the format comes all the usual cliches, as the programme makers ramp up the jeopardy of whether his clients will like his ideas or not, but they’re balanced out by the lack of cliches elsewhere. While those on the Asperger’s spectrum are often thought of as having a rote set of symptoms, The Autistic Gardener picks out the ones that apply to Alan in a way that’s positive. His focus on patterns, for example, helps him to think differently – something that’s presented as an ability, not a disability. Tellingly, he takes extra care to explain to the two couples who want him to join their gardens together the concept behind his vision – a spiral-based design that’s inspired by the shared of propellors thrown out from a jet engine. Once they can see that, they become much keener about his proposals. As far that faux-jeopardy that comes with the territory, there’s more moving ground to be mined in the way that Alan struggles to face four unhappy people at once. The result is a welcome challenge to the perception of autism in the media, celebrating Alan’s talents and personality without every being patronising, or even boring. Alan’s pink hair, meanwhile, is a bonus.
Outlander (All 4)
A man and a woman break into an abandoned castle. They run down into the basement. She perches on the table. He leans in to kiss her. She stops him – and pushes his head down towards her legs. It’s a striking moment in the opening episode of Outlander. Up until that point, the scene could have been from any historical fantasy series. But Outlander is no Game of Thrones, with its male gaze and frequently naked women. Based on the books by Diana Gabaldon, this is a female-led show, with a fully-fledged woman out in front.
The programme follows Claire (Caitriona Balfe), who finds herself transported from the 1940s back to 18th century Scotland. We join her as she reunites with her husband, Frank (Tobias Menzies), after being separated by World War II. They go on a jaunt to Scotland, where she hopes to reconnect – and he hopes to geek out over the area’s history.
The script quietly sows seeds of the past underneath the quaint countryside present, from the traditions and superstitions of Samhain to Frank’s investigations into his ancestor, the nasty army captain “Black” Jack Randall. It’s only after an enchantingly shot druid ritual that we finally make our jump – a final act turn that makes sure that characters drive the plot, not magic.
Here, Claire meets Scottish rebel Jamie (Sam Heughan), a hunk of pure ginger who’s been wounded in a fight. Before the camera can start swooning over the injured hottie, though, Claire steps in to offer medical help. At a time when manly sword-swinging makes for the biggest show on TV, the result is a satisfying rallying cry for heroes in skirts – and not just kilts. In a sea of male-driven epics, Outlander is a series with a uniquely female gaze. It leaves you wanting to see more.
Episodes are shown weekly on Thursdays on More4, while the whole of Season 1 and 2 are available on Amazon Prime Video.