Ahhh, Sunday evenings. After an afternoon of lager and an amazing Premier League denouement, it’s maybe wise to scan the schedules for something a little calmer, a little bit more academic. Something a little more classy – apost-dinner brandy rather than several bottles of Amstel to help cushion the blow that you have to go to work again in the morning.
Coast fits the bill snugly. It’s an attempt to educate, but it’s the nice kind of learning, like having a kind teacher showing you films during double geography.
It’s still beautifully shot – lots of swooping, helicoptered wide shots of jagged cliffs and foaming seas. And the enthusiasm and enjoyment that the established presenters get from their travels comes across as very genuine – Nicholas Crane looked as happy as a man who’d just received a dirty e-mail from Heidi Klum as he climbed the rigging of a Norwegian sailing ship that was choppily negotiating the sea off Shetland.
So, the seventh series is starting and still rather enjoyable, and yet…it’s beginning to feel its age.
Part of the problem is that Britain simply isn’t big enough. Sunday’s opener covered islands – the Isle of Wight, the Western Isles of Scotland, but also too often the Isle of Already Been There. The outline of the British Isles is now just a horrendous mini-roundabout that’s impossible to exit from and we’re seeing the same signposts to the same towns appear over and over again.
Aside from Crane, historian and professional Denis Lawson soundalike Neil Oliver was also back, and was once again showing his prowess at imparting vital information while simultaneously looking gallant and windswept, like an Open University Braveheart.
However, the newer presenters appear to need some time to bed in. Historian Tessa Dunlop debuted in series six and was keen enough, but was scuppered by the Scottish weather (no, really) as she attempted to see the ‘green flash’ of a sunset. A mini experiment with a water-tank and a torch was therefore set up by an uncomfortably wet scientist on a damp hillside, which consequently had all the look and excitement of a low-budget Bang Goes the Theory.
Brand new this series was Andy Torbet (ex-Army – they like their ex-Army on ‘Coast’), who climbed one of the Needles for the benefit of The Royal Geological Society, who apparently were still unaware that it was made of chalk. He attempted to up the tension by emphasising how crumbly the chalk was as he climbed, but phew, he made it to the summit eventually.
He tried hard to come across as a daredevil Bear Grylls character, but just succeeded in acting like a show-off PE teacher who would be only too keen to share his weekend with everyone in both staffroom and classroom come Monday morning.
Basically, there was no Alice Roberts, and that’s a bad thing.
‘Coast’ has always been a programme seemingly designed by focus groups– people, we have an hour, so what do you fancy? A bit of science and a bit of history (especially from either World War)? Nice pictures of some puffins? Lovely, no problem, here you go. It’s always felt like a bit of a mish-mash but Britain is a mish-mash so at the outset it fitted beautifully.
The problem is that we’ve pretty much seen everywhere now, and stories about fishing villages or dolphin spotting don’t change radically just because they happen to be in a different part of the country.
The programme has fulfilled its brief, and maybe the time has come to say goodbye, because at the moment it’s just….coasting.