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Thursday 14 December 2017

Primeval's back with a bang

Primeval Saturday, UTV Simon Schama's Shakespeare Friday, BBC 2 The Men Who Made Us Fat Thursday, BBC2

Every episode features a hapless Everyman being torn apart by a blood-thirsty creature from prehistory. But enough about Tonight with Vincent Browne, this week I'm reviewing ITV's family sci-fi drama Primeval. Most episodes of Primeval feature ordinary Londoners being ripped apart by CGI creatures from the past that emerge from shimmery portals called 'anomalies' only to be eventually captured and placed in a menagerie by attractive science-types (think Brian Cox with a gun).

Five series in and this series has a passionate fanbase but a troubled broadcast history (ITV initially passed on further series of Primeval, so this one is actually a co-production, aired last year on Watch, and only reaching terrestrial television now).



plucky

Characters have come and gone and the back story has become ever more complex, but still at the core of the show are nerdy, fan-favourite Connor (Andrew-Lee Potts) and his plucky girlfriend Abbie (former S Club 7 star Hannah Spearritt) surprisingly well-resourced by a secret government agency that doesn't know the meaning of words like "recession" "austerity" or "The Department of Fighting Dinosaurs? Surely we could make some cuts there?"

This week's season debut began, as is tradition, with a road worker being munched by a giant set of mandibles. This was soon followed by the revelation that London was in danger of being besieged by giant tubby cockroaches with strange customs (burrowing, eating people).

Traditionally, sci-fi has been a means by which society discusses its real fears and anxieties.

So, possibly, these underground cockroaches represent the forthcoming Olympic hordes, the recent mayoral race between Boris and Ken or the giant, overground cockroaches that populate London's financial district.

Who knows? One way or another, our heroes' solution to the problem -- blowing stuff up -- seemed a bit overly simplistic. Still there are potentially meatier storylines brewing -- like the one about Connor working on a secret project to harness the anomalies as an energy source -- a secret project that could end up DESTROYING THE WORLD.

If he were writing today, I suspect that Primeval is the sort of storyline to which Will Shakespeare would apply his talents). He'd certainly be a television writer, such was his flair for zeitgeisty populism.

The first episode of Simon Schama's Shakespeare attempted to show how he both reflected his times and shaped a future sense of Englishness. And it did a good job despite some gimmicky flourishes.



censorship

Schama examined the political conflicts of Shakespeare's time and how he managed to use historical material to explore them without exposing himself to Elizabethan censorship (this often meant death).

Shakespeare also had an unerring empathic ability to represent every side of an argument before alighting on the official one. So, Schama sees Falstaff -- the fat, hedonistic break-out-star of Henry IV -- as the ultimate symbol of rich, hearty Englishness, despite his cruel and righteous rejection by the play's official hero Prince Hal.

True to Schama's thesis, the English have become even more Falstaffian over the years -- particularly around the waist.

Jacque Peretti's The Men Who Made Us Fat is an excellent investigation into the cultural, economic and marketing forces that have changed how people eat.

This week's episode explored the economics of supersizing, the persuasive powers of advertising and the strength of the food lobby.

There are some, it seems, who won't be happy until we're all thundering about looking like something from Primeval.

Primeval

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Simon Schama's Shakespeare

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The Men Who Made Us Fat

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