Wednesday 18 October 2017

Television: Outside the box - the ones to watch this week

The Island with Bear Grylls
The Island with Bear Grylls
Taste Test: 'Hannibal' is back for season two with Mads Mikkelsen serving up more chilling performances are Dr Lecter.
Driving Seat: The popularity of Clarkson, Hammond and May continues despite - perhaps because of? - their frequent non-PC remarks.

Paul Whitington

Reviewed this week are The Island, Hannibal, Top Gear and Silicon Valley.

The Island  with Bear Grylls

Channel 4, Monday

The adventurer's radical new reality survival show has already attracted the ire of feminists.

"Lord of the Flies meets Bear Grylls meets Darwin's survival-of-the-fittest", was how the shy and retiring Mr Grylls described this intriguing new reality show.

In it, a group of 12 hardy, or foolhardy, volunteers will be dropped by plane on a remote and deserted South Pacific island and left there for a month. With only the clothes on their backs and a kit of very basic tools, these would-be Robinson Crusoes will be expected to use ingenuity and resourcefulness to find ways of coping in a harsh environment. And because their basic rations of food and water will dwindle very quickly, they will also have to figure out how to hunt and gather enough food to stay alive and healthy.

"Man," Mr Grylls maintains, "has moved further and further from his hunter- gatherer origins. I want to find out what happens when you strip people of all the comforts of modern life – does 21st Century man still have it in him to fight for his survival?" Cue the Tarzan-like chest-beating. But according to his critics Bear isn't too interested in whether or not 21st Century women are up to the job.

The fact that no women are included in the challenge has not impressed female commentators, including seasoned explorer Sarah Outen, who recently rowed solo across the North Pacific.

"It's a pity," she says, "that Channel 4 have decided to have a male-only show as if somehow suggesting women couldn't cut it – or more probably, that women wouldn't make good TV."

Australian survival expert Lisa Fenton went further, calling the decision "inherently sexist". "It's fantastical and ridiculous," she said. "Women are every bit as cut out for this stuff as men."

So are women every bit as good as men when it comes to surviving in the wild? You won't find out on this show, which starts at 9pm on Monday.


Sky Living, Tuesday

As the nightmarish crime drama returns for a new series, Dr Lecter has turned the tables on everyone.

Though widely criticised in the US for its graphic violence, season one of Bryan Fuller's 'Hannibal' was also praised as a daring drama that looked and felt like an extended nightmare.

Based on the novels of Thomas Harris and movies they inspired, 'Hannibal' worked as a kind of prequel that examined the origins of Dr Hannibal Lecter's career as a serial killer and cannibal.

Hugh Dancy played Will Graham, the reclusive and unstable FBI investigator with an uncanny gift for putting himself inside the minds of maniacs, and Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen was brilliantly cast as Lecter, an urbane and cultured psychiatrist with a very unusual hobby.

Mikkelsen's Lecter is charming, lighthearted, occasionally giddy and the antithesis of the stage villain. He's also a lunatic, of course, and at the end of season one he managed to frame Graham for murders he had committed by planting a severed ear in the FBI man's stomach.

As season two opens, we find out how the ingenious doctor did it. Poor Will is languishing in an asylum for the criminally insane, and meanwhile his misguided boss Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) has turned for advice on a new spate of murders to a distinguished psychiatrist he's come to trust – Dr Lecter, of course.

After six partially preserved bodies are found beside a river, Crawford engages Lecter as a consultant on the case, and Graham then has to endure visits from Lecter, who asks him for "advice". It's a brilliant twist in a show that might be hard to take at times, but is absolutely compelling. Season two kicks off this Tuesday on Sky Living at 10pm.

Top Gear

BBC2, June

The show that mixes car reviews with juvenile and sometimes offensive pranks is in trouble yet again.

Every time Jeremy Clarkson and his sidekicks come out with some staggeringly non-pc comment or stunt, it only seems to make their show's devoted followers hungry for more.

Last week 'Top Gear's' executive producer Andy Wilman expressed his "regret" over a lighthearted remark by Mr Clarkson during a special episode that was shown in March and filmed on location in Burma and Thailand.

The boys had just built a makeshift bridge over the River Kwai, and as a local man walked across it, Clarkson joked: "That's a proud moment, but there's a slope on it". The word 'slope' is a racial epithet that was popular among American soldiers during the Vietnam War.

Slaps on the wrist aside, this latest display of buffoonery will of course go unpunished, and in fairness pales into insignificance next to some of the other stunts Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond have pulled down the years. Perhaps their finest moment came back in 2011, when Hammond was discussing the idea that cars might reflect national characteristics.

This, he went on, meant that Mexican cars were "going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight, leaning against a fence asleep, looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat".

During a live interview with Australian 'Top Gear' presenters in 2009, Clarkson called then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown "a one-eyed Scottish idiot". The same year, the show got in even bigger trouble when they shot a spoof ad that saw an exasperated Volkswagen driver committing suicide with a shotgun.

And not everyone was impressed when Jeremy strapped a dead cow to the roof of his car during a 2007 American special, then reversed at high speed so it flew off.

And yet the show continues to be one of the BBC's most successful products, with the last series regularly attracting more than five million viewers an episode. Expect more blithe incorrectness when the show returns to BBC next month.

Silicon Valley

Sky Atlantic, summer

Heavily touted sitcom about four gifted but socially challenged nerds making their way in Silicon Valley.

There's a welcome hint of authenticity to HBO's new comedy 'Silicon Valley', which began to rave reviews in the US a few weeks back and will come to Sky Atlantic in the early summer.

The world of computer geeks and high technology is usually exaggerated for dramatic purposes, even in films as good as 'The Social Network'. But the four lead characters in 'Silicon Valley' feel real from the get-go, brilliant but hopelessly awkward young men who are ill-prepared for the pressures of wealth, and success.

The show is co-created by Mike Judge, who knows a thing or two about Silicon Valley having spent time working as a computer engineer in Palo Alto in the late 1980s. Canadian actor Thomas Middleditch stars as Richard Hendrix, a shy and reserved computer coder whose social ineptness is almost painful to watch. He lives with a group of similarly afflicted up-and-coming nerds who bluff their way into lavish software company parties and dream of hitting the big time themselves. Then, by accident, Richard does just that.

He's been working on a search engine that allows musicians to check whether their songs sound too much like other people's, but everyone tells him the idea has no future because musicians don't care if they're stealing or not.

But hidden inside his engine is a truly brilliant piece of technology, a system that instantly shrinks any file to half its size, allowing faster downloads of absolutely everything.

When this is discovered, the computer industry's most ruthless billionaires descend on a bemused Richard and start bidding for his work, an experience that shakes him to his geeky core.

'Silicon Valley' is both funny and intelligent, and it looks original enough to become an instant cult hit.

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