Catch up TV review: Michael Palin in North Korea, Grand Designs, Bad Move, The Undateables
James R | On 23, Sep 2018
Michael Palin in North Korea (My5)
North Korea. A strange land ruled by a dictator whose name we whisper to each other in hushed tones, half curious, half cautious. But there’s something undeniably fascinating about the far-flung, closed-off nation – and who better to give us an insight into the country than Certified National Treasure Michael Palin? The crinkled Monty Python veteran reinvented the TV travelogue for the modern age, and ranks alongside David Attenborough as the best ambassador you could ever choose to represent the UK abroad; he’s a harmless figure with a smile, a keen understanding of international culture, and an unerring air of politeness. Watching him board a train and quietly eat kimchi is reason enough to tune in, but he soon reminds us just how shrewd a travel guide he is; he gently prods at the line between what he’s allowed to see and say and what’s considered banned by the state, much to the occasional prickliness of his entourage. They accompany him everywhere, but the production team do a fantastic job of giving us a feeling of intimacy and privacy, when he ventures into a Vienna-esque cafe, when he interviews a propaganda artist or when the camera drifts away from him atop a viewing tower and gives us some genuinely breathtaking aerial shots of capital city Pyongyang.
“The whole point of travelling is to see people are much closer to us than we think,” he tells us at the outset, and glimpses of North Koreans drinking during a national day of celebrations do just that – even as they’re contrasted by the rigidly-marked pavements that choreograph military parades and the towering statue of Kim Jong-il in the town centre. The leader, though, is depicted as smiling, and that sense of happiness pervades everything, resulting in a disarmingly cheerful window onto this most strange of foreign powers. Which, of course, is exactly what the country wants. Their own level of overseas awareness, meanwhile, is tapped into brilliantly by Palin, who visits a school and playfully tosses around a globe asking each pupil to name another country and point to it on the sphere – a sharp piece of geopolitical investigation hidden underneath the cuddly demeanour of your favourite grandad. Episode 2 promises us a trip into areas North Korea normally doesn’t allow tourists to see – expect equally engrossing television.
Grand Designs: Season 18 (All 4)
From one old, craggy treasure to another, as we see a couple attempt to convert a crumbling stone ruin into a posh rural home – yes, it’s the return of Grand Designs. 19 years in and Kevin McCloud’s architectural series remains one of the most satisfying home improvement series around, thanks to its winning combination of unusual projects, property porn and McCloud’s infectious enthusiasm. This new season kicks off with a conversion Aylesbury Vale, as a couple attempt to transform a mini-castle in Buckinghamshire into their family home. With a baby on the way, a Saxon burial ground to contend with, and a very limited budget, what could possibly go wrong? Lots, of course, and the tension of attempting to execute an impossible ambition is balanced elegantly by the human drama of the duo’s dream needing to be completed on time. Watch out for a nifty use of high-tech scanning and computer stone cutting that brings restoration into the digital age.
Bad Move: Season 2 (ITV Hub)
A year after its first season, ITV’s unpromising sitcom returns for a second run, and it’s proof that there’s always potential for a series to improve – especially when it involves Jack Dee. Dee is on typically grouchy form as Steve, who’s moved to the country with Nicky (Kerry Godliman), only to find themselves surrounded by countryside nightmares, particularly the world’s most annoying hipster neighbours (a scene-stealing Miles Jupp). A discovery of endangered moths is the main event of this opening episode, which may not be a classic piece of British comedy, but finds repeated chuckles in everyone’s mixed reactions to the insects, a truth-speaking builder and a particularly grumpy assistant in a local shop for local people.
The Undateables: Season 9 (All 4)
“People always say be honest, then I’m like ‘You’re fat’ and then they go away.” That’s Charlotte, a young women whose Asperger’s leaves her telling the truth a little more bluntly than some might be used to – an obstacle that proves particularly frustrating when it comes to finding a date. It’s enough to earn her a spot in the new season of Channel 4’s The Undateables, a programme that sounds like a cynical exploitation of people with challenging conditions, but is actually far sweeter than its title suggests. Charlotte’s love of romance and hugs is only topped by her love of movies – a timid counterpoint to James, a young man with Down’s syndrome who fancies himself a ladies’ man. Cutest of all, though, is Mitch, who lip reads other people, which means he has to build up a large volume of trust before he can look away from someone. It’s finding the time to explore those tiny implications for day-to-day interactions, and celebrating the connections that they do ultimately form when matched with possible suitors, that makes the programme guaranteed to be a heartwarming watch. Nine seasons in and that still hasn’t changed.