Tuesday 10 December 2019

A straight red card

The marriage ref (itv, saturday); fake or fortune? (bbc1, sunday); 125 years of wimbledon (bbc2, sunday)

I don't understand why American critics took so vehemently against The Marriage Ref, created by Jerry Seinfeld. On the strength of this ITV remake, it looks like harmless fluff.

Or maybe the harmlessness was the reason for the critics' harshness. Maybe the Americans expected Seinfeld to come up with something edgier and more substantial than a comedy panel game in which three celebrities pass jokey judgements on minor marital spats.

The US version, despite savage reviews, has limped to a second series. The only reason for its survival seems to be Seinfeld's ability to fill the panel with heavyweight celebrity pals like Madonna, Alec Baldwin and Ricky Gervais.

Their counterparts for this version were considerably less starry: comedians Sarah Millican and Jimmy Carr (clearly we don't see enough of him on television), and, as host Dermot O'Leary described her, "British pop and yoga royalty" Geri Halliwell.

I can't see this version making it beyond a single series. The domestic disputes are barely disputes at all and there's nothing at stake, not even a cash prize.

Saturday's participants were a middle-aged Tom Jones impersonator who's fed up with his wife leaving him "to do" lists; a young woman who wants her 31-year-old clown of a husband to grow up and stop hanging out with teenage skateboarders; and a lovely, octogenarian couple, married for 53 years, who are having a genteel disagreement over the husband's habit of making endless jars of pickles (cue some patronising "oohing" and "aahing" from the studio audience).

Hardly the stuff of Relate counselling. In a TV landscape coarsened beyond belief by the likes of Jeremy Kyle, The Marriage Ref doesn't stand a chance.

Fake or Fortune? sounds like it should be a Saturday-night gameshow. Instead, it's a Sunday-night art investigation series -- and a riveting one. Tense is not the first word you'd associate with a series hosted by Antiques Roadshow presenter Fiona Bruce and occasional contributor Philip Mould (a perfect name for an expert in all things old and mouldy), yet Fake or Fortune? had all the tension of a good detective story. Which, in essence, is what it was.

Eighteen years ago, retired naval officer David Joel paid £40,000 for an oil sketch of the Seine, which he believes is a genuine Monet. But the incredibly pompous and self-regarding Wildenstein Institute, a Paris-based organisation that supposedly protects the legacy of Monet and has the final say on whether a Monet is real or fake, insists it's not.

The upshot is that without the Institute's stamp of approval, Joel can never sell his sketch as the real thing.

Enter Bruce and Mould, who jet around the world having the sketch examined by independent experts and subjected to the most rigorous, most up-to-the-minute scientific analysis. The verdict is yes, the sketch is incontrovertibly a real Monet.

Except, it's not, because the Wildenstein Institute, headed up by one Guy Wildenstein, still refuses to believe the truth. It was an exasperating outcome and Bruce, especially, could barely contain her fury -- particularly when this supposedly worthless fake was impounded by French customs. A great opener to what looks like being a great series.

You can't really go wrong with 125 years of Wimbledon: all the tears, tantrums and thrilling showdowns on Centre Court. But the documentary 125 Years of Wimbledon, a curtain-raiser to this year's tournament, somehow did go wrong.

It gathered together most of the greats of the game, past and present, and then refused to let them say anything remotely interesting or provocative.

There were clips, but not enough, and far too much time was spent on irrelevancies, including Cliff Richard "entertaining" (his word, not mine) the crown when rain stopped play during the 1996 men's quarter-final.

Better to just watch the tennis.

the marriage ref HIIII

fake or fortune? HHHHI

125 years of wimbledon


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