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TV UK, 14 November

Jamie's Kitchen - get ready for the Youth Social Inclusion TV Chef Act of 2003.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Politics

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On one level, Jamie’s Kitchen (Channel 4, Tuesdays at 9pm) is a variation on a theme. Pop Idol, Fame Academy, SAS: Are You Tough Enough? and Lad’s Army all take a group of hopefuls through a competitive training process in the hope of transforming them into pop stars or soldiers.

What makes Jamie’s Kitchen different, apart from the job in question, is that fact that the hopefuls are otherwise hopeless.

TV chef Jamie Oliver is starting his own restaurant, and he has agreed to staff it with unemployed and initially unskilled youths. Jamie’s Kitchen follows their progress over nine months of intensive training. This is a section of society we are more used to seeing in gritty dramas than in light entertainment, and the first couple of episodes were funny mainly because some of the candidates were so bad. But while attendance has been a problem even with some of the more competent cooks, most seem keen to grasp the opportunity.

There are shades of My Fair Lady here, though Jamie has yet to insist that his staff learn to speak his own famous Mockney. The so-called socially excluded are a constant preoccupation of the New Labour government, and this televised attempt to transform unemployed and undereducated youths into useful members of society will no doubt arouse the interest of ministers. Get ready for the Youth Social Inclusion TV Chef Act of 2003.

Working-class wastrels are also the subject of Offenders, Channel 4’s new cutting-edge, gritty, disturbing, urban, young, disturbing, cutting-edge, gritty drama from new writers and directors (Tuesdays at 11.35pm). Judging from the illicit and improbable sex in the opening episodes, these writers have honed their craft writing letters to Razzle magazine. In fact, the whole thing has an air of cheapness. The credits recall the American prison drama Oz, but the rest is more reminiscent of Middle English, the old BBC schools drama programme.

But we shouldn’t hold its cheapness against Offenders. If Channel 4 wants to experiment with new writers and directors on a low budget in a late night slot, good luck to it. What is disappointing is how unexperimental and generally unexciting the programme is. Perhaps it’s because each episode is written by a different author that the characters are so cardboard. Anyway, I can just see the briefing notes.

Chris is a good guy with a few problems, intelligent but an underachiever. He has an crush on the supervisor Tyla. Tyla is smart and streetwise. She is good at her job, and has genuine compassion for the offenders, but she is not above swiping a bit of dope for recreational use. Liam is a loveable rogue. He likes to pretend he’s hard, but really he’s quite vulnerable and easily led. Zoe, the single mother, has been robbed of her youth, but is full of life and out for a good time. Mix freely in plotlines involving gritty sex, disturbing drugs and cutting-edge criminal activity.

If nothing else though, at least Offenders keeps socially excluded writers and directors off the streets, and helps build their self-esteem. Pukka.

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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