TV review: Heading Out - Pets, eh? They're enough to drive you to drink


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The Independent Culture

At first glance, it might seem that Heading Out will be one of those cosy BBC sitcoms that neither offends nor raises laughs. Yes, the lead character Sara is gay, which may raise the frisson of hackles in more neanderthal households, but she's also a vet (possibly incompetent, certainly surrounded by incompetence), who's struggling to find the right partner and whose parents are out of touch. So far, so archetypal.

Fortunately, however, Sue Perkins, she of the endless witty one-liners on The Great British Bake Off, not only stars as Sara, but also writes, which elevates Heading Out to watchable status. OK, it isn't about to blow anyone's mind, but it's blessed with beautifully written, unexpected lines and Perkins's ability to be droll and vulnerable at the same time.

Take, for example, her embarrassed reaction to her booty-call girlfriend ambushing her at home: "Would you like a yoghurt? I'm definitely in the mood for a yoghurt. Tell, you what I'm going to do, I'm going to leave a couple of multi-packs here, just in case you feel the calcium burn." Yes, you're right, it is a bit Radio 4, but there's surely room for that on the TV schedule.

In support, Dominic Coleman as Sara's camp-yet-straight friend Jamie is outstanding as a neat-freak, while Mark Heap's turn as a pet-crematorium owner is a fine addition to the actor's tally of odd obsessives.

Not everything hits the mark. Setting aside the lack of believability – not least the callousness with which Sara treats her customers – there is a real problem in Joanna Scanlan. Usually terrific, here, as a lifestyle coach, she has all the subtlety of a crazed Nursie who seems to belong to an entirely different, louder style of comedy.

When Heading Out works – and more often than not, it does – it's because Perkins understands human relationships; Sara's bond with her parents, whom she has yet to come out to, is particularly convincing. It's in these moments that we must hope the focus of the series will lie.

Billed as the X Factor of cooking shows, largely because it's Simon Cowell's production company behind it, Food Glorious Food (ITV1, Wednesday ***) is more like Masterchef meets Antiques Roadshow. Actually, scratch that; it's not that classy. It's an amateur Great British Menu meets Bargain Hunt as Carol Vorderman and the judges tramp up and down the country in search of Britain's Best Dish™.

There are, admittedly, X Factor-style mini-biogs of the cooks, giving an insight into the lunacy of the type of person who would swim 50 miles in a freezing river to lose a couple of pounds – then cook with fish from the river, as if putting some sort of karmic force to work. But the judges – a WI hardcase, a Geordie beehive, a posho and Loyd Grossman (a caricature in himself) – are no Louis Walsh and co. For a start, they seem to know what they're talking about.

It's all very jolly, very Middle England, very … well, very pleasant. Yes, it's a competition, but no one's truly sweating it. At one point a contestant says, "It means so much to Stoke-on-Trent", but everyone knows it doesn't really.

While the winning dish will go on sale at M&S, no one involved in the cooking seems to care about the commercial imperative – brilliantly, the winner in the first week used more than £10 worth of alcohol in one tiny jelly. That's the spirit!