The week in TV: Jamie Cooks Italy; Mama’s Angel; Disenchantment and more

Jamie Oliver learns a thing or two from Italy’s grandmas, while an Israeli thriller offers a bracing lesson in bigotry

Jamie Cooks Italy (C4) | All 4
Mama’s Angel (C4) | All 4
Disenchantment (Netflix)
The Handmaid’s Tale (C4) | All 4
Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema (BBC4) | iPlayer

We are down among what he insists on calling the “ore-inspiring” Aeolian Islands, swimming in heat haze and pine nuts and golden oils and smoky wisps of tarragon, yet I’m still gritting my teeth with the effort of not being annoyed by Jamie.

He shouldn’t bother me, or bother any of us, quite so much. He’s far from the worst. I didn’t extract too much schadenfreude from the woes of his eye-off-the ball restaurant chains, because he’s done some splendid and ballsy campaigning stuff, and, crucially, his recipes work, almost as winningly as Nigel’s. So Jamie Oliver is in the Aeolian island of Salina, north of Sicily, with his “best buddy and mentor” Gennaro Contaldo, for Jamie Cooks Italy, and there are probably mermaids nearby if not actual bloody unicorns, it’s that magical, and he’s surrounded by ancient grandmothers, and all the nonnas dote on him. And he on them, of course. “I just love her,” he coos, as one of them does hunched needlework on squid. “I just want to take her home. This is what nonnas do. They’re feeders.” At one stage Nonna Franchina, 92, grew visibly concerned that Jamie might be taking some kind of a fit. “What’s the matter?” (actually “whassamatta?”) she rasped: nothing was the matta except Jamie was rhapsodising, stripped of speech and blinking beatifically into the sun for a good 30 seconds with his big honest face, about an aubergine. The taste of which, he informed us, was “insane”.

Rick Stein, on his travels, manages to muster much of the same enthusiasm, for both place and food, but there’s often enough of a redeemingly sardonic catch in his voice. For all that the Jamie thing is a delight, of knowledge and skills and popping tastebuds and heavenly vistas, I worry that his blistering, sun-soaring levels of enthusiasm mean that, in a few weeks, he’s simply going to pop. And, after all (he cavilled ungraciously), it is just a rubber-glove squid stuffed with sour wee capers.

Yoni Meles as Rafa Emanuel in Mama’s Angel.
Yoni Meles as Rafa Emanuel in Mama’s Angel. Photograph: Global Series Network

Mama’s Angel, the latest Channel 4 offering from the Walter Presents strand (which I think we can now pronounce, two full years on, a roaring success) is both a grippingly successful Israeli thriller and an education in itself.

Who might have guessed that the Jewish nation, after a summer in which attentions have rightfully been drawn to the many prejudicial wrongs visited on it historically, was capable in its own turn, in its own homeland, of such appalling intolerances? Israel – at least the Tel Aviv police force, at least in this depiction by young creator Keren Weissman – is such a throwback to pre-modern bigotry as to astonish like a salty slap, not in a good way. It’s a toss-up between what’s hardest to watch, the scene in which the mentally fragile Amnon is browbeaten by bully cop Benny into a false fit-up, or the ensuing week in which Ethiopian draft-dodger Rafa is falsely fitted with the ensuing collar for the murder of little Kfir? Or maybe the scenes in which forensic specialist Na’ama, after a mastectomy, is given the nickname of “monotit” by her sniggering colleagues? At a time where, in these islands, accusations of racism and misogyny can be flung as casually as toxic confetti, it’s something of a corrective to remember what those words mean in their original sense (and why we’re thus right to spit at the uglinesses they represent). It’s not a cosy watch, but it’s an enlightening one, and seldom this year in drama have I longed for the eventual comeuppance of a character: Benny, the women are coming for you.

Disenchantment, the latest from the Matt Groening stable, has met with mixed reactions, but I happened to love it – and besides, both The Simpsons and Futurama took some time to win hearts and minds. Set in a kind of dystopian dreamland – like the Aeolian Islands, there are surely both mermaids and unicorns, but the mermaids are as likely to be slutty, the unicorns satyrs – it features Princess Bean, a hard-drinking gambler, hissingly resentful of her betrothal to a handsome prince. Trademark quote: “All this fuss for a political alliance. I thought that I’d get married because I was in love. Or at least wasted.”

Matt Groening’s Disenchantment.
‘It’ll be cult’: Matt Groening’s Disenchantment. Photograph: Netflix

Along the way she inherits two warring companions. Elfo the… elf, who has fled Elfland, where it’s a crime to be unhappy. “Singing while you work is not happiness. It’s mental illness.” And Luci(fer), a sly catty daemon. There’s much plot-work being got on with in the first few episodes, and hence little character development, but the writers are already having much fun subverting every Disney/Frozen convention you’ve ever gagged sweetly upon: there are echoes of the grownup Python films here too. Let it settle: in a year, with tweaking, it’ll be cult.

After so much slow gloom in this series of The Handmaid’s Tale, both metaphorical and cinematic, it ended in a shocking welter of action. Serena Joy is, it seems, finally waking from her privileged catatonia, and there was a truly affecting moment of reconciliation with June. Who, at the very last, chose not to flit in the rain to Canada with baby Holly, but to stay and look for Hannah: the magnificent Elisabeth Moss’s face, as she set her bonnet square with intent (to the strains of Talking Heads’ Burning Down the House: genius), bodes ill for the hypocrites of Gilead, and wonderfully well for the next series.

Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema ended on a gory high, with an episode devoted to horror. Along the way – and, wow, I must see The Babadook – we got Mark’s considered take on the alleged misogynist edge/male gaze of much horror. Conversely, he argued, to associate yourself with the pursued (most often a woman) rather than the pursuer, ie to be scared on their behalf, signals a capacity for empathy. I could have watched this insightful series, learned yet somehow gleeful, for about a year and more. In fact my only, supremely unqualified, quibble with the grand Dr K would be in his omission, during the heist movie week, of any mention of The Sting, surely vastly underrated in all filmic compilations: but we’ll all have our quibbles, our nags about omissions and inclusions, and that has been a large part of the joy of this hugely rewarding watch.


Euan Ferguson

The GuardianTramp

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