Television Review

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The Independent Culture
THE TIME is not far off when all television will be about cookery or law enforcement. Or both. The gourmet policeman is already with us (in the shape of Richard Griffiths in Pie in the Sky), and the coming of the have-a-go chef is only a matter of time. The extent to which the genres have already converged was visible last night, with both Big Kevin, Little Kevin (BBC2) and The Bill (ITV) resorting to the same plot device of sending city-slicker protagonists off into the big outdoors and watching them struggle.

You might wonder what a cookery programme is doing with a plot device at all. But cookery programmes now have to be high-concept in the same way as Hollywood blockbusters, with a pitch you can scribble on the back of an envelope. The pitch for Big Kevin, Little Kevin is "big, black American cook meets short, white English cook". Every week, Little Kevin (Woodford, of Can't Cook, Won't Cook fame) takes Big Kevin (Belton, head chef at the New Orleans School of Cookery) somewhere in Britain and shows him a bit of British cuisine; then Big Kevin takes Little Kevin off to America to see how they do things there. Along the way, there is a lot of supposedly good-natured banter, though Big Kevin, who has a large man's diffidence and stiffness, never seems to enjoy it wholeheartedly.

Last night, they went hunting in mountain country. In the Brecon Beacons, they went rabbiting. This being a remake of City Slickers, Big Kev had to moan about the earliness of the hour and the distance they had to walk, while Little Kev recoiled at the idea of actually cooking the bunny they had caught, and ended up settling for a dead one from a butcher. After he'd cooked his rabbit sausage, it was off to Montana to hunt elk: this time, Little Kev moaned about having to ride a horse and acted scared of the coyotes and wildcats; and they failed to kill anything, ending up roasting shop-bought elk. Why they couldn't have gone to a shop in the first place, and then spent some quality time explaining how to cook the stuff instead of offering all this half-baked character comedy and travelogue is a mystery.

Meanwhile, The Bill is still trying to grab more viewers by opening out its story-lines. This week, mild-mannered Chief Superintendent Brownlow headed to Dartmoor for an outdoor team-building exercise along with grumpy, overweight Chief Inspector Conway and hard-nosed Detective Chief Inspector Meadows. Of course, they met with humiliation - Conway suffered vertigo during the climbing exercise, Brownlow dropped the map in a river - but, naturally, it was a learning experience.

A cynical postscript stopped it from being too sickeningly moralistic, and it was kind of fun along the way. All the same, I can't help regretting the way that The Bill is going: when it was in three 30-minute episodes a week, it was a regular miracle of concise, no-frills story-telling, of a kind we don't see on British television. Now that it has expanded to hour-long chunks, and started trying to fill out its characters, the more conventional format just shows up the imaginative limitations of many of the writers and cast. Still, aside from the odd suspect being grilled, it is light on cookery. How much longer that can continue is another matter.

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