Guilty by association. That’s the chattering blight that prevents you from watching the latest BBC3 comedy about raucous young people with an open mind. The incessant deluge of effluence that has gushed forth from the open BBC3 sewers, through the television and into the living room means that each time such a programme begins you’re filled with a prejudicial loathing.
Following the misadventures of a bunch of freshers, Off The Hook, therefore, has the problem of not only needing to be good, but to also mutate the granite-solid impression of BBC3 dross. And it achieves this through the most reliable technique possible: it’s pretty funny.
Perhaps taking its lead from Channel 4’s Inbetweeners – that showed that sitcoms about teenagers could be very funny indeed – Off The Hook leans more towards character than situation, and is all the better for it. It even stars Inbetweener Jay, (James Buckley) here playing the diametric opposite to that foul-mouthed fantasist as Fred, a kind of misunderstood, intellectual Trigger whose melancholic forays into the art world baffle his flatmates but astound fellow artists.
And as with Trigger he gets some of the best lines, gags that become funnier the more you get to know Fred. In this latest episode, one-man disaster movie Shane (Danny Morgan) is trying to convince the gang that him spilling the cornflakes hasn’t created a mess. “Het Fred, you don’t mind the mess?” “It’s nothing compared to the mess that mankind’s in,” Fred replies in his typical deadpan monotone.
But Fred is only one of the peripheral joys in plotlines that centre on Shane and his weak-minded best friend Danny (Jonathan Bailey). Shane is a more cerebral Father Dougal, always messing up the plans of his pal with some astonishingly harebrained ideas that Danny always subscribes to because Shane appeals to his licentious lust of his loins rather than the rationality of his brain.
After accidentally throwing away Danny’s photography project, Shane, who is as sensitive as a cyberman and as lazy as a corpse, convinces Danny that in order to replace them he should hide in a cupboard while his other flatmate, and unrequited love, Scarlett (Joanna Cassidy) is in a ju-jitsu class and take snaps of her. Through the narrow slits in the cupboard Danny is horrified to witness the girls changing into their kit before starting the class, and is inevitably caught when they finish. But it’s the fact that you feel the hapless Danny’s excruciating abasement shows you already care about what happens.
This favourable impression is compounded at the end after Danny’s project is sabotaged again by Shane’s incompetence as a human being, leaving Scarlett in a rage. Danny leaves the photographs he’d taken of her for the project outside her door, and her anger dissipates into an affectionate smile. Of course, a smile is all Danny can really hope for as to bring them together would dissipate the pathos, tension and humour that make Off The Hook an unexpected and welcome treat.
An unexpected and unwelcome wolf at the door is the new incarnation of Masterchef, as the brand continues its colonisation of the schedules with the same amorality and ignorance of human dignity displayed by the Nazi annexation of Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia.
The only concession made to the usual format is the replacement of John Torode by Michel Roux (Ming the Merciless drawn with pencils); Gregg Wallace hangs steadfastly in place like the threat of radiation poisoning around Chernobyl, as does the self-flagellation of the chefs if they happen to make one slight error that is pounced upon by the rapacious judges and decried as though an act of capital heresy by the culinary inquisition. Each error seems pulled out of them like a pre-laid verbal chain in order that it tallies with some pernicious vilification the judges have perceived in the unkempt morasses of grub that are plonked before them.
And the dubious public fanaticism towards these visual odiums is made even worse by the fact that it is rooted in mediocrity and desensitisation. If someone were to compose their own music or paint a portrait, you know, an activity that’s actually worthwhile then the viewer would be able to judge on the quality of such an artistic artefact. With cookery, no such scrutiny is possible it’s left to the mired palettes of the hosts to determine how the viewer should perceive the food, and the focus is on the curdled mien of the judges, while the teary eyes of the deposed and dispossessed chefs add that indolent, exploitative repugnance common to reality shows.
This is wrong; especially when you consider should the viewers able to taste the food the chefs made they would probably savour the flavour. No matter how much the judges nebulously pontificate, the difference between the tastiest meal in the whole world and fish and chips from Bertie’s Bollockchomps is the breadth of an atom – no more, no less. And this is why food will never ascend to the heights of music and other forms of culture that are actually worth exploring, culture that elevates the senses rather than a pleasant but indulgently sensual experience that could be shared with swine in the trough.