Last Night's Television - Daredevils, Channel 4; Blue Murder, ITV1; Design for Life, BBC2
The Ice Man runneth
Tuesday 22 September 2009
What is it about Dutch postmen? One, Raymond van Barneveld, ended up as world darts champion, and another, Wim Hof, holds several world records for feats of endurance in freezing conditions. I suppose they were both able to develop their talents while working for their country's postal service, Ray Barneveld refining that repetitive action by delivering thousands of letters through letter boxes, and Wim Hof having to cope with decidedly nippy conditions while doing his early-morning rounds.
Wim calls himself the Ice Man, and his latest challenge to himself was to complete a lone marathon, wearing nothing but shorts and running shoes, in Finland 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Luke Campbell, the director and producer of Daredevils, tried valiantly to inject this nutty project with suspense: would Wim manage it or wouldn't he? Long before the end, I found myself not really caring less, but TV criticism is itself nothing if not a feat of endurance, and you'll be impressed to know that I made it all the way through to the credits with no sustenance except a mug of mint tea and a handful of Maltesers.
Still, I don't mean to be disrespectful to Wim, who undoubtedly has a remarkable capacity to withstand extreme cold. In training for his marathon, we even saw him swimming under a thick layer of ice, like a polar bear, which reminds me of the old joke about the young polar bear who went to his mother, and said: "Mum, am I a proper, 100 per cent polar bear?" She smiled fondly at him and said: "Son, your father is 100 per cent polar bear, and I'm 100 per cent polar bear, which makes you 100 per cent polar bear. Why do you ask?" "Because I'm bloody freezing," he said.
There were no such complaints from Wim, who made it comfortably from one hole in the ice to another, giving a thumbs-up to show that nothing had dropped off. The Ice Man thumbeth, you might say. Then the narrator said portentously, "the day of Wim's biggest-ever challenge has arrived." Portentous music was also played, just to emphasise the arrival of the day of Wim's biggest-ever challenge. And then our hero embarked on the marathon itself, which he completed in five hours and 25 minutes, and which I'm sure represented an extraordinary physical achievement, although it would have looked like a stiffer challenge if (a) he hadn't been running through what looked very much like a Christmas card, and (b) if he hadn't been accompanied part of the way by his six-year-old son, who wasn't even wearing a hat.
Before all this, perhaps aware that his documentary needed another dimension, Campbell had tried to build up a sense that Wim's Ice Man endeavours were stoking resentment between him and his wife, Carolina, even prevailing upon them to argue in English. "With the marathon looming," said the narrator solemnly, "there is still friction between Wim and Carolina." But by then, they were in Finland, where it was 25 degrees below zero. So who could blame them for creating a bit of friction? Human beings long ago worked out that it's the cheapest way to get warm.
There was altogether too much warmth in Blue Murder, where an arsonist was at large, not to mention a murderer, a lesbian and Sylvia Syms as a bag lady. For those of us who remember Syms looking delectable in Ice Cold in Alex (possibly Wim Hof's least favourite film, on account of it being set in the desert rather than the Arctic, despite its promising title), it's even now a mild shock to see her as a bag lady, although it was more of a shock a few years back to see her playing another kind of bag lady, Margaret Thatcher.
Anyway, Syms stole the few scenes she was in from directly under the nose of Detective Chief Inspector Janine Lewis (Caroline Quentin), the one crime the generally infallible DCI wasn't able to do anything about. It's a good job the acting is high class in this rather dispiritingly formulaic police procedural, otherwise there'd be scarcely a reason to watch. But Quentin is splendid at whatever she does, and hats off also to Sue Tully, last night's director, who gave us a Hitchcockian 360-degree twirl of the camera not once but twice. That's the same Sue Tully once known as Susan Tully, by the way, who in turn was better known as Michelle Fowler, of EastEnders fame. Arson, murder, lesbianism and bag ladies; cor lumme, it must have made her homesick for Albert Square.
In Design for Life there's a kind of inverted homesickness; the aspiring designers are all desperate not to be handed a ticket back to the UK. But last night, cocky Nebil was one of those who got his marching orders from Philippe Starck, who is offering a six-month placement at his Paris agency to the contestant who impresses him most. It turned out that the person Nebil impressed most was himself, which is rarely a recipe for success in life.
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