CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews the weekend’s TV: Lions as EastEnders stars? Avoid chucking out time at the Queen Vic
Billy Monger: Changing Gears
Ere, Dot, you won’t never guess — them baboons from No 17 are back. Bakari and Cheka, they’re called, and she’s only gone and had another baby. She has, the little madam.
And wot about the argy-bargy down the waterhole last night? You ’aven’t heard? Oh, it was them lions, Sefu and Kali . . . and I’ll swear those cubs aren’t his. I fink he knows, too, ’cos he was in such a strop with her. I’m not one to gossip, though.
The animals from the East End of Africa returned on Serengeti II (BBC1), a teatime reality show that combines sumptuous wildlife photography with soap opera.
In collaboration with John Downer, who pioneered ‘spy in the wild’ remote cameras, he developed that concept to capture real animal behaviour and edit it into melodramatic scenarios
A caption at the start promises us ‘a dramatised story based on the lives of Africa’s most charismatic animals’. I’m not sure Bakarreee and Chekahhh, the Ricky and Bianca of the primate world, really qualify as charismatic. But the drama is worthy of Albert Square.
The show was born when Simon Fuller — the Svengali behind Pop Idol — took a safari holiday and imagined the savannah as a lurid studio set, with the monkeys and elephants living life on camera, like Big Brother contestants.
In collaboration with John Downer, who pioneered ‘spy in the wild’ remote cameras, he developed that concept to capture real animal behaviour and edit it into melodramatic scenarios.
Because the stars can’t go into the Diary Room and tearfully spill out their emotions, actress Lupita Nyong’o voices their inner thoughts — such as the jealousy of deposed baboon matriarch Bibi, who was queen of the troupe till that brazen flirt Cheka moved in.
Purists will be frustrated by the liberties taken. Film of Kali and the other lionesses trying and failing to bring down a buffalo was intercut with shaggy-maned Sefu glowering, snarling, then turning his back. Lupita’s throbbing voiceover told us that Sefu was angry and refusing to join the hunt because he suspected Kali was unfaithful.
Anyone who knows the first thing about lions, of course, will realise the females always hunt together, without males. But there’s no law that says TV has to be po-faced and educational. Many people, especially children, might find the animals more appealing when they seem to display human feelings.
And as with any wildlife series, you can always turn the sound down and simply enjoy the Spectacular photography for its whisker-distance close-ups and its glorious aerial shots.
Billy Monger: Changing Gears (C4) were on the Donnington racetrack. Double amputee Billy, 22, took on sprinter and Strictly star Jonny Peacock in a high-speed lap
Though it was meant to be a look at Paralympic sports, the most dramatic shots in Billy Monger: Changing Gears (C4) were on the Donnington racetrack. Double amputee Billy, 22, took on sprinter and Strictly star Jonny Peacock in a high-speed lap. The only justification seemed to be that Toyota were sponsoring the programme — and the boys were driving Toyotas.
This happens ever more frequently on C4. Now Dulux are the backers of Changing Rooms, paint cans, brushes and rollers are constantly on screen. Goodbye, wallpaper. Banks, supermarkets, beer brands and toothpastes have all sponsored recent C4 series. The channel is turning into a giant billboard.
This was an irritation, but Billy’s chipper personality overcame it as he tackled a selection of sports, and learned to run on blades for the first time.
He went canoeing with one of Britain’s strongest contenders for gold, Charlotte Henshaw.
Charlotte, 34, reminisced about following the Paralympics on Ceefax. ‘You won’t remember Ceefax,’ she said. ‘It was just a button that you pushed.’
No one misses that. Some telly changes are all for the good.