The Professionals

Posted on October 12, 2010


Drama, action, suspense! Woah, watch out there, Keegan! Hang about, it’s Inspector George Gently.

This is television good and proper, and that theme tune is what it sounds like to be even more superhumanly self-confident than James Brown and walking to the offie round the corner on a Friday night. But we need to get some dinner too; pasta? what vegetables? any truffles? Ah-ha!

In its ‘Must-see TV’ section last week [September 25 – October 1, 2010], The Times’ Playlist supplement included Masterchef: The Professionals. That the masterful This Is England ’86 and, of course, Strictly Come Dancing and X-Factor, are also included – this is high praise. The review reads:

“The involvement of Michel Roux Jr is the best thing about this spin-off of the cookery franchise. Roux Jr is knowledgeable, encouraging and does not suffer fools – the perfect qualities for the search to find the best working chef in the country”.

Do I detect criticism? Some of that knowing irony that concludes its X-Factor review – ‘Expect plenty of tears – there always are’ – with all the jovial brevity of the TV listings writer may be? Apparently not. People not only actually like Masterchef, they’ll defend it as “good television” too. The new one’s dead professional and all.

My housemate for one loves Masterchef, and although we don’t have an actual television in our flat (renegade laptops for us), the programme is one of the few things we will watch during the week.

Rather than take this in some weird urban-Attenborough direction (he likes chicken and long walks by the River Don by the way), the point is, our discussions about Masterchef have not wised me up to its apparent charms.

“Well, it’s television”.

It’s television yes, but a form of television with increasing cache in our current climate of economic adversity, little girls and boys with a passion to be a star and genuinely emotive tales of love on the dole culminating in a confetti-ridden rendition of a Westlife song. An escape from the times, along with a heady dose of aspiration.

Aforementioned This Is England ’86 has been a perfect antidote to this kind of seal-packaged glossy dross which you encounter in droves in the other programmes mentioned above. Instead, dour social realism with a nice bit of British sub-culture history thrown in, artful cinematography, a predictably good soundtrack and themes that we all need to buck up and look at, on a rainy Sheffield day like today.

Of course you can’t expect much of this from a food programme. Unless you’re a fan of Nigella Lawson of course; chiccy-Beckenham softly-lit, dashing your herbs over your well-in-focus but half-off-camera gazpacho and buxom boobies (which by the way, because you’ve not heard it before, is not so much a food programme as a sex-food programme for middle-aged pervy dads). Otherwise your standard food programme is largely about food.

Now when I say “a form of television with increasing cache […] little girls and boys with a passion to be a star and genuinely emotive tales of love on the dole culminating in a confetti-ridden rendition of a Westlife song” – I’m not just referring to those tediously prevalent mission or emotional-narrative-reality shows, but features of programming that is definitively American, or if not American then incredibly plasticised and pre-packaged.

For example, Hell’s Kitchen USA or Kitchen Nightmares USA is one of the more sickening pieces of television I’ve seen, and not only because of scenes of fawning American celebrities (poor Stevie Van Zandt) looking up at Gordon Ramsay’s scrotal face like puppies waiting for their next drunken beating.

It seems every single change of scene or shot has to be accompanied by the over-produced cosmic thud of ten thousand orchestras – “DUH!” – just to tell us that, “Uh-oh, they might not make this soufflé in time, mightn’t they? What do you think will happen? This is getting serious now, hold tight.” This is repeated a few times, then sautéed in some utterly reprehensible plastic string dirge to step it up that little bit more, before the wannabe-chef in hand either succeeds to no applause or mucks up and gets another scrotal-alcoholic battering of verbiage. You just feel dirty watching it.

Masterchef is much the same, but because it’s British (by extension sophisticated, slick and above all that American crassness, no?), we do it better. Rather than the intense male Californian voiceover, we get a husky English lay-day putting a seductive finger to our fearful mouths and whispering sweet culinary nothings. Much like the pornographic M&S adverts, but, longer, and, oh, OH, more…protracted.

Of course there’s still the strings-of-suspense with the over-produced cosmic thud of one hundred orchestras, but beyond that, the production company or the BBC or some reet spark have decided to splice shots of men and women cooking niche French cuisine along with some solid German techno. Real Berliner minimal techno, and electro-house; with massive drops, freaky flashing-laser basslines and one-beat pauses that have been ingenuously used to accompany the chopping of an onion or the hurried mopping of a sweaty brow with a tea towel. It’s all so exaggerated, but masquerades as something done well. You know, like “good television”.

By implanting sound and very noticeable editing onto original material in this way, television producers are able to create narratives out of nothing. It is likely that other than who wins Masterchef and who is kicked off, the projected record bears little resemblance to real events. This is something that in turn bears more than a little resemblance to other media professions – particularly the reactionary and distorting news journalism of something like Fox that can show images of a world leader with progressive policies just, doing something, emplot an over-arching narrative over the top of it, and distort the news in the eye of the viewer from then on. The other day we were given a hand-out showing two photographs of an American soldier controlling a crowd in Afghanistan. The original, first published in the LA Free Press, had been edited to “enhance” it.

While we’re on Fox, dig this! – I know you haven’t already –

And so the horse, like the panda and the unicorn, has been flogged.

Red Riding, This Is England ’86 or Sherlock Holmes are all good recent British TV series (my minor penchant for Inspector George Gently best left here, though that is apparently ‘Must-see’ too so there we go). However it’d be ridiculous to compare them to Masterchef, for reasons of both content and quality – the very same reasons that it’d be pointless to bring up X-Factor and the most infernal biscuit-taker of the lot, Britain’s Got Talent.

What ever happened to Lloyd anyway?


Oh waiiiiiiiiittttttttttt


Posted in: Film & TV