Catch up TV reviews: Travel Man, Exposed: Saudi Arabia, The Food Chain, Heston’s Dinners in Space
Ivan Radford | On 26, Mar 2016
Travel Man: 48 Hours in Seville
Richard Ayoade joins Matt Berry in the select group of people who have voices that are inexplicably hilarious. He returns here to his Channel 4 series, Travel Man, with all the enthusiasm of The IT Crowd’s Moss competing on Countdown – not that you’d know it. Whereas most travelogue programmes see minor celebrities play fish-out-of-water in an exotic or harsh environment, or breathlessly relate the thrill of discovering another country, Ayoade strolls around with barely any respect for foreign culture whatsoever. He’s sarcastic, he’s awkward and he’s unfailingly polite. In short, he’s like the friends we’ve all been on holiday with.
That sardonic air lends a refreshing change of tone to the two-a-penny travel shows that flood the small screen, with Channel 4 smartly varying the format each week by changing the person travelling with our presenter. For a brief trip to Seville, that’s Catastrophe’s Rob Delaney, who provides a deadpan American optimism that neatly contrasts with Ayoade’s downbeat British delivery – Richard swiftly takes advantage of his upbeat attitude by ensuring Rob gets the worst hotel room.
They may not pack much into their 48-hour excursion (they only do a handful of things, including going jogging) but they’re laugh-out-loud funny to watch – and that brief itinerary means the programme can clock in at under 30 minutes. The fast-paced result is informative (entry prices and facts pop up on screen, rather than force Ayoade to spout exposition) and entertaining. One dance tutorial sees Ayoade attempting (badly) to clap and click in time with the flamenco. “I grew up in Peckham,” he exclaims, bluntly. The lesson ends soon after.
Exposure: Saudi Arabia Uncovered (ITV Hub)
In January 2015, David Cameron flew to Saudi Arabia for the funeral of King Abdullah. It was a controversial move, not least because it reminded us of the UK’s ongoing relationship with the nation. Now, this ITV documentary, stitched together from undercover footage, gives us a closer insight into a national acquaintance whom we know little about. The result is as surprising as it is grim. The cameras capture the day-to-date life in the kingdom, including activists fighting for women’s rights, bloggers sentenced to prison (and lashes) for insulting Islam – and, in the background, Riyadh’s gruesome Deera Square (known international as “Chop Chop” Square), where grilles little the floor to allow for blood to drain out.
Photo: © HARDCASH PRODUCTIONS / ITV
Heston’s Dinners in Space (All 4)
The ever-eccentric and experimental Heston Blumenthal has made a name for himself with his bizarrely ambitious and overly technical brand of cuisine. The idea of him cooking something to be eaten in space, then, seems as natural as Jamie Oliver serving up school dinners – after all, half of Heston’s dishes look like they may have come from another planet anyway.
But taking on the task of making something for astronaut Tim Peake to chow down on the ISS isn’t as simple as you might think – and this Channel 4 documentary does an excellent job of providing an insight into the technical requirements for food to be consumed in orbit. Up there, there’s no gravity to help take food through your stomach, and crumbs are fatal. Even smell – one of Heston’s favourite weapons – doesn’t work in the same way. The list goes on.
Space travel is in right now, thanks to programmes such as the BBC’s marvellous Stargazing Live, and Channel 4 does well to combine that topical interest with the timeless format of a cookery show. Everything from tinning bread and preserving things for up to two years is tackled, providing, on the one hand, the chance to see Heston struggle to scale back his own urge for flair and, on the other, a rather sweet moment of a dinner being shared between two people 400 km apart. Plus, of course, there’s the comforting knowledge that we’ll always have a canned version of sausages and bacon sandwiches to keep the human race going when we have to forge new civilisations on other planets following the inevitable destruction of Earth.
Photo: Channel 4
The Food Chain (All 4)
If seeing Heston condense a banger into a tiny compressed can isn’t enough behind-the-scenes food footage for you, meet Channel 4’s latest addition to its culinary line-up: The Food Chain, which follows familiar dishes from their origins all the way to our plates. Bramley apples and sea salt may not sound a very thrilling starting point for the series, but it’s a compelling watch, mostly due to mouth-watering dishes that we see prepared at the end. With something that would normally take up an entire episode put to one side so that we can focus on the ingredients themselves, the culmination of their journey to our bellies makes for a surprisingly satisfying pay-off. The fact that this all happens in half an hour (rather than the usual hour-long runtime for a cookery show) only makes it more appetising.
Photo: Channel 4