Review Round Up – The Great British Bake Off, Aladdin, Kitchen Nightmares USA

The 2019 Great British Bake Off concluded this week and our theories three years back that moving to Channel 4 would somehow spoil the programme have been proved so wrong. It just goes to show that we know little about how these things work because Noel Fielding and Sandi Tsovig are superb both at presenting and supporting the bakers. They’re pre show routines are funny too- one involving two cars is priceless.  We may scoff at the idea of baking being an emotional exacting art but there is something at stake here (unlike celebrity contests) because most of the previous winners have seen their lives changed since their victory. More than any other comparable show Bake off ensures its competition are encouraged rather than put through the wringer (some of the X Factor’s judging turns are just nasty) meaning that we’re all on the same side. It could also easily have become a programme where we laugh at failed bakes; instead we sympathise.

Looking at the public reaction this year almost every departure has been met with “an outcry” proving that really we don’t want anyone to be sent home and for all 12 to still be contesting the final. This year has seen an increase in innuendo (a couple of times I did indeed LOL) but no big controversy like the renowned Bingate. The most surprising thing was probably Henry wearing a tie throughout and this in a year when the average age was lower than before or Helena having a morbid fascination with the ghoulish. The final, as is often the case, was less entertaining than the previous 11 episodes because with just three bakers, each of them more nervous than before, opportunities for lime throwing catch and ovenside bantz are considerably reduced. Against the odds it was David who triumphed in what Prue described as a `tortoise and hare` scenario as he’d never won Star Baker whereas Steph had won it a record our times. Unfortunately her final was marred by nerves as was Alice’s. If you don’t know who I’m talking about or why then check out next year’s contest because you may be surprised just how involving and, thanks to the hosts, funny it is. And you can add words like ganache to your everyday language!

Having already tackled King Arthur, Sherlock Holmes and the Man from UNCLE, Guy Ritchie’s take on Aladdin is now available to buy. Given the success of the animated version the need for a live action telling is debatable but the director makes it worth a look. As you’d expect it has plenty of swirling, busy camerawork, unusual angles and pacy movement notably using the rooftops for free running inspired routines. Guy Ritchie handles the musical numbers with aplomb creating a colourful vibrancy that works a treat especially in the dazzling `Prince Ali`. Mena Massoud is a lively Aladdin sharing a palpable chemistry with Naomi Scott’s Jasmine while Will Smith is amusing as the genie. The problems are more with the uninspiring story with which no risks are taken thus it never soars as much as the visuals and instead labours with mistaken ident, unhappy princesses and pantomime vill. The first half is better with only the musical numbers around to lift the heavier second half. It has verve and looks great, it’s a pity the story couldn’t have been more radically re-worked to serve the talented cast better.
I’ve recently caught episodes of the now decade old series Kitchen Nightmares USA in which Gordon Ramsey is called in to help failing restaurants. How did I manage to miss this at the time? It’s a remarkable series because these owners he encounters seem to have come straight from the pages of a sitcom script so much so I had to check it’s not one of those dramas disguised as a real life scenario. Despite running a business they seem to have no idea of their takings or that their freezers are stuffed full of decaying produce or that customers are always right or most fundamentally how to cook good food.
Gordon billows in like a head teacher to tell them off and shame them before watching an inevitably disastrous dinner service. He looks in the freezer to find his bete noir- already cooked but then frozen food. Its remarkable that sometimes he has to be more of a guidance counsellor coaxing people whose confidence is gone or whose marriage is on the brink of break up. Then his `team` redecorate the place a makeover greeted the next day with tears and lots of OMGs. Sometimes he even lends then a proper chef. The relaunch has a bump when things start to go awry before the owner pulls it together showing just how much they have learned. By the end Ramsey is “sent from Heaven” at the very least and he walks off satisfied. Does he really walk all the way back to his hotel in chef’s whites?
It is incredible to think that businesses can be run in the way they are before he arrives but however sympathetic you may feel there is huge comedy value in the kitchen shouting and arguments that ensue. The best ones are where the owner or chef won’t play ball despite them having called for help. In one case Ramsey pretended the place had been shut down to shift the owner’s stubbornness. One of the more extreme episodes was the case of a restaurant whose owner had copyrighted a local word alienating the community. Many of the people shown are essentially bullies who when confronted with their behaviour seem shocked or upset that they are thought of that way. Also a lot of Gordon’s advice is actually common sense and it’s a relief that these people are not in charge anything more than a restaurant. Power Station Nightmares doesn’t bear thinking about! The show is re-running seemingly endlessly on 4seven and is great television whichever way you slice it.

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