TV review: Wild Shepherdess - Look out, chaps, there's a goat botherer about!
She makes yoghurt, she spins yarn, she looks nice in a fleece. But when will Kate Humble's gap year ever end?
Saturday 22 June 2013
Why are you filming this? It's only dung!" Kate Humble travels thousands of miles to the Wakhan Valley and who does she meet among the primitive herdspeople who scratch a living from the back end of Afghanistan? A TV critic. This sharp-eyed tribeswoman had a point, though – a point, as it happens, that Brian Sewell made in another newspaper last Sunday. The 81-year-old art critic has turned into the awkward grandparent of British culture, spouting the truths that many others dare not speak. His diatribe was directed at the BBC's factual programming, which he called "patronising rubbish", citing the various jaunts of, among others, Michael Palin: "He goes to Outer Mongolia and sleeps in a yurt, but you don't learn anything about Outer Mongolia's politics, economics, future or past. You're merely having an adventure holiday by proxy."
Back to Humble, in her yurt, in outer Afghanistan, where Sewell's criticisms appeared to have turned into directorial notes. The idea of Wild Shepherdess with Kate Humble was that she trek up to the high mountain pastures of the Wakhi and spend a few weeks living with them – the presenter herself farms sheep in Wales, so, she told us, she wanted to "look back in time to experience an ancient way of life to see if it has a place in the 21st century". Perhaps. But only glancingly did she try to make good on this promise: late on in the documentary, we learned that child mortality blights the community and that the average life expectancy of the Wakhi is a mere 35 years.
Instead, Humble played the role in which she excels, the nice girl who set off on her gap year 25 years ago and never quite came home. She made yoghurt, she spun yarn, she looked fetching in expensive hiking gear. And she milked a goat. It's probably in Humble's contract that she has to milk a goat on screen at least once a year. The Wakhi, meanwhile, stood back, looked picturesque against the mountain backdrop and possibly wondered how much of their short 35 years on Earth they were going to spend watching Humble churn butter in the dark.
Wild Shepherdess may well like to think it inhabits an altogether classier neighbourhood of the schedules than Hollywood Me (Channel 4, Wednesday ***). But at least the Channel 4 makeover show couldn't give a damn about its own contrivance. Each week a deserving civilian is jetted off to Los Angeles, and hosted for three days of pampering by a celebrity; meanwhile, unbeknown to them, their home is redecorated by interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard.
This overexcitable hybrid format was as exhausting as it sounds. Emily from Peterborough, a mother to quadruplet toddlers and a social worker, looked fair pooped when she was ambushed by Bullard, bushed as she was dragged about the boutiques and clinics of Beverly Hills by Sharon Osbourne, and none too refreshed when she collapsed on her new sofas back home. But the show couldn't have given two hoots about the sensible Emily and a bored-looking Osbourne, not with Bullard chewing up the scenery, often his own.
Wearing a cravat and an appalled pout for most of the programme, Bullard sailed way past the stereotype of the interior designer. He took inspiration from a snap of Emily's Maldives honeymoon and declared that he was going to create a "space with me-time quality", with an Indian Ocean look. In the end, Emily looked pleased with her vamped-up home, though it would be fun to see how the woven-grass wallpaper passes the quadruplets' snag check.
It's no coincidence, I suspect, that The White Queen (BBC1, Sunday ***) began its 10-part run the week that Game of Thrones finished. The BBC's adaptation of Philippa Gregory's War of the Roses novels has an eye on the same audience – the opening credits, the snowy, nightmarish opening scene, each was a none-too-subtle steal of GoT's own.
Whether it has anything like the same capacity to deliver sweaty sex, ultra-violence and low politics, and all on a Sunday night, remains to be seen after last week's wobbly start.
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