TV COLUMN: Masterchef: The Professionals, The Apprentice, Question Time

James Waller-Davies
James Waller-Davies

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television.

Television’s obsession with food and reality served up the latest of the year’s courses with the return of Masterchef: The Professionals (BBC2).

The judging pair of Marcus Wareing and Monica Galetti provide the show’s culinary credibility with their understated expertise, whilst the grunts and gurns of presenter Greg Wallace add a comic turn and the tastebuds of the common man.

Unlike Great British Menu, this incarnation of the Masterchef franchise showcases the country’s journeymen chefs, rather than the superstars.

The contestants are, however, what it says on the show’s tin: professionals. And the standard gets better every year. There are fewer laughs at the cookery car-crashes each series and Britain, once the country of joke food, is no longer the land of Brussel sprouts, over-cooked meat and pink custard. Britain is à la carte and we’ve become a nation of foodies.

If the sweet of the show is in the regulars, the sour certainly comes in the guise of the chamber of horrors that is the critics round. Regular critics, Jay Rayner and William Sitwell were joined by Amol Rajan this week.

Rayner and Sitwell make a fair outing as Statler and Waldorf from the Muppet Show, swinging violently from gushing lip-smacking to face-twisting recoil. They are old hands at this now, but are becoming just a little too aware of their own performance.

It’s early days in the series, but it’s a sign of the show’s popularity that audiences can stand such a long run. For the contestants, winning is a big deal. Previous winners have all had a huge boost to their careers.

Egos requiring absolutely no more boosting whatsoever are those of the contestants on The Apprentice (BBC1).

Never quite sure if The Apprentice had ever taken itself even half seriously, it is now an out and out caricature of itself. The contestants are nothing more than Jerry Springer cast-offs in suits, ready to plunge the knife into each other for half a sixpence.

It is the epitome of everything perceived to be wrong in the world of business. Contestants come over as pernicious, untrustworthy, scheming and Machiavellian. Yes, it’s a TV show, but under pressure the cracks open and it all pours out and as Sugar himself put it, “being a nice guy isn’t enough to win this.”

Question Time (BBC1) rumbles on. What was once the colourful weekly knockabout has become a polarised bust-up in black or white.

Question Time has always been at its most vibrant when there’s been something to play for in the political zeitgeist, but with the political see-saw so heavily weighted in the direction of the recent winners, the losers can do little more than throw mud.

The only highlight of this week’s programme was the sight of Lib Dems’ leader, Tim Farron, wriggling on a hook of his own making. Farron, an arch advocate of democracy, finds himself in the position of not agreeing with his constituents’ Brexit vote.

He floundered about, desperately avoiding a circle that could only be squared with the words ‘resignation’ or ‘hypocrisy’. At times like this, democracy must be a real pain in the backside for politicians.