Countdown, Channel 4
A History of Christianity, Channel 4
Could You Eat an Elephant? Channel 4

Jesus revisited by a 21st-century writer was a high point – unlike the return of a teatime institution

Moustachioed master Derren Brown last week revived the finest traditions of "psychic" showmanship. Howard Jacobson delivered a stirring essay on a man he described as "one of the greatest" Jewish teachers – Jesus (Channel 4's typically contrary start to its history of Christianity).

Two chefs went round the world eating the most macho food they could find, while Evan Davis told us why banks bust and ... what do you mean, where were the women?

Why, a new young blonde female appeared in TV's most Stepford Wifely role, serving up numbers, vowels and consonants on Countdown. Did you not admire the hostessy bobtail motion of her bottom? Richard Whiteley died and Carol Vorderman got within shouting distance of 50, so Channel 4 decided to start over with as close a replica of their glory days as possible. Except in 2009 the dynamic is a lot less palatable. New appointee Rachel Riley is clever and lovely, but there's something wrong with TV when it puts her in that horrible little pen, pairs her inexperience with the paternal authority of Jeff Stelling and calls it the strongest female appointment of the year.

Anyway, fan as I am of Howard Jacobson, I had never before thought to compare him with Jesus. But his polemic "Jesus the Jew" tacitly invited you to consider that Christ must have looked a lot more like him than, say, Derren Brown or the faces usually seen in Western iconography. A History of Christianity – Jesus the Jew, Jacobson's programme, was great TV: a script composed with attitude and an outstanding ear for rhythm and rhetoric. Ten years ago he made a facetious programme about Judas; this was a mature return to the subject, tightly strung, braced with the power of saying, very carefully, what is usually unsaid: "Make no mistake, for some Christians, the Holocaust was payback time." At home, the Jacobsons "feared the cross as any vampire might".

Although his prime self-identity here was his Jewishness (and perhaps his clarity of vision came from being "convinced, but not practising"), his other minority identity also informed this piece: his novelist's eye. He described Jesus as "a man extraordinary for the dark riddling powers of his expression, for the magnificently scornful sweep of his mind...". When describing how Jesus went to teach in Capurnaum, Jacobson added that "no man is a prophet in his home town". The millennia between Him and us momentarily vanished. Novelists are always welcome on my TV. The next instalments come from familiar media ponies: Michael Portillo, Cherie Booth. Let us see if they can match Jacobson, whose final appeal for inter-faith understanding – "Acknowledge it ... it is Jewishness you are honouring whenever you speak Jesus's words!" – was a powerful sequence despite the fact that, in immediate political terms, it was a furious attempt to calm a lull. Judaeo-Christian relations aren't the problem just now.

"When we're increasingly worried about the ethics of mass food production, shouldn't we be looking for greater variety in what we put on our plate?" asked the smug, stupid voiceover on Could You Eat an Elephant?, using an exhausting litany of sophistries to justify two blokes heading off round the world on an extended bushtucker trial. The idée fixe of the maddening voiceover was that we should try to "learn something" from the example of people who, in their need for protein, and due to cultural and environmental specificities – which the programme ignored – consume beetle, rat and dog. It was a confused exercise in relative values, part-freak show, part-patronising lecture.

Fergus Henderson and Jeremy Lee, the show's likeable chefs, seemed unaware of what the producer was up to. Served cobra and chips in Vietnam, Lee chewed tentatively. "I have to say," he ruminated, "it's fresh as a daisy!" Henderson's ebullient character and battle with Parkinson's make him a brilliantly idiosyncratic TV presence, adding gestures and sound effects to every verdict. On dog's intestine, served cold: "There's a ... nee-naw-nee-naw fattiness to it."

With more of them and less of the moronic voiceover, this could have been worthy of a series. As it turned out, it was, as Jeremy Lee said of mongrel stew, best kept "a singular event".

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links