Brian Donaldson reckons that a man playing with our minds is more entertaining than watching a woman talk to a Chihuahua
Old spooky drawers is back. Whether you think that Derren Brown’s psychological illusionism is at best a cod sub-genre of the black arts and at worst a wholly pointless exercise which merely proves just how much of a show-off he is, I’d find it difficult to believe that anyone could not be engrossed by the first half hour of The System (Channel 4, Fri 1 Feb, 9pm •••• ). I say first half hour, because the DVD sent out to reviewers was shy of the grand finale in which we witness Derren’s chosen ‘victim’ putting her every last penny on a racehorse which he insists is a surefire bet, thanks to ‘The System’ which has already successfully predicted five winning nags in a row, seemingly picked at random.
But rather than just a cliffhanger ruse, we get a written apology on screen from the Croydon conjuror himself, letting us know that it would be not only wrong of him to continue with his explanation of how it all works but it could prove to be ultimately disastrous. The revelation simply has to be concealed until the night this show goes out. Intrigued? Oh come on, you must be.
Another man who knows how to put himself and his audience through the mill is stand-up comic Dave Gorman whose previous exploits have included him finding people across the globe also called Dave Gorman and journeying the web and then the outside world in search of Googlewhacks. While those misadventures were clearly concocted from exhaustive discussions down his local boozer, this latest mission is more likely to have struck him while reading about the G8 summit on Wikipedia.
True Stories: Dave Gorman in America Unchained (More4, Tue 5 Feb, 10pm •••) features the comic and two separate directors (the first gave up with a bad back) driving across the US from coast to coast avoiding ‘The Man’ and buying from ‘Mom ‘n’ Pop’, the small independent stores and family-run gas stations which were once the backbone of the American dream but have since been swamped by globalisation. As his beard gets heavier and his hats become woolier, Gorman resembles nothing less than a Badly Drawn Boy with an ill-conceived concept which gets a tad repetitive over the course of its 80 minutes. Something a bit less noble and a lot more silly next time, please.
Life in Cold Blood (BBC1, Mon 4 Feb, 9pm ••••) is what colour television was invented for. David Attenborough’s latest vibrant and vivid nature show has him hanging out with a range of amphibians and reptiles, and in the first episode climaxing with the fruits of his half-century search for the world’s smallest chameleon.
Inside Hamas (Channel 4, Sun 10 Feb, 7pm •••) feels like the kind of programme that Channel 4 was made for: a frontline investigation into the group which, after 20 years of insurgency against Israel has now been handed an electoral mandate to police its own people on the Gaza Strip and is making a right pig’s ear of it. Peter Capaldi narrates this depressing documentary which shows the chaos which can sometimes be wrought when people who have been raised to struggle and fight are unable to understand the tenets of diplomacy.
Has to be said that it was both a struggle and a fight to get through the opening episode of Hey Paula! (ITV2, Fri 1 Feb, 11pm •). They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but this just can’t be true when I feel positively drained of zest for life having witnessed this latest dullard ‘reality’ affair. In it Ms Abdul bickers with her people about their inability to pack her clothes, claws at the QVC reps who are making her go on screen to sell jewellery she hates and whispers choo-choo-pie nothings into the barely visible ears of her rodent-like pet dogs. Now, if it had been Hey Dave! with Sir Attenborough carousing with a Chihuahua, that would have been worth watching.