TV review: The 7.39 | The Taste | Hostages

Sheridan Smith, who stars in the 7.39. Picture: PA
Sheridan Smith, who stars in the 7.39. Picture: PA
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‘Anthony Bourdain, from America, takes the role of the Cowellesque bastard, anxious that the more sensitive competitors should “toughen the f*** up’

The 7.39

BBC1, Monday and Tuesday, 9pm

The Taste

Channel 4, Tuesday, 9pm


Channel 4, Saturday, 9pm

MY WIFE and I watched The 7.39 separately – her from under a mountain of ironing, me on a train as it happens – and discussed it afterwards. She didn’t like the bit when David Morrissey sat and stared at a sleeping Sheridan Smith for the duration of their commute. “That was creepy,” she said. “I thought it was sweet,” I said. “He definitely wanted to flirt with her again but chose not to wake her, folding down the page in her book so she didn’t lose her place.” “Pah,” said the wife, “you just wanted to be him.”

Well, the missus may have had to endure the domestic drudgery, but in my so-called glamorous life on the outside I was bound for Hamilton, Deepest Lanarkshire, where I didn’t encounter anyone who looked like Smith. But the biggest lie told by this two-parter from David One Day Nicholls was of a packed buffet car behaving in a vivaciously continental fashion. Come on! This doesn’t happen on the Hamilton line or anywhere in the country which, choo-choo-wise, once gave the world Stephenson’s Rocket but nowadays can only boast about the Signature – Signature! – Bacon Toastie.

Morrissey was Carl with a wife (Olivia Colman) and two kids and a grim job in property which, he told Sheridan’s Sally, involved him spending 37 days a year on the train. Amazingly she fell for him. This was amazing because at home Sally had a fiancé with OCD, well capable of a similar calculation. A fitness instructor – Extreme Body Pump, no less – he went at everything extremely, even researching the kind of confetti they should have at their wedding. When he assembled flatpack furniture by first carefully lining up the screws on the carpet in ascending order, you guessed Sally would soon be going elsewhere for her screwing.

The fiancé was the comedy-turn. Nothing else was heightened for dramatic effect; the rest was thuddingly ordinary and uncomfortably real. From Carl’s plaintive farewell to his family from the bottom of the stairs (“Bye… See You Later… Anyone?”) to diving into a jumbo glass of wine on his return, The 7.39 must have chimed with many watching, maybe prompting surreptitious checking of partners’ text messages.

Yes, Ikea, makers of jumbo flagons and flatpack kings, had a lot to answer for; same with the rail network with its too-few carriages, throwing strangers together. Carl and Sally were loved by their significant others but ground down. Any sympathy you might have had for them, though, was demolished by a brilliant speech by Colman’s character, about how she’d felt exactly the same and craved more excitement, too, but had refused to betray.

The Taste, we were reliably informed by the voiceover, would be “a cooking competition like no other”. Well, not if you don’t count MasterChef and The Great British Bake Off, two of the most popular. Still, amid the usual urgent drums, stabbing strings, contrived dramas and standard three-judge set-up, Channel 4’s offering boasted Nigella Lawson, and the already-plump foodie TV constituency must have been swelled by the prurient, excited by recent headlines like “Higella” and “The Great British Baked Toff”.

Anthony Bourdain, from America, takes the role of the Cowellesque bastard, anxious that the more sensitive competitors should “toughen the f*** up – it’s worse in the kitchen”. Ludo Lefebvre, from France, is there to laugh at British cooking and, by way of consolation, we get to laugh at his accent. “I ’ate feegs,” he hissed, meaning figs. In the middle is Nigella, referee for her colleagues’ fake spats. When Lefebvre told contestant Dale he’d used “too much shootney” (chutney) the Glaswegian lad burst into tears. At this Nigella walked round the table to console him. “You don’t have to be upset for responding like this,” she said. “Food is very emotional.” A hug from Nigella? That’s quite a booby prize.

If you’re missing something schlocky and American in your viewing lives since the drama called The Americans ended, I may have just the thing. Hostages concerns a plot to kill the President. The V-P wants his job and, unwilling to wait for him to invade a small, dusty land far away, then suffer a popularity backlash, he gets the FBI to kidnap the family of the Washington surgeon (Toni Collette) about to operate on the Pres. Sounds daft? There’s more. Within minutes of being taken hostage, the family spews out secrets. The husband is adulterous, the daughter is pregnant, the son is dealing drugs. Would Collette even want to save this lot by giving the Leader of the Free World the lethal dose? One of the secrets emerges after a phone tumbles out of a secret compartment cut into a book. Fantastic wheeze. It took me right back to The Man From U.N.C.L.E.