TV Preview: Blue Planet II (BBC, Sunday 9pm): A shared national achievement

Plus: Joe Orton Laid Bare (BBC2, Saturday 9pm); The Secret Life of Five-Year-Olds (Channel 4, Tuesday 8pm); Grand Designs: House of the Year (Channel 4, Tuesday 9pm); The Ashes (BT Sport); Rugby League World Cup (BBC1, Saturday 1.15pm), Rugby Union (BBC1, Saturday 2pm), British Gas commercials (Commercial stations), 

Sean O'Grady
Friday 24 November 2017 12:50 GMT
A common octopus fights off an attack by a pyjama shark: the defender may sacrifice a limb to survive, but a bite to the head could prove fatal
A common octopus fights off an attack by a pyjama shark: the defender may sacrifice a limb to survive, but a bite to the head could prove fatal (BBC)

May I mention Blue Planet II? Pointing out the existence of this televisual masterwork is probably the most superfluous thing you’ll see all week – apart from all that stuff about how to make the most of the Budget (which basically boils down to “don’t save, don’t grow old, don’t work hard”. Bit political there, as dear Ben Elton used to say, before he stopped being even a bit political).

Anyway, the entire nation has been enthralled by the underwater worlds discovered or rediscovered by Sir David Attenborough. It is genuinely heartening to see that an old-fashioned example of public service broadcasting – expensively and conscientiously assembled – can still offer the viewing public an national shared experience. The show even qualified for a mention in Philip Hammond’s Budget speech, which was itself proof, with Kezia Dugdale’s perhaps ill-fated appearance on I’m a Celebrity, that showbiz and politics are finally melding together. Blue Planet II, then, will also make difference be seeding us towards the overdue taxation of disposable plastic, the material that causes so much harm to the oceans. Best of all starting this preview with Blue Planet II affords me a very worthy excuse to feature another gorgeous still from the series, which this week focuses in on “green seas” – including the shrimps and prawns that I usually see in a plastic tray (ironic) marinated in sweet chilli sauce. Maybe you could enjoy a plate while watching Blue Planet II?

Coming from Leicester, as he did, and without being mawkish, I occasionally wonder what would have happened to Joe Orton had he not been murdered, at the age of 34, by his boyfriend. After all, his Diaries, his plays and his general Ortonian presence were significant contributions to British artistic life in the Sixties and after, and it is tempting to imagine what more he might have given us in the half century since his death – what he might have made of punk, gay liberation and equal rights, Ms Thatcher, and much else besides. Maybe he’d have ended up an angry old man, or become a recluse, or now have a weekly why-oh-why column in the Daily Mail. He’d only be in his eighties now. In Joe Orton laid Bare, we discover a few more clues as to what the future might have held, with insights, reminiscence and performances from fellow writers, actors and, poignantly, his devoted and bereaved sister Leonie.

I’ve seen some attacks on Channel 4’s The Secret Life of Five-Year-Olds, alleging it is manipulative and too keen on making little kiddies cry for the benefit of adults, which would be a beastly thing to do. It’s true that the show wears its intellectual credentials lightly, and that the sort-of experiments with the hidden cameras are indeed contrived. Yet the levels of cruelty are easily overstated, and, in the episode I watched, there was little emotional torture going on as these lively infants attacked a free ice-cream machine and either ate the contents for the ultimate sugar high or used them as weaponry in a vicious food fight. Moreover, it does us grown-ups no harm to understand about the incipient mind-sets of the post-millennial generation, if I may term them such. On the basis of what I’ve seen, they can be just as exploitative and nasty as past generations…

In terms of “set piece” TV I should also mention that it’s the Grand Designs: House of the Year final, which, from the advance publicity, seems to be a little boxy affair entirely in line with official attempts to quickly solve the housing crisis by making all the kids live in Lego-style cubes in the inner cities. That does have a doomed feel to it, don’t you think?

The sporting highlight? Well, there are the Ashes, but only if you have BT Sport, who beat Sky Sports, as well as the poor old BBC, to the TV rights. More happily, the BBC will be showing the very best of the Rugby League World Cup and international rugby union, and you can always listen to the cricket on BBC 5 Live on the radio anyway (more traditional, too).

Last, and hardly a highlight to look forward to, I wonder how many of us actually feel less favourably about a company when it deploys an especially annoying character in its advertising and sponsorship. I refer, of course, to the intensely irritating animated penguin that Centrica/British Gas cynically invented, second only to that talking dachshund that’s always on Sky News (and no, I don’t mean Kay Burley). I’m not that surprised British Gas is losing so many of its abused and patronise customers. Ditch the penguin. Please.

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