Goodness, pilot season is fun. Last week, Pulse brought us hospital drama with a severely twisted, er, twist and now we get to grips with the double-wonder-bra-wearing wardrobe of Croydon's "very own Carrie Bradshaw". Next, I predict, will be a collection of bed-hopping thirtysomething police officers (think Friends meets The Bill), swiftly followed by the Gossip Girls of Grimsby.
But back to Carrie. No doubt the Sex and the City hook seemed like rather a good idea when it was dreamed up in the boardroom; why not try and tag a fledgling comedy on to the hip international juggernaut of the moment? Of course, it doesn't look so smart now, given the critical pasting that SATC2 has taken. The writers couldn't have anticipated that, though it does rather foreshadow the tone of Stanley Park, which, in truth, wasn't quite up to the high standards that Pulse set last week.
It wasn't that it was bad; indeed, like most pilots on offer, it was rather better than quite a lot of the dross that dominates day-to-day scheduling. It was just a little rough around the edges. The script, for instance, gave the distinct impression of having been crafted by a hand considerably older than that of the characters, who were left bickering, implausibly, over who poked whom on Facebook, and whether or not to follow one another on Twitter, all the while referencing Ken Dodd and looking a good half-decade older than they should.
This became less of a concern as things progressed. The rather old-fashioned bedroom farce of a plot (girl fancies boy but best friend ends up sleeping with him while meaning to seduce his bother) was increasingly engaging thanks to the strength of the young cast's performances. Richard Southgate was particularly good, I thought, as "Bent Ben", the Beyoncé-loving, Kate Moss-worshipping GBF. It was a potentially problematic role, pandering as it did to every romcom coming-out stereotype, but, somehow, Southgate pulled it off to become the one whose side you were always on. The other leads were well-played too. Holliday Grainger was positively luscious as the pouting local sex bomb "dirty Debbie" and Jennie Jacques convincing, if a little mature-looking, as the highly strung poet Raggedy Ann. All three offered a unique element of youthful energy, promising great things to come. There were some great comedy moments – particularly enjoyable was the sight of Debby, mid-shag, snacking on a packet of chicken crisps, nonchalantly greeting the horrified parents of her prey as they returned from an evening out, though, in all, I'm not sure that I can see Stanley Park as much of a series. Perhaps a brief, digital-only one to test the waters. Any longevity it might have, though, as a sexy-boozy teen comedy is rather tempered by the presence infinitely more yoof-friendly Skins. But as an off-beat break from the norm, well, things could have been a lot worse.
Speaking of breaks from the norm: didn't Come Dine with Me used to be a bit of a cult watch? Shown in the day, beloved by students, it definitely wasn't broadcast ad infinitum on Channel 4 and all its offshoots. Alas, no longer. The celebrity specials started, then the political ones, then the night-before-the-election ones... and, suddenly, the show became a sort of national institution, wheeled out on every occasion like Jimmy Carr and Kasabian. Obviously, this meant we needed... what? That's right: A football special! A World Cup edition! After all, what sort of occasion would this be without one? Or two, as the case may be: Wags on Wednesday and players on Thursday.
Somewhere along the line of CDWM's explosion, I went a bit off it. It's not a simple case of now-everybody-likes-it-I'm-going-to-be-a-snob-about-it-and-bog-off. My theory is that it's the contestants. Once upon a time, they entered the thing straight-faced, real-life Hyacinth Buckets, genuinely trying to be the host with the most. Now, everyone knows about it, so instead all we get are (a) people who enter it for a bit of a laugh but a far too knowing to be actually funny or (b) I'm-mad-me attention-seekers. It's lost the undercover cringeworthiness that made it so irresistible in the first place.
But to the point: last night. Was it any good? Actually – surprisingly – yes. I can't be sure, but I wouldn't mind betting that our footballers hadn't watched more than a couple of episodes before. Because they were awful. Wonderfully, endearingly, prawn-cocktail-servingly awful. So awful that I'm struggling to pick a favourite. Neil "Razor" Ruddock answered the door wearing nothing at all except his apron. Frank Worthington served cut-up avocado doused in vinegar as a starter. John Fashanu punctuated his camera-time with little Schwarzenegger-esque nuggets of motivation ("If you look like a bag of potatoes," he ruminated at one point, "I assure you that you will be treated like a bag of potatoes."). But I think that perhaps it was Carlton Palmer who was best. He approached the whole thing with such earnestness – not the ambitious faux-connoisseurship of Fashanu, but the nerve-wracked intensity of someone who has no idea how little of a competition Come Dine with Me really is – that it broke your heart. And then mended it all over again when he won. He'd even taken lessons. Lessons! Deservedly, his crabcakes/ seabass/cheesecake menu won. The other three cooked mainly with mincemeat and, really, there wasn't much in it. Let's hope the current team does better.
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