Monday, July 25, 2005

Handbags And Gladrags (with a pinch of coriander)

When I was unwell with a cold I caught an early episode of Nigella, the new daytime show on ITV1 featuring Nigella Lawson. It wasn't actually by accident. A Guardian columnist had said it was the worst programme she had ever seen. Well, you'd just have to watch something like that, wouldn't you?

Since then, every TV critic has savaged it, although it's like shooting fish in a barrel. Or kicking a corpse. It's currently getting less than a quarter of the viewers for Neighbours on BBC1 in the same slot, which must mean they're having to almost give away all those advertising slots for pregnancy testing kits and sanitary towels that punctuate the programme and make the stray male viewer feel as though he's accidentally wandered into the women's changing room at the swimming pool.
But I'm determined to have my own two penn'orth of vitriol and sarcasm.

The horror begins with the opening titles. The first time I saw them I literally shuddered. These show Nigella looking surprised and delighted by a series of graphics of lipstick, handbags and coffee cups that float past her head. This is odd, because if you watch the programme it seems her entire life revolves around such trivia. The titles end with her writing 'Nigella' on a blackboard and looking triumphantly into the camera, as though to say 'Not only can I smile and pout. I can also write my own name'. This is all accompanied by a very retro signature tune with lots of pizzicato.

The first one I saw began with Nigella saying "we'll be talking soulmates and handbags!" Well, I suppose there's nothing like laying your trivia on the table at the outset so that anyone who's not up for some girlie chat can fuck off and put some shelves up in the kitchen.

This 'lively magazine show' (Radio Times) has a celebrity guest, a daily recipe, a discussion and a one-to-one interview called 'Diva to Diva'. Is Nigella a diva? Only in the sense that every female celebrity is now called a 'diva', just as virtually everyone who appears on Parkinson is introduced as a 'national treasure'.

In those early shows, Nigella sat surrounded by shoes on display stands, as though the programme were being broadcast from a branch of Dolcis. Either that, or you had tuned in to a programme for shoe fetishists on a late night cable channel.

The programme begins with Nigella cooking something whilst interviewing her star guest. This would defeat even someone who was both an accomplished chat show host and a top chef. Nigella is neither. It means that she constantly interrupts her guests' replies with 'I'm now adding some chopped coriander.'
Like most 'TV chefs' from Fanny Cradock onwards, Nigella is not a very good cook. I'm particularly apalled by the way she never mixes ingredients properly, whether she's making a lamb burger or a cake.
Last week she made a chocolate cake and sloshed a huge quantity of vanilla essence into it straight from the bottle. Two teaspoons would have been ample. This cake was made with a liberal quantity of cola. We weren't of course told which brand of cola, Coke, Pepsi or Peter Kay's budget price 'Rola Cola'. As if that weren't sickening enough, she then made an icing containing........yes, a lot more cola.
The vanilla, by the way, was the subject of the challenging phone-in quiz. Did it come from insects, plants or sea shells? Sorry, that should have been 'or (c) shells.'

Philosophising about food, Nigella said "you don't know if you like it until you taste it - it's a bit like people". The mostly female studio audience fell on this tenuous double meaning like people ravenous for entertainment and laughed uproariously. "I didn't mean it quite like that", said Nigella, possibly wondering who had selected all these dreadfully common people who would never get their feet under the table at one of her dinner parties.

Nigella's ineptitude at interviewing people or chairing a discussion reminds me of Steve Coogan's fictional Alan Partridge. He was a regional sports correspondent who got promoted beyond his abilities and given a chat show. Something similar has happened to Nigella but whilst Alan Partridge combined epic self-delusion with deep and thinly-veiled insecurity, Nigella just looks horribly uncomfortable.

But surely, you might say, Nigella is an intelligent woman, the thinking man's posh totty. We tend to assume so because she's the daughter of a former Chancellor, sister of a former editor of the Sunday Telegraph. But you wouldn't think so from the discussions on her programme, which resemble a coffee morning for Stepford Wives. As others have pointed out, it's like being whisked back to the 1950s, except that then the only thing on TV at 1.30pm was the test card, although that was much more riveting viewing.
Is this the kind of nonsense that is spouted at Nigella and new hubby Charles Saatchi's dinner parties? Or is she dumbing down for the benefit of the unemployed and geriatric who watch daytime television?
Unless you had a perverse fascination with truly bad television, you would only watch this if you were sitting in the lounge of an old people's home and Matron had confiscated the remote control.

The first line of the song that I used as my title is "Have you ever seen a blind man cross the road, trying to make the other side?" Well, if you have you've seen a metaphor for Nigella trying to host a chat show.
But if you're throwing a 'sickie', make sure you watch it. Admittedly, you might actually be sick as a consequence. But it will save you waiting for the next '100 Worst TV Shows Ever' programme.


At 3:18 PM, Blogger Betty said...

I'll have to remember to record "Nigella" on Sky Plus, unless it has now been replaced by something which will attract more viewers, such as the 1998 series of "Heartbeat". Mind you, I find it difficult to believe that there could be a more underwhelming lunchtime programme than "Pebble Mill At One" which my mother forced me to endure on school holidays in the 1970's. With giants of broadcasting such as Marion Foster and Bob "Rugged Looking Bloke Off The Knitting Patterns" Langley as presenters, I think it has contributed towards my suddenly feeling empty and depressed in the early afternoon ever since.

At 3:35 PM, Blogger Wyndham said...

Surely, Looks Familiar - Dennis Norden's nostalgic look at medieval showbusiness types - must have been the worst afternoon show. That and Crown Court back-to-back made me almost regret throwing a sickie from school.

At 3:44 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

Ah, Pebble Mill At One! I watched it when I was out of work in the eighties. I assure you that Nigella makes Pebble Mill seem like one of the most intellectually challenging programmes in television history.
Nigella has only a 20 programme run so it won't be on much longer but do record it if only for those opening titles which I think are a collector's item. Oh, and the set design. I forgot to say that one of the interviews takes place in a mocked-up library. They look like those bookshelves that Wetherspoon's put in a lot of their pubs, filled with a random bulk purchase from a secondhand bookshop.


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