Last Night's Television: Why Poetry Matters, BBC2
Feasts, BBC4

You just have to hope that Bruce Parry wasn't planning something similar. Think about it: three months doing the research for "Tribe: Let's Party!" and then he finds out that Stefan Gates has beaten him to the concept with Feasts, in which Gates tours the world going to the most extravagant parties he can find. Not hedge-fund manager bashes in Marrakesh with Bruce Springsteen airlifted in for the cabaret (although there were shades of such cash-splashing here) but the kind of parties that have sufficient cultural pedigree to be able to call themselves festivals. Like Parry, Gates specialises in immersive reporting, and the voiceover suggested that he was hoping to pull off a kind of therapy/anthropology double with his new series: "He's hoping that he'll be able to conquer his inhibitions and get under the skin of people and cultures around the world". Quite why the people of the world should be helping a British food writer to loosen up I'm not sure, but they certainly seemed happy to give it a shot last night.

He began in Rajasthan, easing himself into the subject with a party that was an ambiguous hybrid of inherited tradition and private excess. The occasion was a Hindu wedding, but since the wedding was between two extremely wealthy families – the Sonthalias and the Mittals – the resulting reception was so extravagant that they had to have a temporary kitchen built just to feed the people working in the even bigger temporary kitchen that had been built to feed the guests. Though it was a love marriage everyone present was pretending that it wasn't, so as not to scandalise the pious old ladies for whom the helpful amalgamation of the families' steel and manufacturing interests was a far more seemly rationale for lifelong partnership. The whole affair – an elaborate display of generosity and humility on the part of her family – ended with the bride's relations feeding the groom's family by hand, a tradition that might well prove incendiary if adopted at the traditional British wedding.

Gates's next do was an even bigger affair, and a lot less exclusive, part of the point of the Keralan Onam feast being that everyone, whatever their religion or caste, is invited to join in. Apparently, Onam is a Potemkin village kind of affair, a blow-out intended to persuade the legendary King Mahabali – out of the underworld on annual parole – that his people are still living in a paradise of peace and prosperity. And one has to say that it looked a much jollier business than the Rajasthan wedding, lacking the strained terror of imminent social disaster that often accompanies weddings. There was a lot of feasting off banana leaf plates, with local temples competing to outdo each other in generosity. Gates also took part in the Pulikali, or tiger dance, stripping down to a jaunty pair of orange boxers so that his torso could be painted as a tiger's face. He claimed to be the first foreigner ever to take part in this ceremony, and his presence had stirred up a modest media frenzy, since what he lacked in belly and man-boobs (useful for creating the tiger's snout and bulging eyes) he more than made up for with the pallor of his face. I don't know whether he felt he'd got under the skin of the locals, but they came very close to getting under his, after the official paint-stripper got too drunk to perform his duties and Gates's thick coat of emulsion paint had to be rubbed off with kerosene and more friction than looked entirely comfortable. I think Bruce Parry may be muttering as he watches, but it's an amiable kind of travelogue for the rest of us.

Why Poetry Matters was an ambitious kind of title and a quixotic one. People to whom poetry already does matter don't need the fact explaining to them, and those to whom it doesn't aren't very likely, I would have thought, to be converted by Griff Rhys Jones insisting that it isn't "pansy and irrelevant". Indeed, the thought occurred that if poetry really did matter (in terms that television would comprehend) then they wouldn't have had a celeb comedian presenting the programme. It got up my nose very early – when Griff skipped through a patch of daffodils, parodying the Fotherington-Thomas attitude to poetry – and then it stayed there, undislodgeable, for the next 50 minutes. There was a brief flair of resistance to its lowest-common-denominator sugar-coating from Andrew Motion ("So what if it's difficult! Everything that is worth anything in life is difficult") and a touching moment when Rhys Jones read Ben Jonson's poem to his dead son – My First Sonne – and his throat thickened with the emotion of the lines. But about 95 per cent of the energy and invention went on thinking of ways to make us forget that it was about poetry at all, which seemed a curious way to promote the art form's virtues.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on