Last Night's Television: Jamie Does...Marrakech, Channel 4
Human Target, SYFY
Desperate Housewives, Channel 4
Thursday 15 April 2010
There was just enough time in the opening minutes of Jamie Does... Marrakech – a lurid, cacophonous whirl of chained monkeys, hawkers, Sufi dancing and charmed snakes – to recall the last time that primetime television sent a wide boy to the Moroccan city. That was two years ago when, how could we forget, Sir Alan dispatched his hapless apprentices to the heart of the souk to test their bartering skills and buy a kosher chicken, whereupon self-proclaimed "good Jewish boy" Michael collared a butcher, made the sign of the cross a few times and asked him to say "Allah!" over the doomed fowl.
There is, clearly, something about the city, with its much-documented assault on the senses, that sends Brits a little doolally. While Jamie Oliver didn't quite descend to Apprentice levels of ignorance, he made for an unexpectedly wide-eyed tour guide. "It feels like going back to Oliver Twist days," he said, apropos of nothing particularly Dickensian. A little later, following a visit to a food market where he was greeted with chants of "Gordon Ramsay!", "Delia Smith!" and Little Britain quotes, he was less enamoured. "I gotta get out now. Too much of this will do my head in."
Jamie Does... Marrakech is the first of six new shows in which Oliver gets to know a country through its cuisine – by wandering through markets, crashing family meals and cooking, Floyd-style, on sun-drenched roof terraces. In truth, the insights into Morocco were fairly limited; Oliver glossed over women's subordinate position with a few words about their tagines (or "stews with attitude") representing a "bit of power" in the home and looked like he wanted to die when a street vendor tenderly shoved succulent roast lamb into his mouth ("I'm not used to being fed by men..."). Still, the snapshots of culinary life – from the communal bakery where children drop off their mother's dough to be baked on the way to school and pick up the finished bread on their way home to the bachelors prowling the market, adding ingredients to their stew pots as they go – were lovely.
It's hard to remember that before he became a philanthropic restaurateur and (brilliant) campaigner for better school dinners, Oliver's thing was simply a bit of cooking malarkey with a side order of laddish banter. This was a return to that original idea, complete with scooter, tracksuit tops, endless "bruvvers" and tomatoes "wanged up any old how".
Last night's recipes – tender roast lamb studded with pomegranate jewels, soft breads and rosewater pastries, given daft names like "stew for single blokes" and "my snakey cakey" – were mouthwatering and approachable. And Oliver, looking younger than ever, was terribly excited about it all. "I'm really proud of that! I wanna eat that!" he said, peering, surprised, at his tagine. He's still got those magic ingredients – enthusiasm mixed with unpredictability (the director, you sense, never quite knows what Oliver is going to do or say next) – to make tasty television.
What do you get if you cross 24 with 007? No, not 00168, clever clogs: the answer is Christopher Chance, hybrid hero of the brand new American import Human Target. If there's something a little too calculated about Fox's bid for an action hit, with its Bond-lite title sequence featuring silhouetted women firing pistols and sophisticated strings and its gritty Bauer-esque fight scenes, it's no less watchable for that. Chance, looking like the lovechild of Daniel Craig and Mel Gibson, with a clenched jaw and blue-steel stare, is a bodyguard with an inhuman skillset (so far, he's revealed the ability to fly an aeroplane upside down and fluency in the Japanese dialect of Satsuma-ben) and, apparently, a death wish. This allows him to say things like "I'm your vest" (to a female client shocked to discover he is wearing a bulletproof vest while she goes without) and still sound heroic.
It works thanks to its unrelenting pace: last night, a bank robbery, hostage situation and suicide bombing were all set up and resolved in the opening four minutes. The first two episodes, shown back to back, featured, respectively, a runaway bullet train with a hired assassin on board and a burning plane with two hired assassins on board. Why? How? Don't ask! We don't have time!
The show is based on a DC comic-book and, as such, Chance has the requisite murky back story and two buddies – world-weary Winston (Chi McBride) and super-geek Guerrero (Watchmen's Rorschach, Jackie Earle Haley). Together, they create some nice humour, though Mark Valley's Chance, so utterly deadpan he makes Buster Keaton look lively, could loosen up a little. Hokum – but of the most enjoyable kind.
Is anybody still watching Desperate Housewives? I am – and I'm not sure why. What began as a refreshing take on Stepford Wifedom, witty and weird, has descended into excessive melodrama and, worse, nobody on Wisteria Lane seems to like anybody else anymore. The leading ladies (emaciated, frozen husks of their former selves) have spent the series sleeping with each other's men and shooting and suing one another. The last episode – in which a plane landed on a Santa's grotto, squashing inside it the love triangle of Bree, Orson and Karl – showed that the writers can still write a good cliffhanger. But last night's follow-up was one of those tiresome future-set episodes that asked, "What if?" Instead, I found myself asking, "Who cares?" Shame.
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