Catch up TV reviews: Ackley Bridge, Bride & Prejudice, The Crystal Maze
Ivan Radford | On 10, Jun 2018
Ackley Bridge: Season 2 (All 4)
School’s back in session this summer, as Channel 4 returns to the fictional Yorkshire town of Ackley Bridge. A racially divided community where two schools merged to form an academy, the series’ premise is one that gently balances human drama and social commentary. In Season 1, the result was an unsubtle but rewarding message of union and empathy. In Season 2, the same tensions continue, but the show expands its canvas to include both personal conflicts of identity and heritage and the wider battle the school faces for funding. Nas (the charmingly sincere Amy-Leigh Hickman) puts her family on a collision course with awkwardness when she agrees to a sham engagement with Naveed at school, to try and save him from outing his real feelings to his parents. Missy (the excellent Poppy Lee Friar) can sense the unhappy ending a mile off, but they remain BFFs through thick and thin, and it’s their bond that forms the backbone of this likeable series: one of them is constrained by her background and the expectations placed upon her; the other is held back by her academic abilities. Neither of them expect to have a promising future. That, in itself, is an engaging storyline, but Ackley Bridge’s strength is that it has time for the teachers too, as we get a love triangle spiralling into an affair and, best of all, a very real sympathy for the people running the school trying to the best thing for the academy – and, as a result, for the pupils. The cast are all more settled into their roles, the script has found its groove, and the blend of humour and serious moments is well judged. Two seasons in and Ackley Bridge is on course to score top marks.
Bride & Prejudice (All 4)
Any sentence that starts with “I don’t mean to be racist, but obviously…” is bound to end somewhere bad. That’s certainly true of Fai, the mother of Shaaba, who is engaged to Jamie. Jamie, as his name might suggest, is a white man, while Shaaba’s family is Mauritian. “He’s not the dream I wanted for my girls,” says Fai. But the thing is that this is the dream Shaaba wants for herself – and therein lies the conflict that heartfelt fuels this poignant documentary series.
It charts couples across Britain preparing to walk down the aisle, despite disapproval from their parents. There’s Dee, who’s 24, and John, whom she met on the local political scene. The only catch? He’s 59, placing her future hubby as just eight years younger than her granddad. The family are understandably finding it hard to accept their relationship, and the programme does well to handle the fallings out and discussions with tact and respect. It’s less understandable, though, when we see builder Rob trying to get his parent’s approval for Simon, his choice of husband, as they refuse to accept his homosexuality – the heated confrontation in which he stands up to them is moving TV, and a reminder of the prejudices that still exist in everyday life in 2018 Britain.
The Crystal Maze: Season 4 (All 4)
Richard Ayoade just gets better and better as the host of The Crystal Maze, and the return of the series to Channel 4 is a welcome reminder of that fact. No moment is too important for him to make a joke out of it – even the dramatic, sweeping opening camera movement, which he undermines with his typically straight-faced deadpan. Combining his world-weary boredom with a childlike excitement, he’s the perfect frontman for this pinnacle of human engineering and culture, understanding the importance of every challenge’s success while finding the entire endeavour completely pointless.
This new run sees a string of TV, music and sports stars enter the Maze to collect gold tokens, and it’s when he has celebrities as guests that Ayoade really shines – equally dismissive of them as he is members of the public, he scorns them all, whether they’re double Olympic champions or not (“Bronze in 2016…” he sighs at Greg Rutherford, before crucially going on to mock his own lack of sporting prowess). By the time Big Narstie is nibbling on a Daim bar in the Futuristic Zone, Ayoade is visibly having a whale of a time.