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How vicar Adam upstaged Kirstie and Marcus - Part two of Stacia Briggs’ review of 2014 TV

09:00 01 January 2015

Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary, left, and Joanne Froggatt as Anna Bates in Downton Abbey.

Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary, left, and Joanne Froggatt as Anna Bates in Downton Abbey.

Archant

In the second part of her TV review of the year, Stacia Briggs looks at more noteworthy moments on the small screen in 2014. From Marcus Wareing’s boring transformation into a reasonable human being to Socks the pony, Kirstie Allsopp filling innocent homes with tat to spoons in the spotlight and raunchy Downton Abbey to a poignant reminder of the First World War, we look back at some of this year’s best and worst TV.

Brothers in Arms: The Pals Army of World War One.Brothers in Arms: The Pals Army of World War One.

Least convincing pantomime villain of 2014: MasterChef: The Professionals, BBC2.

I was quite excited when I heard that Michel Roux Jr, the twinkly-eyed patron saint of compliments and positivity was being replaced on MasterChef: The Professionals by Marcus Wareing, the Dark Lord of the Kitchen whose USP is looking a bit like Father Christmas kicked through Halloween.

Marcus was once so vile to a Great British Menu contestant that he destroyed the studio kitchen and stormed off the set. He talks about himself in the third person.

In 2012 he introduced himself to MasterChef contestants by screeching: “I HAVE SACRIFICED MY YOUTH FOR THIS JOB!” I had high hopes.

Kirstie Allsopp in her series on Channel 4, Kirstie's Fill Your House For Free.Kirstie Allsopp in her series on Channel 4, Kirstie's Fill Your House For Free.

Alongside Wareing, there was the Emperor’s food taster and jester, Gregg Wallace (almost as spooky as Tom Kerridge now he’s half the size) and Le Gavroche chef Monica Galetti, who is a rarity in that she’s a woman in the MasterChef: The Professionals kitchen.

Throughout the cooking process, Galetti and Wallace gurn at each other in a knowing way while Marcus stalks around with a sinister smile plastered on his face, probably after direction from a lurking PR who is desperate for Wareing to re-brand himself as ‘the chef that’s a bit nicer than you think he is’. Boring.

Fact about a filming location that is better than the programme itself: Shetland, BBC1.

If you think about a sunshine island, it’s unlikely that Shetland – the subarctic archipelago of Scotland that lies north-east of mainland Britain – will spring to mind.

But Shetland is our own land of the midnight sun: in midsummer it doesn’t get properly dark at night and the islands’ communities struggle to regulate their body clocks as they sleep through perpetual daylight. No wonder they start murdering each other.

The BBC’s Shetland was back for a second series, although as I missed it first time round I came to it with a fresh pair of eyes which ironically was what the ravens pecking at the first corpse of the series were hoping for too.

Shetland was beautifully shot, unashamedly quiet and slow-paced and, dare I say it, very slightly boring – there weren’t even any Fair Isle jumpers to take on Sarah Lund’s selection of crime-knitwear and I can only watch shots of bleak heathland so many times before I feel compelled to go to the kitchen and get a biscuit.

So far, my favourite Shetland moment didn’t even involve the programme itself: I discovered that the beach where Catherines’s body was found was the same one that Socks the pony moonwalked over in that Three TV advertisement.

Sadly, Socks wasn’t in evidence on the BBC show: perhaps he doesn’t typify Nordic Noir.

Worst interior design advice of the year: Kirstie’s Fill Your House for Free, Channel 4.

According to Kirstie Allsopp, 2014 was all about upcycling and skip surfing – recession chic, if you will.

“Upcycling”, for the uninitiated, describes the process of taking a perfectly good piece of old furniture and ruining it by painting it in one of a number of middle-class hues (chalky grey, chalky white, chalky pink, chalky blue) and then gluing bits of middle-class wallpaper to bits of it like a Boden-crazed graffiti artist.

For full effect, you should place your painted monstrosity next to a quirky sign that says something like ‘Home’ or ‘Bath’ and, perhaps, beside a wall light you’ve made out of some bicycle lights and the base of a rusty barbecue. Add a sprinkling of hilarious “Keep Calm!” paraphernalia and some bunting and you’ve achieved ‘the look’.

I would rather live in a skip, frankly.

Lord of the Flies moment of the year: The Island with Bear Grylls, Channel 4.

The title is a misnomer: it’s not The Island with Bear Grylls, it’s The Island As Watched by Bear Grylls From a Luxury Hotel After He’s Dumped 13 Clueless British Blokes There Who Have As Much Idea About Survival As I Have About Nuclear Physics.

And therein lies the rub: Bear may not have been on hand to show the hapless chaps how to distil their own urine, break a snake’s neck with their mouths, craft a wetsuit from a hollowed-out seal or knock up a boat from a tree trunk (he can genuinely do all these things), but he did do all the voiceovers from a luxury hotel as he watched his protégés fail. I think this is what’s meant by ‘natural selection’.

The It Deserves a Fourth Series Award of the Year: Rev, BBC2.

Vicar Adam Smallbone (Tom Hollander) is a good man to whom bad things happen.

For a start, he’s been given a millstone of an inner city parish full of crack-heads and lunatics, a grim rectory that looks as if it’s been plucked from the worst council estate in the UK and a selection of red-tape proffering bosses who test his faith on a daily basis.

Desperate to keep the church open, Adam teamed up with local imam Yussef Hassan (Fonejacker Kayvan Novak), a kind of Brad Pitt for the Islam community whose enthusiastic congregation made the Rev’s look positively impoverished, to raise money to improve a local park.

As Yussef effortlessly raised £12,000 in a day, Adam’s total was a far less convincing £350.68, £350 of which came from fallen angel Colin (Steve Evets), who admitted he had taken £10 given to him by the Rev to invest, spent it on crack and then cut the drug with detergent which he’d sold to local kids on the estate.

“So this is drug money?” asked Adam, gingerly holding a grubby envelope, “No, not really,” he replied, “there was hardly any crack in what I sold. Let’s call it detergent money.” Brilliant.

Raunchy makeover of the year: Downton Abbey, ITV1.

Downton Abbey’s fifth season was so red-hot and steamy that it actually caused a fire in Lady Edith’s bedchamber, which is ironic, because she hasn’t seen any action since 1923.

To be fair, it was only 1924. But to be fairer, Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) has a dark secret, a secret sorrow, a face like a lemon and a very pertinent reason not to ever so much as look at a man again: there’s no contraceptive more effective to the upper classes than an inconveniently illegitimate baby whose father may or may not have locked his mad wife in an attic in Germany.

Lady Edith’s self-imposed (temporary) chastity aside, the rest of Downton was positively top-shelf – Lady Mary reported back about Lady Cunard’s “filthy talk” at a party which almost caused her to swoon, the Dowager Countess and Isobel Crawley turned the air blue (relatively speaking) as they discussed “what men really want” and Julian Fellowes channelled Lady Chatterley with a bit of inter-class bedroom antics between footman James and ageing sex pest Lady Anstruther.

There was Anna telling Bates that there was nothing they could do about their childless state and him replying, coquettishly: “I can think of one thing…” and Lady Mary telling a blushing Anna that she’s realised she needed to, ahem, ‘road test’ Lord Gillingham.

“Even now we must decided whether we want to spend our lives with someone without spending any real time with them, let alone…you know,” she told her, as Anna counted the minutes until she could climb into a cold shower with the Bible.

Least Eligible Batchelor of the Year: The Widower, ITV1.

When a TV programme called ‘The Widower’ opens with a wedding, you can’t help but be concerned for the bride.

And my concern was warranted: to paraphrase Shakespeare, the wedding baked meats did coldly furnish forth the funeral tables – no sooner had new wife Claire told her friends: “He makes me breakfast in bed, he leaves me messages around the house, he makes me feel so special” than her husband Malcolm was feeding her sleeping tablets and setting her on fire after faking a car accident. Nothing makes a woman feel more special than being incinerated in a Range Rover.

Based somewhat loosely on the case of Malcolm “Black Widower” Webster, the delightful chap who was convicted of the murder of his first wife and the attempted murder of his second in 2011, taking the lead was Reece Shearsmith, who I will always love for The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville, but who was camper than a field of tents at Glastonbury as Malcolm, the black-hearted nurse whose answer to being annoyed with people was to pump them full of tranquilisers.

Spoon-related TV Show of the Year: The Taste, Channel 4.

The concept of The Taste is simple: 25 cooks, professional or amateur, serve a single spoon of their best dish to three expert judges – Nigella Lawson, Anthony Bourdain and Ludo Lefebvre – each judge picks four cooks for their team without knowing who they are and the rest go home and back to their cutlery drawer.

In short, it’s like The Voice for food, but without will.i.am or spinning chairs and with lots of added spoons.

The cooks, for their part, made all the right noises and said things like: “this is the most important spoon of my life”, which brought to mind Private Eye’s Me and My Spoon column, “this could change my life” and “I want this so much”. No figures are available as to whether the so-called ‘Delia effect’ of a cookery show led to increased spoon sales.

First World War Centenary Programme of the Year: Brothers in Arms: The Pals Army of World War One, ITV.

There were so many to choose from, but this was, quite simply, a beautiful piece of work that brought together a group of old soldiers who had fought alongside the friends and neighbours they had grown up with in the killing fields of France.

That we were painfully aware that all those interviewed had since fallen into line with the comrades they left under Portland stone in France added a further layer of poignancy to a programme that addressed both the pleasure and the pain of fighting with the people you loved. For Ted Francis, Tommy Gay, Norman Collins, George Littlefair and Joe Coates and all those brave boys who fought for our future, thank you.

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