TV Viewpoint: A Plastic Whale and The Crystal Maze

A shocking news story that went viral last year was the inspiration for a one off documentary last Wednesday on Sky Atlantic. Cuvier’s whales are not regular sightings around Norway’s bays, so when one was spotted acting very strangely in Bergen it wasn’t long until locals became concerned with its behaviour.


It appeared that it was desperately trying to end its long misery by beaching itself intentionally, and when it became obvious that there was nothing that could be done for the distressed and by now very clearly ill whale the decision was taken to euthanise it. When an autopsy was carried out on the body scientists were horrified to discover that its stomach was completely filled with plastic. As a result the whale had no way to feed, meaning it weighed a full two tonnes less than it should have; if it hadn’t been put down it wouldn’t have lasted much longer anyway, by slowly starving to death. The story of the whale spread throughout Scandinavia, alarming and unnerving its people and forcing them to wake up to what is happening in our seas.

The Plastic Whale saw the presenter speak with those who were at the scene of the whale’s death in Bergen, the scientists who carried out the autopsy and an environmentalist, who invited him to view a particular area of the coastline that is very heavily littered with plastic that has washed up from far and wide; packaging from as far away as Spain could be seen, along with crisp packets from the UK. He also attended a whale watching expedition off the coast of the Canary Islands, where he learned that whales hunt their food by using sonar clicks, and plastic bags read just the same as jellyfish. It was a jarring and very worthwhile documentary that has certainly got me re-thinking my recycling habits. We must do more to try to reduce the mindless pollution that is, if we’re not careful, our legacy to future generations.

Nostalgia is all the rage these day, as the penchant for re-making classic programmes from the 70s, 80s and 90s has revealed. Millennials, it seems, can’t get enough of updated versions of beloved shows of their youth; there are new versions of Hawaii Five-O and MacGyver doing pretty well Stateside, Baywatch was recently brought to the big screen, and now Channel Four’s The Crystal Maze has returned for what producers hope will be a lengthy run. In October a tentative re-boot was run with Stephen Merchant in the game-master role and a range of C-List celebrities donning orange jumpsuits to work their way through a series of challenges. The reception was lukewarm but hopeful, and because it was all in aid of charity much of the clunkiness and the shaky scenery was written off. On Friday it was given another go, with a new presenter, slicker sets and an upgraded production value (although the quality of the ‘celebrity’ contestants remained the same), again in aid of Stand Up to Cancer.


Richard Ayoade (aka Moss from The IT Crowd) has taken over comfortably from Stephen Merchant, whose particular brand of humour didn’t quite gel with the overall feel of the show last year. His wit is dry but warm and he works well with putting the contestants at ease while remaining at a distance from them, with constant asides to the camera and the audience at home. The team was made up of a menagerie of reality TV stars, including Louie Spence, a flamboyant choreographer who was the one and only member of the team to find himself locked in the game room he was competing in. Having proven fairly useless to the team, shouting inept and misunderstood directions to the other contestants as they completed their tasks, when given the choice to free him by sacrificing one of the crystals they had won the team was unanimous in electing to keep their prize. But he heartwarmingly redeemed himself when he re-joined the team and won a crystal for them in the final challenge of the night.

It’s fun to watch a coterie of strangers thrown together to work with each other as a team, and to see the ante upping as the challenges continue, and I actually found myself rooting for them as their competitive spirits increased as the game went on. But whether its zany concept in this world now saturated with high-concept weekend entertainment will be enough to draw in new viewers will remain to be seen.

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