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Channel hop

Mark Peters

 

Something a little unnerving happened to me last week. I inexplicably caught myself smirking - nay, sniggering - along with three oafish men as they slavered with teenage excitement over a sparkly, new, revtastic Lamborrari with a price tag so huge, it could have covered the rent of a small Mid-Levels flat for at least a fortnight.

Normally, I would have found this middle-aged auto-porn buffoonery as enjoyable as a dose of genital warts, so how did I even come to be watching Top Gear (the 21st series of which began last Sunday, on BBC Knowledge)? "Jezza" Clarkson's fake loutish bigotry would usually be as welcome in our living room as a baby giraffe in a Danish zoo. Was this the neanderthal menopause? What's next, a gentlemen's club? A little right-wing racism? An addiction to home-decorating shows? Heaven forbid I develop an unimaginable fondness for daytime reality television, the irritating talent-free programmes I have until now venomously detested. Pray for me, people, for I may be on the road to TV hell.

Testing my wavering taste buds this week is MasterChef (pictured top), the British reality cooking comp, another helping of which is served up this Wednesday on BBC Lifestyle (10.05pm). MasterChef was one of the first - and, I have to say, more interesting - shows to bring food and cooking to the forefront of popular culture. As the hunt for Britain's best amateur cook begins once again, the recipe remains largely unchanged.

Celebrity chef John Torode and greengrocer Gregg Wallace ("the fat, bald bloke … who likes pudding", as he once described himself) return for a ninth time to stuff their gobs and pour judgment on a platter of delectable dishes, although the 50 contestants would be wise to serve up some particularly tasty treats for the burly Wallace after the past couple of years he's had.

His third whirlwind on-and-off-again marriage was all over the gossip sheets and ended after only 14 months, just as his business empire was crumbling around him. His London restaurants, Gregg's Bar & Grill and Wallace & Co, suffered from scathing reviews and closed their doors, as did his fruit and veg company, which folded recently under huge debt. The pummelling of a magazine editor last year after he allegedly groped Wallace's new girlfriend didn't help the pudding muncher's cause either, especially as the drunken brawl took place at an event at which he was guest of honour. This is a man who is certainly not in the mood for a sunken souffle, so this year's MasterChef champion is going to have to bring some lip-smacking goodness to the table. The potential for a kitchen dust-up over a crème brûlée will keep me hooked on this one through to the bitter end.

Maybe my wilting intolerance for the moronic Top Gear simply means my fountain of vitriolic youth has run dry, which would also explain why I am wildly apathetic when it comes to this year's Brit Awards (BBC Entertainment, Thursday at 9pm). Now, I don't want to give any spoilers here (the event happened last Wednesday) but scheduled to perform live at the gala event, so no doubt expecting the odd winners statue to be chucked their way, were Katy Perry, the Arctic Monkeys and Rudimental, among many other "groundbreaking" acts. Also up for an award were Lady Gaga, One Direction and Olly Murs … hmm, hardly musical legends in the making. Where are the Bowies, the Led Zeps, the Abbas of this generation? (Oh yes, Dad, I am indeed aware of the irony in all of this.)

Amazingly, the Thin White Duke (that's David Bowie, for any of you kids reading this) is still playing with the pretty things and was nominated for two awards at this year's ceremony, hosted once again by Gavin & Stacey comedian James Corden (pictured top), so maybe I will give the Brits a brief glance before bedtime.

Despite the fact a fourth season will get under way this Thursday, Call Me Fitz (FX, 10pm), an enormously popular and award-winning hit in its native Canada, is one of those shows that seems to have flown way below the radar for most people here. This twisted, black-humoured family dramedy stars Jason Priestley as Richard "Fitz" Fitzpatrick, a self-absorbed, sex-obsessed, substance-abusing, used-car salesman forced to accept a business partner with the arrival of do-gooder Larry (Ernie Grunwald; My Name is Earl), who claims to be the embodiment of Fitz's conscience. Fitz is a scheming, foul-mouthed scumbag and a good-time Sinatra wannabe (a character that couldn't be further removed from Priestley's TV heartthrob beginnings, in Beverly Hills, 90210) with an uncanny knack for always making the wrong decision. It's up to poor Larry to redeem him.

Fitz begins the new season still happily surrounded by the liars, cheats and deadbeats he calls family, but he is now an out-of-his-depth single father after the baby's mother abandoned their newborn on his doorstep. With the help of his whacked-out dysfunctional relatives, Fitz must adjust to raising the yet-unnamed infant before child services take him away. Ever the scoundrel, Fitz is torn between using the child to attract customers and swapping him for drugs.

Call Me Fitz crams more sex, drugs and booze into each 30-minute episode than Charlie Sheen manages on a holiday weekend and the air positively hums with snappy, obscenity-filled dialogue (you'd never have guessed those nice Canadians could swear so much - well, unless you'd seen those videos starring Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto, that is). Much like the equally sinful and damaged comedy It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Call Me Fitz is smart enough to never take itself too seriously, but it is also so debauched and politically incorrect, it makes Clarkson seem like a tree-hugging hippie cyclist.

 

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