Big Chef takes on Little Chef

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					    44             TV

Devils and dust
 With the news of Fox's cancellation of Prison Break, Harry
 Barker looks back at a turbulent but fascinating series
                hen Prison Break’s first season hit
                our TV screens back in 2005, it
                was truly great television. It fol-
                lowed Lincoln Burrows (Dominic
Purcell), framed and wrongfully convicted
for assassinating the Vice President’s brother.
To save him, Lincoln’s own brother, Michael
Scofield (Wentworth Miller), hatched an elabo-
rate escape plan, getting himself incarcerated
in the same prison and forging alliances with
criminals in order to break his brother out. The
first season was anchored by tight, suspense-
ful writing, clearly relished by the then largely
little-known cast. Standouts included Robert
Knepper as the murderer/paedophile T-Bag,
who managed to make his despicable charac-
ter likeable. Peter Stormare turned in a deli-
ciously menacing performance as mob boss
John Abruzzi, while Amaury Nolasco’s winsome
Fernando Sucre, who shared a cell with Miller’s
Scofield, was a charming sidekick. The show’s
mind-bendingly intricate plot and terrific indi-
vidual performances provided a staggering nar-
rative but the first season was most brilliant in
the moments when people made others suffer,
attempting to cope with the burden of their own
suffering in the process. The show’s excellence
saw Season One attract 9.2 million US viewers
every week, eading to a pick-up for a second
season the following year, continuing the story
after the inmates made their escape.
     The ratings achieved in its first season were
surpassed by its second. It should have been dif-     Escape and Ocean’s Eleven, the second season          on, Panama. However, what was fresh and tight          ‘Company’ break-in provides the overarching
ficult for a show with a clear premise that fitted    failed to retain the formula. It fell into the trap   became a warmed-over pastiche. Although the            narrative, but it is wonderfully padded out with
neatly into one season to provide enough ma-          of forgetting what made it so brilliant and di-       setting was delightfully brutal, the new char-         themes of revenge and betrayal. The series goes
terial for a second, but it coped well. The fas-      verted irritatingly towards a conspiracy theory.      acters diverse and lovably villainous, the plot        off course, though, after the twelfth episode,
cinating, twisted bunch of characters we got to       The second half of the season felt more like 24,      felt awkward. The ‘obstacles’ were arbitrary, the      when the protagonists are double-crossed. This
know, love and hate throughout the show’s first       disappointing in view of what the first series had    changes in allegiance served only the narrative        narrative arc would have been perfect for an en-
season were enough to bring viewers back. And         achieved. However, this is not to say it was not      and not the internal worlds of the characters,         tire series, but unfortunately the writers felt the
in many ways, the second series of Prison Break       enjoyable. The viewers still cared about the fate     and the over-arching ‘Company’ plot was so             need to rush through it. The following four epi-
evolved into a logical extension of the first. With   of the escapees and so, when The ‘Company’            confused and confusing that it became mean-            sodes irritatingly seem to lead nowhere. Ratings
Michael and Lincoln now on the run, the focus         (the ominous organisation behind the conspir-         ingless. Watchable for the sake of completeness        for Season Four haven’t been strong (six mil-
switched to keeping them out of prison rather         acy), attempted to track down and kill Scofield,      alone, it failed to serve the main purpose of the      lion per episode) and on the 16th of January Fox
than trying to break into it. Once the simmering      Burroughs, et al, there was an overwhelming           entire show; to expose the ‘Company’. The char-        network made the decision to cancel the show.
relationships between the escapees themselves         desire to see the men escape and the ‘Company’        acters’ escape at the end of the season, while in-     This was disappointing news. Although Season
and the feeling of distrust that underpinned          exposed. The season, however, annoyingly con-         evitable, left us with little interest in the future   Three was distinctly under par, in Season Four
them were added to the mix, the second season         cluded with the apprehension of the fugitives         plot.                                                  the show rediscovered itself. Hopefully, when
of Prison Break fell neatly into place. However,      and their incarceration in a Panamanian jail.             Season Four sees the escapees broker a             the remaining episodes air (from 17th April) the
despite its ability to hold on to viewers, it lost        Season Three was only twelve episodes long,       deal with the Department of Home Security              show will go back to basics and the viewers will
some of its magic. The appeal of the first season     suffering from last year’s writer’s strike, and, to   – they can stay out of jail if they help to bring      get their remaining questions answered. What
lay in the immense intrigue it created – where        sum it up with brutal honesty, just a poor copy       the ‘Company’ down. Episodes one to twelve of          exactly is the 'Company'? Why did they frame
the show followed a narrative full of captivat-       of season one. The writers returned to the origi-     the fourth series are terrific. They have every-       Lincoln? Will Michael and Lincoln live happily
ing strategic plots like those from The Great         nal premise, setting the third series in Sona Pris-   thing that has made the series so brilliant. The       ever after? We’ll have to wait and see.

Big Chef takes on Little Chef
             ewcomer to TV-chef royalty, Heston       chés provided the most entertaining moments.          and explode it” out into something undeniably          his brand of cuisine are misplaced. The idea that
             Blumenthal, kicked off Channel 4’s       Seeing him tell Heston The-World’s-Best-Chef          Blumenthal. Yet the victims of the collision of        a chef who already drives a top-range BMW and
             Great British Food Fight season last     Blumenthal that his lapsang souchong-infused          Pegler’s consumerist driven economics and Blu-         successfully trades super-commodities in the
             week, and he started in style. The       scrambled egg with salmon didn’t really have          menthal’s culinary artisanship were the workers        Home Counties could ‘sell-out’ by making a TV
once-great ‘British Institution’ Little Chef is to    much taste, or that his efforts didn’t provide the    at Little Chef. They were placed in an impossible      show fighting the fast food culture is ridiculous.
receive a much needed culinary colonic irriga-        “wow-factor” or the “taste sensation” that he         position, having to give customers who couldn’t        What undercuts this show (and quite possibly
tion from the master of molecular gastronomy.         asked for was priceless television. But frequent-     read Heston’s menus, which described the use           Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall’s assault on Tesco)
Yet for all the bombast that this suggests, the       ly Pegler’s completely self-assured approach          of vine-ripened tomatoes and various smoked            is the fact that brands and corporate factions
three-part series left me feeling slightly uncom-     to everything was so cringeworthy that it was         meats.                                                 have crept into the very structure of television
fortable.                                             almost unwatchable. I wasn’t sure whether to              The tangible class divide that the show’s          shows. I get the feeling that despite the personal
    First, though, let’s look at the positives. In    laugh or cry when he claimed that “I just had         premise was obviously designed to illuminate           faults of Pegler and others, Little Chef has a win-
Heston you have an undeniably talented chef           that instant chemistry, I hope [Heston] feels         nearly ruined the program. However, as Blu-            win situation on its hands. Despite Blumenthal’s
with an amiable and dignified screen presence,        the same”. He seemed blissfully unaware of his        menthal became more aware of his employees’            protestations, the words ‘publicity’ and ‘stunt’
voted ‘World’s Best Chef’ two years in a row for      own ridiculousness, at one point asking Heston        differences and the customers’ expectations,           hang over the whole project like an indefinable
his work at the £125-a-head Fat Duck in Bray. In      to take all his inventive thinking and “funnel it     the distasteful elitism that bubbled under the         smell which sits in your throat, never quite re-
brilliant contrast to this was his nemesis, Chief     down” into a core product that would appeal to        surface was somewhat diffused. The Guardi-             vealing itself, refusing to go away.
Executive Ian Pegler. Pegler’s endless stream of      the Little Chef faithful, only to turn around and     an’s claims that Blumenthal was “selling out” by
management-guru-speak and motivational cli-           ask him to “take the Little Chef core product         making this attempt at a populist reworking of                                              Adam Fraser