It's a cakewalk for the BBC and a bunfight on RTÉ
TV REVIEW: WHO WOULD HAVE thought the most nail-biting drama of the week would be about cakes and the best dialogue would come in an after-match barney about football?
The Great British Bake Off (BBC Two, Tuesday), which finished this week, has been such a phenomenal success that even people who didn’t tune in during its 10-week stint in a big tent will have heard about it. The show is the biggest audience-grabber for BBC Two ever – and for buns, not for ancient history, wildlife or investigative journalism. Let them watch cake: programmers all over are puzzling how to leverage that one.
The winner of Tuesday’s final was John Whaite, an affable, charming law student; the announcement was somehow as deflating as a sinking soufflé. Of the three in the all-male final, James Morton, a medical student, had his worst night: his cake mix splattered on to the carpet, his pastry had a soggy bottom and his five-cake showstopper to represent the “the nations of Great Britain” was an overambitious mess. Though his pistachio-coloured Northern Ireland looked nice.
Was John really the best? Midway through the series he caught his hand in the blender, and he always seemed to be winging it, though his gingerbread coliseum – bet you’re sorry you missed that – was pretty impressive, as was his cake in the final. But what about the third finalist, Brendan Lynch, who could do just about everything so perfectly he could open a cake shop in Paris, and all without getting the least bit flushed? He just wasn’t very TV friendly – a little too smug maybe, a bit chilly, not quite as photogenic as the other two – and he did everything calmly, without a hint of drama or disaster. “This sponge is like a cloud,” said the programme’s supercritical judge, Paul Hollywood. You’d have bet that Brendan had the trophy – a glass cake stand – in the bag.
He didn’t wear his Irishness on his sleeve – no reminiscing about his mother’s brown bread – though, opening up in the final, he said he came from a background of “high-quality guilt”, which is probably the same thing. He offered some intriguing windows into his world, saying his “celebration cake was designed for a forthcoming family get-together after three decades apart. It’s a shame to keep rifts.” If this was The X Factor he’d have had to tearfully spill the beans on that juicy-sounding backstory.
The brilliant series gave us the language to become cake bores: good crumb, rough puff, creme pât, nice rise and – the judgment the contestants feared most – soggy bottom. Wine bores have cornered the market in that sort of thing for too long.
ON RTÉ THE big audience-grabber was Live International Football (RTÉ Two, Tuesday), featuring the Republic’s game against the Faroe Islands. The after-match analysis was robust, with Liam Brady stoutly defending the team’s manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, in a frank exchange with his fellow panellists, Eamon Dunphy and John Giles. The spat highlighted how bland the postmatch analysis on other stations is.
“It’s fair, Liam. Football is about people having debates, opinions,” said Dunphy at a point in the discussion when they were all using each other’s first names – always a sign of an argument. “You can’t shut down debate, Liam. You can’t say we’re all toerags, media toerags.” “Eamon. You’re trying to hound a man out of his job,” said Brady. The analysis was more entertaining than the football.
AT THE END of his thoughtful, provocative and balanced documentary about assisted suicide, A Time to Die (RTÉ One, Monday), which he wrote about making on these pages last weekend, Alan Gilsenan summed up what had gone before. “Personal choice and social good do not always sit easily together. In Ireland we have argued long and hard over the right to life. Perhaps the time has come to debate the right to die.”