The week in TV: Meat: A Threat to our Planet?; Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator, and more

The existential threat posed by our love of burgers, and a predatory yogi both turned the stomach. Thank goodness for Elton John…

Meat: A Threat to our Planet? (BBC One) | iPlayer
Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (Netflix)
My Grandparents’ War (Channel 4) | All4
Elton John: Uncensored (BBC One) | iPlayer
Silicon Valley (Sky Atlantic)

If Meat: A Threat To Our Planet? didn’t put you off your hotdog, nothing will. Presented by wildlife biologist Liz Bonnin, who presented last year’s Drowning in Plastic, it was a damning exploration of the global meat industry, mainly focused on the US, where the right to consume vast quantities of meat with squirty bottles of barbecue sauce appears to have been written into the American Constitution.

The ugly truths were relentless. The world consumes 65bn animals annually. Cattle rearing has reduced the Amazon forest by 20% (and counting). Wildlife species are perishing… and so on. Bonnin clearly wished to maintain her scientific distance, but even she became tearful when she observed the hacked-up Amazon from a plane; elsewhere, you could almost smell the steaming lakes of Barbie-pink toxic pig waste. For this soppy vegetarian, the industrial “feed-farms” and barns of pigs and chickens were unbearable – a veritable Glastonbury of animal death.

One documentary couldn’t cover everything; as always with these reports, more questions were raised than answered. However, Bonnin, who has now given up red meat, more than did her bit in smashing the emergency glass of public consciousness.

Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator

was a documentary about Bikram Choudhury, 75, the self-styled “bad boy of yoga”, infamous for conducting his vast, overheated classes clad in only a pair of Speedos and a Rolex. What could possibly go wrong?

Eva Orner’s documentary probed forensically into the still-esteemed yoga guru, but the main focus was on the rape/sexual allegations from former students on his $10K teacher-training courses, featuring interviews with some of the women. Choudhury was also sued by a student for racial discrimination (“Get that black bitch out of here, she’s a cancer”). When Choudhury lost a $6.8m civil case (wrongful termination/sexual harassment) brought by a former legal adviser, he fled the US without paying up.

Bikram Choudhury at work in the ‘truly shocking’ Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator.
Bikram Choudhury at work in the ‘truly shocking’ Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator. Photograph: Courtesy of Netflix

While he clearly views himself as a lovable showman, a yogi-Barnum, Choudhury comes across as a clueless, narcissistic motormouth – even in a legal deposition he lists his dislikes as “cold weather, cold food, cold heart, cold pussy”. Watching all this, it was striking to note the bizarre masochism of the affluent west, with Choudhury’s students just accepting his startling rudeness (“Suck that fucking fat stomach in, I don’t like to see the jiggle-jiggle”).

The culture of systemic sexist abuse predated #MeToo, with god knows how many young women (usually dependent on Choudhury for permission to open Bikram studios) summoned for late-night “massages”. The truly shocking thing is that Choudhury, who denies all allegations and hasn’t been charged, continues teaching outside the US.

Scanning the participants for My Grandparents’ War (Helena Bonham Carter, Kristin Scott Thomas, Mark Rylance, Carey Mulligan), I couldn’t help but wonder: don’t working-class people or ethnic minorities have wars? Or grandparents?

That said, this opener from Bonham Carter was both fascinating and poignant. In Britain during the second world war, her paternal grandmother, Lady Violet Bonham Carter, helped refugees and spoke out against antisemitism to such an extent that she was placed on a Gestapo blacklist.

In France, Bonham Carter’s maternal grandfather, Eduardo Propper de Callejón, a half-Jewish Spanish diplomat, authorised as many visas as he could to help Jewish people escape the Nazis, signing with both hands to save time. Eduardo was posthumously honoured by the Jewish community, while Violet spent some of the war as an air warden: “Brave… but also completely bonkers, going out, bombs flying,” mused Bonham Carter. Nevertheless, she was visibly moved to meet descendants of the people her grandparents helped, one of whom went on to be the founder of Unicef.

To say that Elton John (real name Reg Dwight) has lived an eventful life is to understate it – this is a man who needs his own wing of Wikipedia. On Elton John: Uncensored, John, resplendent in lilac glasses, had a relaxed chat with Graham Norton, ruminating on everything from music, drugs and toupees (“I don’t like being bald, I look like Shrek”), to the Elton John Aids Foundation (he continues to be a tireless supporter of the international LGBTQ+ community), his “farewell letter” to cocaine in rehab (usually lyricist Bernie Taupin does the words), his mother meeting Michael Jackson (“You need a bloody good meal, you do!”), and the prostate cancer that once left him performing on stage in adult nappies.

Elton John and Graham Norton in Elton John: Uncensored.
‘A man who needs his own wing of Wikipedia’: Elton John, with Graham Norton, on BBC One. Photograph: Chris Yacoubian/BBC/PA

“There are very few bits of me left,” observed John. “There’s no hair. There’s a pacemaker. There are no tonsils. There’s no prostate. There’s no appendix. I’ve had kidney stones… I’m like the bionic woman. I’m like Lindsay Wagner, or Steve Austin, whichever one you want to call it, we’re so gender fluid now.”

John, 72, could obviously include work as one of his lifetime of addictions. Right now, there’s a 300-date farewell tour, the bestselling autobiography Me, the biopic, Rocketman, The Lion King stage show… yet John considers this to be slowing down! He says that, these days, it’s all about his young sons with husband, David Furnish: “Originally, I was going to die on stage, now I don’t want to – I want to be with my kids.” Bravo, sir.

This is the final series of Silicon Valley, creator Mike Judge’s masterful comedy set at the terribly named Pied Piper startup in the tech valley of the dolts. I’ve always been completely lost with the computer terms (“decentralised internets”?) but, at core, Silicon Valley is a blackly absurdist ensemble piece, with a pitch-perfect cast, including twitchy Richard (Thomas Middleditch), needy Jared (Zach Woods) and ever-corruptible Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani).

The women have been a tad underpowered, though Monica (Amanda Crew) has had more to do recently. However, Silicon Valley has been priceless for its jabs at the likes of Facebook and Google, while delivering billionaire monsters of almost Shakespearean intensity – last week, Richard’s arch-enemy, Hooli’s Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), styled himself as a man of “Tethics”.

Elsewhere, the incomparable dark lord of sardonic geek-dom, Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), walked into a meeting, drawling: “Absolutely not.” “I haven’t told you what we want yet,” said Monica. “Irrelevant.” This show will be missed.


Barbara Ellen

The GuardianTramp

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