Aidan Smith's TV review: This boat-based show is bilge, best to head to the lake
I’m about to give up on ITV’s new celebrity challenge when the producers, possibly anticipating the appeal of the himbo from Love Island flicking and fussing with his hair would not after all be limitless, decide: “Right, let’s throw them off a cliff!”
Don’t Rock the Boat until that moment is entirely boat-centred - two crews of mostly C and D-listers embarking on a race from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. But rowing, while undoubtedly impressive and especially on the open sea, does not exactly make for gripping TV.
Not even when it features a Coronation Street lapdancer or a twisted Emmerdale firestarter. Or a YouTuber or former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson or Jodie Kidd about whom my wife says: “I went to school with her. She was annoying then and by the looks of things she hasn’t changed.”
Each leg of the expedition some of the celebs take a break from the rowing, but must complete “land-based” tasks, such as rappelling, face-first, down 150ft of jaggy rock.
“You’re ’avin’ a laff, ain’t ya?” inquires the Love Island beefcake. His hair rises up more magnificently than any of the waves encountered by his team-mates and I have to confess I’m worried for his engorged locks when he must squash them into his safety helmet. But - spoiler alert - the barnet survives, as does he.
Kimberly Wyatt of the Pussycat Dolls babbles about how the show enables her to “face the darkness” and hopefully “expand as a person”.
And what of the two Olympians, Denise Lewis and Victoria Pendleton? Surely at some point - possibly when the comedian Craig Charles throws up in a bucket, or maybe a couple of minutes later when Kidd remarks: “Now he’s puking and sh***ing” - they will wonder whether they ever envisaged all that superhuman effort and all those 5am training sessions would eventually lead them to bilge like Don’t Rock the Boat.
If Don’t Rock the Boat is a fluffer-show for the impending return of the big reality daddy I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!, then regarding the coming fourth series of The Crown most other dramas out there just now are like palace sentries or flunkies whose job it is to serve. But not To the Lake (Netflix), which is cool and Russian and exciting and terrifying.
It’s also about an epidemic, a mysterious, aggressive plague, leaving its victims gasping for breath, which is initially played down by Moscow. When a scientist pleads with his TV interviewer to be allowed to explain the threat, he’s cut off and replaced by a commercial for cough remedy. This could be Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s coronavirus expert frequently at odds with President Trump and threatened at an election rally with the sack.
Watching at home are Sergey (Krill Karo) and his second wife Anna (Viktorya Isakova), a psychologist who has a son with Asperger’s Syndrome.
The panic sparked by the virus after the authorities can hide it no longer - there’s a chilling scene in a school where thug troops hunt down a stricken pupil, shoot her with white gunk and cart her off on a stretcher - throws a disparate bunch together in fleeing riot-torn Moscow, including Sergey’s ex, a decadent creep of a neighbour with some kind of hold over him and the latter’s wild-child daughter who’s just set her detox clinic ablaze.
Can they all make it to the eponymous lake and the hoped-for safety of the island in the middle where there’s an abandoned ship? This has been a remarkable year for apocalyptic group-jeopardy thrillers, all of which must have been filmed before Covid. How could the dramatists possibly know?
From Sweden, equally welcome, comes Love & Anarchy (Netflix). It begins as a dramedy about analogue dinosaurs being dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age, which is interesting enough right now, only to then veer off in an unexpected, original, bold and sexy direction.
Sofie (Ida Engvoll) is a kickass consultant who tells the staff of an old-established publishing house that they must adapt or die. What audience research data are they using? Which apps? There are blank looks from the editor who’s just commissioned a collection of poetry all about fir trees.
After frustrating mornings like these, Sofie retires to her office, shuts the blinds and, um, pleasures herself. Is this bold? Perhaps it’s merely Swedish.
Now, do not be offended, Stockholm; I know you have a sense of humour. A few years ago, before interviewing the Swedish pop star Lykke Li, she wanted to know if I was going to ask her about her country’s obsession with sex, Ingmar Bergman, Ulrika Johnsson, the obsession with death, her favourite Abba song and whether it’s better to give rather than receive regarding birch-twig thwackings.
Oh no, I said, quickly ripping a page of questions from my notebook. But I don’t know if Love & Anarchy could come from anywhere else, and that’s a compliment.
So Sofie is eventually spotted in the act by Max (Bjorn Mosten), the cute IT intern, and the pair start a funny, flirty game of dares. They challenge and push each other to greater extremes. Sofie is married, but her husband reveals himself to be more and more of a patronising prat. You can probably guess where the show is going, although this is the only vaguely predictable thing about it.
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