TV review: Homebaked hugs, Dubai desserts and the annual Dome fandango

Reality shows, steeped in confection, appear to have taken a turn for the touchy-feely

‘Don’t eat it, Mary’: Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry on ‘The Great British Bake-Off’. Photograph: Des Willie

‘Don’t eat it, Mary’: Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry on ‘The Great British Bake-Off’. Photograph: Des Willie

Sat, Aug 24, 2013, 01:00

More than six million people watched the first episode of The Great British Bake Off (BBC Two, Tuesday), which means a lot of people are fascinated by angel-food cake and the mysteries of the Victoria sponge, and proves that the most surprising ratings-grabber in recent years still has what it takes.

The baking competition in a tent – imagine how daft that sounded when it was first pitched to the BBC – is now in its fourth series and has prompted a baking revival, created an unlikely signature catchphrase – “soggy bottom” – and made stars of its judging duo, the cake-making goddess Mary Berry and the bread-baking expert Paul Hollywood.

It’s still reassuringly the same. The hosts, the comedians Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, are back quipping away – “This is like a reality-show hybrid, part bake-off, part Casualty,” said Perkins as the number of amateur bakers grating their fingers, cutting their hands and sporting blue plasters multiplies.

The only difference this year is that to heighten the tension there are 13 contestants and so, on some unannounced week, two will be eliminated – not that anyone would use such a cruel word in this genteel competition.

At the judging stage Hollywood took a mouthful of Toby’s cake and promptly spat it out. “Don’t eat it, Mary!” he warned Berry with a startling urgency, like a man taking a bullet for a comrade. Amiable, shaggy-haired Toby had put salt instead of sugar in his cake, and so he ambled off. The episode ended in a group hug. Yes, it’s that kind of sugary show, and it’s addictive.

And in other kitchen-related news: “Dylan has his doubts about Aengus’s lamb shank” intoned the smooth voiceover in the final of Celebrity MasterChef Ireland (RTÉ One, Sunday), giving the verdict of Dylan McGrath, one of the judges, on the man he called “Angus” throughout the series. And so the dapper newsreader Aengus Mac Grianna, who all along looked most likely to win the pleasantly entertaining summer series, lost out to the healthy-eating athlete David Gillick.

The broadcaster Maia Dunphy was out of the running early in the final episode, which, bizarrely, took place in a resort in the desert outside Dubai. The finalists strolled awkwardly in the desert, and there were some random shots of camels, but there didn’t seem to be any cooking-related reason for being there.

Last week’s semifinals were in the corporate dining room of the series’s airline sponsor, which added little to the programme except the sight of a tableful of corporate types dining in a tastefully beige executive lounge.

Having to fly halfway around the world – the three finalists looked knackered – did show one thing, though: canny TV sponsors want ever more for their money, no matter how far the production has to go to please them.

The third competition in which none of the contestants looked likely to gouge another’s eyes out – have we entered a new world of pleasant reality shows? – was, of course, The Rose of Tralee (RTÉ One, Monday and Tuesday).

All’s pretty much the same as last year in the Tralee dome. The presenter, Dáithí “we’ll have a lot of lovely ladies for you to meet after the break” Ó Sé, has grown a beard, which is about as newsy as it gets.

Whatever you think of the Rose of Tralee – and endless smart-alecky articles are written about it every year, as if pouring scorn on the thing is going to make a whit of difference – in TV terms it is tedious, drawn out and predictable. As with The Late Late Show, you find yourself watching it in a slight stupor, because it’s a sort of national habit and there doesn’t seem to be much else on.

It was mean, though, to make the nice, normally relaxed weatherman Gerry Murphy dress in black tie on Tuesday and present the forecast from the dome. He even had to do a twirl, which put him off his flow. Then the visuals went a bit haywire, and a technical fault cut him off mid sentence.

It proved – although two whole nights of prime time is probably evidence enough – how embedded RTÉ is in the Rose of Tralee fandango. It’ll be the same next year. Or maybe Ó Sé will be beardless. The excitement.

You could, however, argue that a bit of frippery isn’t a bad thing at all, especially if you followed the relentlessly grim Southcliffe (Channel 4, Sunday). It has been superb: a landmark drama for Channel 4, fictionalising that most modern of tragic events, a random-killing spree in a small town.

It explored how the tragic and inexplicable event left the inhabitants of the (fictional) English market town bewildered, lost and griefstricken.

The first three parts played with time, telling the story of the killing by moving back and forth to before, during and after, with short scenes that created a hollowed-out atmosphere of destruction and grief.

The fourth, and final, episode returned to the village after a year, and it was a let-down.

Nobody who has been caught up in Southcliffe’s downbeat telly rité mood would have expected, or wanted, a neat, upbeat ending, though some tying up of loose ends would have made sense.

Southcliffe’s success was its relentless believability, so to see the mother, Claire (Shirley Henderson, unnervingly good, with that strange whispery voice of hers), behaving in a way that was so inconsistent with what we knew was jarring and felt like a clunky, showy device.

She was the central character in this final part, and, still grieving for her daughter, she sat in her daughter’s bedroom and pierced her nipple with a safety pin – the most wince-inducing scene on TV this week. Then she pretended to be a prostitute in order to meet a woman her student daughter knew. In a drama that tried so carefully to replicate real life, this seemed false.

And the final scene, with all the locals looking on while a guitarist crooned a soppy tune, felt like a sell-out in a drama that had, refreshingly, because it’s rare, eschewed push-button, music-prompted emotion.


tvreview@irishtimes.com

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