Netflix’s new series about the world’s first all-civilian flight to space is compelling television but feels an awful lot like an advertisement for billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.
Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space has been given exclusive behind-the-scenes access to the project but, as the five-part series progresses, you realise that comes at a cost.
If you’re looking for a show that asks the thorny questions about the endeavour (like, is this really all that different from those other billionaire-funded missions to space that have lifted off in recent months? or, is this really the best use of billions of dollars?) then this isn’t the programme for you.
It takes a while to get going, with the first two episodes devoted to the recruitment process and the so-called “mission pillars”: hope, generosity, prosperity and leadership. That last part made me want to curl up in a ball of embarrassment.
It’s best not to think too closely about how each of the chosen crew members represents their pillar – tenuously, would be the honest answer – so just go along with it and get high off the feelgood vibes. That seems to be the message.
Watching the crew – Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Christopher Sembroski and Sian Proctor – get put through their paces and learn to be astronauts is undeniably interesting, although I suspect most viewers are just here for the space mission, and that hasn’t happened yet (at least in documentary terms).
The final episode, which goes live on Netflix on Thursday, will be the one we’ve all be waiting as we follow our space travellers from blast-off to splashdown.
If you haven’t started watching, my recommendation would be to skip the first four episodes and go straight to the finale.
For all my cynicism about the series, I’m genuinely excited to see how it all went.
TV review: Nirvana nostalgia bomb
It would have been easy for the BBC to churn out a lesser quality version of When Nirvana Came To Britain (BBC4) but the fact they managed to secure interviews with Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, the two remaining band members, lifted it greatly.
Without their input, I’d have been calling out this documentary for its rose-tinted look at this country’s special relationship with the grunge greats.
But it was actually the case, as Grohl explained: “The UK responded to Nirvana long before America.”
With some great old footage of their first gigs at tiny venues around the UK – including a biker bar in Edinburgh! – this was a full-on nostalgia bomb that made me want to hit play on all their old records.
Bake Off’s rising stars
You know summer is well and truly finished when The Great British Bake Off returns to our screens.
With most reality shows part of the joy is deciding which of the annoying contestants you’ll get the satisfaction of seeing booted, but that’s almost never the case with Bake Off.
Sure, a few of them might be a little over-confident or show-offy in their bakes, but for the most part they all come off as thoroughly delightful people who I can’t wait to get to know over the next 10 weeks.
Is the novelty of Bake Off slightly wearing off? Perhaps – but I say that at the start of every new series and yet I still get disappointed when it comes to an end.
Is this a wind up?
Paul Whitehouse isn’t short of catchphrases, thanks to his days on The Fast Show.
But there’s now a new one to join the ranks of “Suits you sir” and “I was vey, vey drunk”.
Fans of Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing (BBC2) will be familiar with it because he bellows it at poor Bob at least five times each week: “DON’T WIND!!!”
Which Bob, of course, always does.
Film of the week: The Farewell (Netflix)
The ‘lie’ at the centre of this touching and funny family drama is one we’ve all contemplated: if you’re going to die soon would you want to know or live out your remaining days oblivious?
Billi (Awkwafina) is a Chinese-American who returns to China after learning that her beloved grandmother has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, but when she gets there discovers that the rest of the family have not told the grandmother about the illness.
Instead, they have staged a surprise wedding as an excuse to gather the displaced family together so they can all say farewell to her one last time.
It’s a pretty heartbreaking idea, but this isn’t a film that will leave you grabbing the tissues every five minutes.
There are actually many more smiles in Lulu Wang’s life-affirming film than tears, although it never shirks from the uncomfortable reality of the family’s lie.
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