James Martin’s French Adventure (ITV, Monday-Friday)
OK, I’m not promising the world here, but if you do watch James Martin’s French Adventure (ITV, Monday-Friday) you won’t be tempted to claw the edge of your sofa in despair, or throw yourself on your remote control in a damaging way.
The sun is shining, too.
The premise is that James Martin has arrived at ITV from the BBC in a 2CV once owned by Keith Floyd. He then sees how far he can drive around France before calling a tow truck. Quite some way as it turns out.
The first episode of this daytime series saw him arrive in wine town St Emilion, near Bordeaux, where he relived his past life as a kitchen hand in a hotel, aged just 12. No need to call social services, young James was fed during his shift.
And he does have some connection with wine. His father was the “chancellor of the wine club”, whose members, fittingly, seemed to wear a lot of claret-coloured clothing.
Martin’s cooking hero is the much-missed Keith Floyd and to help his characterisation he bought the late chef’s 2CV to poodle about in. But he needn’t have bothered. He’s inherited the ladle quite easily.
Standing, cooking and talking to camera doesn’t sound that difficult, but Martin makes it look especially easy here, freed from the burden of questioning a low-level celebrity too, as he did in Saturday Kitchen, which he made his own.
And he’s having fun. He’s the sort of chef who picks up a huge pack of French butter and waves it about in front of the camera, almost menacingly. This man likes his butter.
“I know people criticise me for my use of butter,” he says, “but I’m cooking for myself. There just happens to be a crew here…” OK, it’s only butter, James; get on with it. And he feels the same way about cream. Adding gallons to his mashed potato, he quips, “just enough so you feel the need to phone A&E”. He is serious, too.
The Halcyon (ITV, Monday)
The show was as chaotic as any Floyd series. On his journey down the Canal De Midi he was left on the wrong side of the water to the crew. Eventually, an unprepossessing dinghy came alongside and carried him to the opposite bank, five nautical metres away. He then almost thanked the boatman in French: “Mer-see Miss-sure.” Well done, James; you’ve done all right for a bloke who admitted he “failed cookery at school”.
Suits (Dave, Sunday) has returned after a Christmas break. Who? What? OK, some of us had only vaguely heard of this series, set in a legal firm, before one of its stars, Meghan Markle, happened to start dating Prince Harry. So dismissing this as some elaborate PR strategy, what’s the drama actually like?
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Well, Suits is not quite pants, but you might get more entertainment value from staring at a pair of flared trousers. Coming into a series, which is almost six seasons old isn’t ideal, but it’s fair to say the firm is in some trouble. You can tell this because there’s only three people on a cavernous floor. Was it actually shot in a warehouse for office furniture?
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There’s also a character, Lewis, who could work up a good variety act as a capybara. But he’s excused for that because he does come out with incredible American-ese which only happens in US dramas – “Put that dog on a leash and shut that **** down!”
Lewis, I hope you get what you want before you explode. As for Ms Markle, no slouch in the acting department, she has barely qualified as a solicitor but has already been offered a job, by the capybara, as a “third year associate”. None of us knows what it means, but at least she is going to stay with “the firm”, until she finds her way to the “firm” who live at the end of the Mall. Otherwise I will stop watching and get a capybara as a pet.
Now, brace yourself: something has happened in The Halcyon (ITV, Monday). Yes, I know this series is meant to pass you by like a ship in the night, which it achieves admirably, but it was all change last week. We have edged on to September 1940, and the Germans have arrived in force. Well, what passes for it in this drama, which is a pattern of hazy black dots in the sky over London.
Hotel manager Steven Mackintosh and colleague Liz White took to a shelter, only to be scuttled by a bomb when they emerged from it shortly afterwards. They were all right. There are too few cast to dispense with this duo.
Then shock: Mackintosh suffered a slight graze to the forehead. They rushed back to White’s house to rescue her daughter. Was she dead or alive? I won’t spoil it but I don’t recommend you watch it either for the benefit of two minutes drama.
Oh, and there was a gay kiss too which, for ITV, is still quite shocking. For the record, it was posh son Toby, who spurned bouncy Lady Teresa for a cocktail waiter with more on his mind than just Harvey Wallbanger.
Finally Endeavour (ITV, Sunday) bowed out for another series in fine style. In an anniversary year for Morse, John Thaw’s widow Sheila Hancock turned in a wonderful performance as the village weirdo turned tarot reader. “Death waits at the end, but not for you,” she told Endeavour. Nor for the series either, commissioned for another six episodes.