Bear Grylls's most pressing endurance problem these days is how to survive in the cruel, pitiless terrain of the commissioning editor's in-tray. There's only so many times, after all, that you can eat a dead camel's putrid brains or squeeze drinking water from a ruminant's dung before the spectacle begins to lose its savour, even for the most dedicated of armchair explorers. Not to mention that tricky business about telling the truth, which can drain a survival programme of synthetic thrill faster than you can say Gobi desert. Don't underestimate Bear though, who usually knows where to go for a bit of revitalising nourishment. On the evidence of Born Survivors: Bear Grylls and Will Ferrell, he's decided to turn to Hollywood for sustenance, roping in an A-list celebrity to keep extinction at bay.
There's still quite a lot of bogus stuff to put up with, or what you might more charitably call television confectionary. "We're meeting Will at a remote pick-up," Bear bellowed at the camera from a helicopter flying over the Swedish tundra. Really, Bear? That seemed an unnecessarily complicated arrangement, since it would have made much more sense to link up at Stockholm airport and travel out together. Did you really spring for two helicopters rather than just drop him off and then circle round so that you could shoot the "meet and greet"? At other times – burnt by previous exposés about the shooting techniques – Bear told you what had really happened but very matter of factly, as if he hoped you wouldn't notice if he got it out quickly enough. After building a shelter out of birch twigs and snow and a reindeer skin Bear cut to the following morning. "Will Ferrell and I have survived a sub-zero night under canvas in the Arctic wilderness. We've returned to our shelter where we've got the remains of reindeer head for our breakfast". Run that past me again, Bear? You spent the night under canvas? Then why not show us the tents? The mind conjures a mini city, complete with catering marquee and an all- terrain espresso machine.
Will Ferrell was funny though, screaming "Mommy" as he was lowered to the ground from the helicopter and gently guying the streak of ludicrous masochism that runs through these things. "Is there some kind of signal you can give me when it's time to drink our urine?" he said at one point. He wasn't quite as chipper after a few hours of wading through deep snow, and even less so after Bear had fashioned a pair of snow-shoes for him from birch twigs. If he'd just been a little bit less gentle in his guying it would have been even better.
The Armstrong & Miller Show is one of those programmes that it's best to watch with a fast-forward button at your disposal. It isn't that they aren't funny, by any means. I laughed out loud at one new sketch, which replays P G Wodehouse without the innocence, with the Bertie Wooster character exasperatedly asking his butler to murder a kitchen-maid that he's impregnated. The joke is that the Jeeves type still inhabits a world in which both the pregnancy and the solution are as unthinkable as DayGlo spats: "Perhaps if Sir were to disguise himself as an Abyssinian?" he suggested hopefully. There was a textbook bit of comic acting from Ben Miller too – in a skit about compensation-claim adverts – when in rapid succession he had to do fake pain and real pain (you had to be there really). But they return to some ideas far too often. The Blue Peter-style apology – in which you read between the bland lines of BBC damage control to a squalid bacchanal of sex and drugs – was funny the first time, quite funny the second but wearing distinctly thin the third time it came back, when we were still only 15 minutes into the show.
The South Bank Show's programme about Lee Hall looked as if it had been held over from a previous series – arriving some time after The Pitman Painters opened at the National and Billy Elliot opened on Broadway – which would have been the conventional hooks for an SBS profile. It was interesting though; in particular, for the revelation that Hall's interest in theatre had been nurtured by just the kind of cultural-outreach programme that features, in different ways, in both Billy Elliot and The Pitman Painters. What's often so moving about his work is not false sentiment – as some seem to feel – but the sense of talent released that might otherwise have decayed in the dark, of lives unfolding from the tight little buds of class expectation to something much grander. That isn't a false nostalgia for the past, even though both of Hall's biggest hits have had historical settings. It expresses a hope about what the present and the future might look like.Reuse content