TV Review: Gary Cooke got the wooden spoon but he served up some top-notch humour

By insisting it’s all about the food, ‘Celebrity Masterchef’ judges have starved us of the funniest contestant


The comedian Gary Cooke was the first to be relieved of his Celebrity MasterChef Ireland (RTÉ One, Sunday) apron, and as he went out the door he took with him my pet conspiracy theory about the celebrity versions of these types of shows. He was hilarious, top entertainment, so surely the producers would want to keep him in? Maybe they would even get the judges to turn a blind eye to his inability to dish up anything vaguely edible?

But Nick Munier and Dylan McGrath are tough: they stick with the idea that this celebrity version of the catchy cook-off is about the food, while the rest of us know it’s about serving up light entertainment of a Sunday night. Celebrity MasterChef Ireland does just that, and it’s thanks to the producer’s lateral approach to casting. (It’s pointless sneering at the word “celebrity” in the title. What do people expect: Bono and Enya to cooking a bit of salmon while Colin Farrell and Pierce Brosnan flambé a pancake?) It’s an elastic term and the producers have gone for an unexpected crew, people who are mostly sort of well-known if you watch the telly (although one comes from the print world: Conor Pope from this newspaper).

None come across as desperate for the oxygen of publicity and it’s fun to see some of them out of context – though maybe it’s a little startling to see that newscaster Aengus Mac Grianna has legs and David Gillick owns proper clothes and not just shorts and running vests. And I’ll be amazed if model Yvonne Keating doesn’t get more TV work out of this.

Nice judge Munier thought Gary Cooke’s salmon dish “very rustic, to say the least”; panto-villain judge McGrath said “it looked like it fell from the roof”. Cooke, in his Aprés Match Eamon Dunphy-mode, commented on McGrath’s “scary 50-yard stare. Like Roy Keane. I find it strangely attractive.” I’ll miss him next week.

Cooke fell to the ground in a pretend faint when he was told he was the first to be kicked out – even his last few minutes were funny – which raises the bar for the other exiting contestants: they could clutch Munier’s knees or tickle McGrath into submission. It’s worth a look.

The cast list of well-known names encouraged me to watch Top of the Lake (BBC 1, Saturday). There’s Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men; Holly Hunter, quite unrecognisable with grey hair like a pair of curtains; and the show’s writer, Jane Campion (The Piano). Even the trailers captured the wondrous beauty of New Zealand and infused it with menace.

But cut through the many layers of weirdness and this series is a run-of-the-mill police procedural. A 12-year-old girl goes missing – she’s pregnant – and an out-of-town cop, Det Robin Griffin (Moss), is called in to investigate. From the off she meets opposition from the sexist, belligerent local force. There are hints of her backstory to do with the hick town that will be revealed over the six episodes, which might prove interesting.

The girl’s father (Peter Mullan) is a backwoods psycho, training his vicious sons to follow suit. The men in Top of the Lake are on the Neanderthal spectrum, while the women, Griffen excepted, are dippy semi-comic victims. GJ (Hunter) and her cliché-ridden women’s commune have moved their rusting shipping containers to a field by the lake. One woman explained she joined the commune over a failed relationship: “I had a monkey called Brad. We slept together.” Each woman has a story more bizarre than the next. It was amusing for a while but there’s only so many times you can watch a mute naked woman carrying a plastic chair through the fields before it looks like wackiness so overcooked it’s turned to tedious mush.

Top of the Lake is a slow-moving crime drama like Scandi noir imports such as The Killing or The Bridge, with a strong flavour of Twin Peaks thrown in – but often the dialogue is so stilted it could be a bad translation from Danish. There’s certainly foreboding – and that’s created by the stunning cinematography, thanks to so many beautifully framed shots of the lakes and mountains – but there’s not much in the way of plot-generated tension. Maybe, as the grand theme unfolds – the contrast between the extraordinary natural beauty of New Zealand and the disturbed violence in the small community – it will become more compelling.

The scheduling of Run (Channel 4, Mon-Thurs), a four-part, linked drama had me checking the calendar. Not just the viewer commitment required – it was shown over consecutive nights – but the spirit-challenging grittiness of it. It felt very Novemberish.

Monday’s drama starred Olivia Colman, the most versatile actor on British TV, as Carol, a survivor of a violent relationship living in a rundown London council estate with her two thuggish teenage sons. They are so dense they neglect to wash the blood off their trackies after they kick a Polish man to death on the estate.

Carol’s only moments of joy come from the tins of cheap takeaway lager and the odd karaoke night in the estate’s grim pub. She works in a warehouse where she steals iPhones to sell on to Lin, a young Chinese woman. The script was compelling, the dialogue faultless in its believable naturalism, and the acting from the ensemble cast was riveting. As an exploration of the trauma and drama that goes on in lives lived on the margins, it was powerful, thought-provoking stuff.

The second night’s drama took up the story of Lin, Carol’s customer, an illegal immigrant selling the phones to pay off her violent trafficker. This was more superb quality TV drama, but I’ve kept episodes three and four for dark winter days to match the mood.

So this year’s The Apprentice (BBC 1, Wednesday) came down to two seriously impressive young women, a glamazonian battle between cupcakes and collagen. Luisa Zissman got to the final with her dream of a baking-supplies business but it was Dr Leah Totton, the self-described “business Barbie”, from Northern Ireland who won Alan Sugar’s £250,000 (€290,000) investment to set up a chain of cosmetic-treatment clinics.

Later in The Apprentice: You’re Hired it was presenter Dara Ó Briain’s turn to quiz Sugar. “Have you ever worked with a woman from Derry before? They’re a famously fierce brand of woman.”

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