Last Night's TV: Christmas with Gordon/Channel 4
Jimmy's Food Factory/BBC1
Come Dine with Me: Celebrity Christmas Special/Channel 4
Thursday 23 December 2010
The title sequence for Christmas with Gordon featured a chef's knife smashing through a bauble, a cheering sight for anyone who finds this time of year just a tiny bit wearing. The programme itself, though, had fully signed up to the mood of can-do bonhomie that infects the airwaves at this time of year. "I love Christmas," Gordon assured us, before promising that he was going to help us make our Christmas "stress-free and delicious". The secret, he said, helpfully, is to get as much done in advance as you can. Good advice that, but where exactly is "advance" going to fit? Gordon himself was looking relaxed because he was presumably filming this some time in September, and it probably gave him a welcome break from dealing with his in-laws. But anyone watching the programme last night would only have two nights left for "advance", and then only if the family agreed not to eat anything else between now and Saturday, and agreed to get their presents in the Amazon box they were delivered in.
Buy a lot of lemons would be one tip. I don't suppose that Gordon is likely to provoke anything like the Great Cranberry Famine of '95, which followed the publication of Delia Smith's Winter Collection, but lemon zest seemed to go into everything. He put it in the pork, apricot and pistachio stuffing, and the flavoured butter with which he goosed his turkey and into the sautéed Brussels with pancetta and chestnuts. I don't think any went into the cranberry and apple sauce, but that may have been an omission because he was distracted by the food fight he was having with his children, roped in for the bit on homemade mint truffles in order to amplify the mood of family festivity. The recipes looked perfectly nice anyway, and if you plan properly may well prove useful for Christmas 2011.
It's a good time for presenters to get their relatives on screen right now. Jimmy Doherty's was showing off his new baby in last night's special edition of Jimmy's Food Factory, and his mum and dad had also pitched up, pulling on the woolly hats and sweaters, to sit out in the farmyard and blink artificial snow out of their eyes as their son explored the industrial origins of various Christmas foods. "How do you reckon you get 10 million of these ready just before Christmas?" he asked jovially, cradling a large turkey under his arm. Well this will be interesting, I thought. He's going to rig up a home-made stunning-and-throat-slitting line to take us through the ins-and-outs of industrial slaughter. He didn't of course, though we did get to see the giant dresser where they hatch the turkey chicks, one crammed unit pulled open to show you what it would look like if your sock drawer suddenly came to life. He also made his own chocolate brazils, polishing them with confectioner's glaze using a cement mixer and an adapted leaf blower, and producing a surprisingly credible end product. Confectioner's glaze, incidentally, is made from shellac, the exudations of an Asian bug, something you might like to think about the next time you pop a gleaming chocolate brazil in your mouth.
No hint of dissent from yuletide right-think in Jimmy's Food Factory. But Come Dine with Me: Celebrity Christmas Special threw up a rebel in the form of Goldie, drum'n'bass DJ and something of a flavour of the month in reality television. "I think Christmas is seriously overrated," he told us, as he prepared roast leg of lamb for Janet Ellis (a former Blue Peter presenter), Susie Amy (she played Chardonnay in Footballers' Wives) and Tony Christie. He had taken the trouble to put reindeer horns on his dogs, though, a seasonal gesture that went slightly wrong when the reindeer got over boisterous and one of the guests turned out to have a dog allergy. They didn't look very keen when he got his boa constrictor out either, which isn't a drum'n'bass euphemism. Or when he turned the dinner table conversation to the dogs' bowel movements: "They eat everything and their poo's solid as a rock," he said cheerfully, as he prepared to serve the vanilla crème brûlée. Janet Ellis, one of nature's schoolmarms, eventually won the cash, despite ticking off all the other hosts for various forms of bad behaviour but Goldie triumphed as far as the ad-libs went. "I would love a glass of Kir Royale," he said in a broad American accent, having arrived for Janet's Fifties-themed dinner dressed as a car salesman. "I saw the movie... James Bond, right?"
Little Crackers, the title of Sky's specially commissioned comedy shorts, is something of a hostage to fortune, underlining the fact that the snap doesn't work in all of them and the jokes are sometimes a bit duff. But Bill Bailey's "Car Park Babylon" was very satisfying. Bailey played a technologically obsessed loner who finds himself on the receiving end of supernatural punishment, after failing to show sufficient Christmas spirit. This is a fairly standard template for a Christmas tale, I suppose, but the pleasure here came from the agency of his comeuppance, which wasn't some chain-clanking ghoul but a malevolent car park pay station. Having taken his last remaining cash – to the accompaniment of comically extended whirrings and clonks – the machine began to communicate with him through a tiny speaker, talking in ways that suggested Bailey wasn't its first victim. The last shot you saw was the machine in bleak subterranean isolation, the tinny sound of Bailey singing a desperate Christmas carol leaking from its innards.
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