Whiter than White
He cuts a slightly scary figure does Marco. It's not just the wild mane of hair, kept only partially in check by a white bandana, nor is it his rather imposing frame – this is big man we're dealing with here in every sense of the phrase – it's his eyes that I find so chilling and that women apparently are finding so thrilling. It's difficult to gauge just what is going on in Marco's head but it's apparent that something is. Not the sort of bloke you'd like to play poker with, that's for sure.
What Marco does so magnificently though is lead his brigade. Instead of manically barking orders and taking out his frustrations on his underlings, he takes them with him on a journey, instilling confidence and encouragement and even jumping in himself to help when things go wrong. His motivational skills have been a joy to watch and I was left with the impression that if they'd given him a kitchen full of chimpanzees rather than a bunch of famous people, he'd still manage to get a decent meal out.
As for the celebs, it's been the men's team that has provided the greater entertainment in the first week. Barry McGuigan has been so diplomatic that it would come as no surprise if gets a job in the United Nations after the show has finished. Poor Barry has been trying to keep the peace as Jim Davidson wrestles with the fact that he wants to be one of the boys, though at least two of those boys clearly didn't want to be part of his gang.
Lee out of Blue clearly had an issue with Jim and when it kicked off between them it wasn't even a case of handbags at dawn but more toys out of the pram, and the fall out resembled something that would have seemed immature in a primary school playground.
When Lee chose to take Marco to task over a comment he felt was offensive at the end of service, there was only going to be the one winner. Here Marco showed clearly that he was the boss and he wouldn't take the accusation lying down. Lee left but the offensive word has not been heard on air since the end of that episode.
Jim's set to with Brian was a classic example of the lack of communication between the comedian and the younger members of the show. The row concerned Brian wanting to help the women's team out when pastry chef Rosie was voted off the show. Jim's take was that as the girls were an opposing team, Brian shouldn't help. Now in other circumstances this could have been sorted out with good humour and may even have been quite an amusing moment, but Jim and Brian took up such entrenched positions and brought so much baggage to the confrontation that not even Saint Barry could have healed the rift.
Oh yes, Paul Young was there too. I was expecting a gag about toast at some stage but it wasn't forthcoming. As it was, Paul made about as big an impression in the show as he has on the charts in recent years.
Over on the women's team, Rosie came and went without making much of an impact. I suppose that this piece of casting was designed to try and manufacture conflict between the Spare Rib co-founder and those unreconstructed members of the male cast, but it didn't happen.
Much screen time has been given to WAG Abigail and she hasn't always been shown in the most positive light. Of course we don't know whether the editing and presenter's comments were being fair on her but if they were then you'd have to pity poor Peter Crouch. What's that coming over the hill?
The absolute treat for me has been the return of Anneka Rice. Poor Annie seems to have been finding it all a bit of struggle, but part of her charm has always been that she's very endearing when she's flustered. I wonder if Treasure Hunt is being re-run anywhere. Must check the EPG.
Overall then, the presence of Marco and some inspired celebrity casting has breathed new life into the format and I've been impressed with first week's offerings. The only flies in the ointment for me are the acerbic and at times downright nasty links from a smug-sounding Angus Deayton. Couple these with his awful and awkward interview technique and you have to wonder why he's still got the gig.
I was all ready to throw out my ready meals because the promise of Nigella Express was that the "domestic goddess". or "shameless flirt" as we call her at Hogan Towers. would be teaching us how to make tasty real food in minutes. I reckon I could rustle up a full plate of meat and three veg in less time than some of these express recipes take to make.
Admittedly the squid sounded very nice but not the sort of thing that I want after a hard day in the office. Of course the attraction of Nigella's shows aren't necessarily the food, more the enticing way she stares down that camera lens. She even managed to do it while reviewing the papers on The Andrew Marr Show.
I've set the series link.
It was sad to see the wildly enthusiastic Jacqui make her exit from The Restaurant but you have to wonder whether the restaurant was called The Ostrich because partner Sam was hiding his head in the sand.
The pair have easily been the most entertaining thing about the new reality series in the first four episodes but now that they've gone, maybe some of the less overbearing contestants will come to the fore.
England my England
In a remarkably daft piece of planning, the vital England football match against Israel and England's opening World Cup rugger fixture began at exactly the same time, leaving truly patriotic sports fans in a pickle. Surely the football could have been moved. At least the cricket was wrapped up quickly enough to avoid an ongoing three way split of loyalties.
It can have been much fun for those non-sports-loving people with just the five traditional channels to find three of them clogged up with sport and another showing a creaky old Carry On film.
I solved the problem by going all Granddad out of Only Fools and Horses and running two televisions with the commentary coming from good old radio Five Live. Fortunately I already had the creaky Carry On on DVD so I didn't have to miss that either.
I turned to the Five Live soundtrack because the double act of John Motson and Mark Lawrenson on BBC One is really wearing thin now. Give me Alan Green and Mike Ingram any day of the week.
Soap and bubble
EastEnders ended the week with as a good an episode as they've put out in months as Chelsea and Deano's web of lies storyline crossed spectacularly into the one about wild child Lucy Beale.
Add to this Phil Mitchell back on booze and looking bright purple and Peggy issuing her famous "get out of my pub" line to her own son and you had a classic half hour.
To be honest I had feelings of "here we go again" as Phil went back on the bottle but my mind has been changed by an absolutely cracking performance from Barbara Windsor, giving a very believable and heartrending turn as the concerned mother and grandmother.
Jostling for performance of the week has been Tiana Benjamin as Chelsea's world collapsed around her ears.
It was such a good episode that I was even glad of the odd chance of pace as Marge gave birth.
Laugh? Yes actually
BBC One saw not one but two returning sitcoms on Friday night.
I was about to write the return of After You've Gone off as another sitcom by numbers but by the end I had actually laughed out loud at least three times. This is largely down to some excellent playing from stars Nicholas Lyndhurst and Celia Imrie. I'm less convinced by the kids, who seem to there as convenient plot devices rather than fully formed characters.
The Lee Mack vehicle Not Going Out has had a format tweak with the addition of two new characters. Sadly it seems that Miranda Hart's cleaner has wandered in from another sitcom.
The show remains largely an excuse for a string of gags of varying quality, similar to Frank Skinner's disappointing Shane. Somehow, they just about get away with it, but I can't help but think that half an hour of stand up from Mack and Tim Vine would be more entertaining.