TODAY I shall pretend to be a television critic. Disappointments over food and other matters will be mentioned, although a passing hooray will be raised for the marvel that is Nadiya Hussain.
The second series of Top Of The Lake (BBC2) is a curious mess. This was must-see television after the first series of Jane Campion’s crime drama was so damn good: edgy, weird and compelling. Mostly the second series has just been flat weird without the better ingredients.
The first series was set in a creepy corner of New Zealand and it lured you in like the mist disguising a dangerous stretch of quick-sand. You couldn’t take your eyes away as you took cautious steps forward. It was all so darkly addictive, and Elizabeth Moss as Detective Robin Griffin was messed-up but strong.
In follow-up, The China Girl, something has gone badly awry as Griffith returns to Sydney. You can watch the whole series on iPlayer but at the time of writing, we are up to episode four – a better hour than the other three, but nothing to worry the shadowed splendour of the first series.
The third episode ended with a frankly bonkers scene in which the now hopeless Griffin had a fight with a man in a wheelchair – the guy she had put there in the first series. They were in court and he trapped her in an anteroom and, oh well, it was the stupidest moment in a series that has struggled to find its feet.
There are strong elements, including the mystery spun around the dead Chinese prostitute found in a suitcase dumped in the sea, and the theme of women being abused is interesting and handled well. But, oh, the characters are just so annoying. Moss’s sidekick, played by Gwendoline Christie from Game of Thrones, seems to have wandered in from a buddy-cop sit-com. Her performance, while striking, is just so strangely out of step with everything else.
The personal strands here are more prominent than the crime backstory, mostly concerning Robin’s 18-year-old daughter Mary, whose separated parents are at war with each other, but united in their horror at Mary’s boyfriend, a weirdo creep of a lecturer with straggled hair and a filthy flat above a brothel. He is quite possibly the most annoying character you will ever have encountered in a crime drama.
Episode four saw Mary, as groomed by her boyfriend, joining resentful prostitutes under a flyover, where she was rescued after attempting to give a stranger a blow job (“I’m not paying for that!”). The closing scene where Mary sobbed in the lap of Robin, the mother she doesn’t know, was powerfully done, and you felt that perhaps this drama might redeem itself. But mostly it’s been a mess.
The Big Family Cooking Showdown (BBC2) is one of the Beeb’s answers to Channel 4 nicking off with The Great British Bake Off. After one helping, it is difficult to see that this show will take off in the same way, but sometimes these affairs manage to stir their own alchemy.
Having families compete against families might work, although it misses the unpredictable chemistry of putting competitive strangers behind the mixing bowls. And family cooking – although important to everyday health and sanity – isn’t exactly sexy in television terms.
Nadiya Hussain hosts with Zoe Ball and does her best, but you can’t escape the feeling that they’ve just met and have been told to act like mates, whereas Mel and Sue in the original Bake Off were genuine lifelong friends. The judges are Rosemary Shrager and Giorgio Locatelli. Rosemary does what she normally does, which is be blunt and a bit eccentric. Giorgio is more of a wild card, unpredictable and grumpy: he was the best thing about this first course.
Will this show be any good? I wouldn’t bet your pudding on it.
But the Bake Off winner is a marvel in her other BBC2 series, Nadiya’s British Food Adventure. What a delight that woman is: friendly, funny and all-round lovely to everyone she meets. And I know it’s a lot to place on such slight shoulders, but Nadiya, the ever-charming, smiley Nadiya, is such a potent symbol of modern Britain. How could any dunderhead watch her and grumble about migration? The day Nadiya migrated into our lives was a happy one indeed. Nice looking recipes, too.