The one constant in daytime television is the cringe. Look to the two titans of undemanding pre-prandial telly, the late Richard Whitely and his near-namesake Richard Madeley. The former managed to cringe at his own excreable puns even as he delivered them, while the latter has, well, made his audience cringe at everything he has ever said or done on television.
Nigella Lawson, it would seem, has learned from both. Her new outing, a daily magazine show on ITV, is a masterclass in the art of cringe.
The format alone is enough to raise a light shudder. Nigella opens the show by rustling up a light meal for her star guest - if Val Kilmer, Terry Wogan and some woman off Coronation Street can be considered stars - while grilling them good-naturedly on topics of the day. There is a reason why interviewers do not tend to cook while on the job, and a reason, too, why chefs are rarely seen engaging a minor celebrity in conversation over the frying pan: it would be silly.
On the first show in the run, poor Val Kilmer was forced to participate in the assembly of a chicken and mango salad, and looked thoroughly bewildered throughout. Admittedly, this may be the fault of his Botox technician - the actor currently resembles an overstuffed Italian sausage with a child’s drawing of a man’s face glued on. Terry Wogan, more old ham than overstuffed sausage, though only just, wittered away while Nigella showed us how to put some gherkins on top of a bit of salmon. But then you rather imagine Tel witters away the moment anyone points a camera at him, no salmon required.
Nigella’s not just about cooking, though. She has gained some sort of medical qualification, enabling her to present Dr. Lawson’s Agony Clinic. Reversing the usual order of these things, Nigella seeks not to assuage the agony of folk so lonely that they are moved to ask their television for advice, but to provoke throes of agony in her audience. Serena from Tooting rings in, complaining that her father does not care for her intended, and will not be attending the impending nuptials. ‘You’ve just got to say to your father that he must come to the wedding,’ offers Nigella, incisively.
And then there are the gadgets. With half an eye on Delia Smith’s ability to regenerate depressed regional economies by championing a particularly interesting spoon, Nigella became terribly excited about a machine that stones cherries. Val Kilmer seemed rather taken with it, too. Somehow, the item on cherry-stoning segued into a discussion of privacy issues and infidelity, which Nigella illustrates by demonstrating a special pen with a spy camera in it. This is a terribly confusing lot of rot, and Nigella has the good grace to look into the camera with limpid eyes, as if to say, ‘I am sorry, dear viewer. I’ve no idea why I signed up for this. It’s not as if I need the money.’
In her previous televisual incarnation, Nigella found a winning formula. Admittedly, that formula was largely based on suggestively licking aioli from asparagus tips while wearing a low-cut top, but it sure beats shoe-horning a week’s worth of sub-This Morning pap into forty-five minutes. It’s hard to tell who ought to cringe the most at this, Ms. Lawson, or her audience.
This review was first published in The Sunday Herald in July 2005.