TV review: Kevin McCloud’s Rough Guide to the Future, and Inside Number 9

21 February 2020

CHANNEL 4

In Kevin McCloud’s Rough Guide to the Future, the presenter looked at the idea that technology has a solution for everything

In Kevin McCloud’s Rough Guide to the Future, the presenter looked at the idea that technology has a solution for everything

HOWEVER much we might long for our bishops’ permission to extend the range of candidates for holy matrimony, most of us would probably draw the line at marriage between a man and a holographic miniature female. Kevin McCloud’s Rough Guide to the Future (Channel 4, Wednesdays) is a curious response to impending global catastrophes wrought by climate change, overpopulation, depletion of natural species, etc.

McCloud poses as a committed technoptomist, convinced that human invention and will can solve any problem, however vast, and sends out three technosceptics to hotbeds of innovation to persuade them to embrace a rosy future. I say “poses” because there’s an element of irony in the whole exercise: is McCloud really as chipper, and are his emissaries quite as Luddite, as they pretend?

It is pitched as entertainment, while addressing the most serious questions imaginable. China demonstrates a radical solution to the problem of food waste: in a vast factory, tons of rotting provender are fed to one billion cockroaches, whose excreta manures acres of beautiful salads, and whose eventual corpses feed thousands of chickens. In California, cellular material from a single chicken’s feather has been cloned, creating billions of cells of chicken-like material that can be formed into utterly convincing chicken nuggets, while the donor chicken still pecks happily away in his farmyard. Might this “meat” satisfy the strictest vegan’s moral qualms?

Overwhelming urban isolation in Japan leads an increasing number of souls to hitch themselves to robots or electronic simulacra of human beings. A café at which all the staff are robots seems like a modish gimmick, but each robot is managed from a distance by a real person, some of whom are bedbound with severe disabilities: this technology enables them to relate to other humans, escaping lives of utter isolation. It is a key issue: does advancing technology destroy human connectivity, or enhance it? McCloud’s examples so far (it’s a series) seem to nibble only round the edges of the really catastrophic global problems; but the continually blurring boundary between physical bodies and electronically generated “creatures” raises fascinating challenges to incarnational theology.

I am a serious fan of Inside Number 9 (BBC2, Mondays), Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s macabre comedies. But the first two episodes of the new series neatly demonstrate their strengths and weaknesses. The first was a brilliant slow-burn, set in a football umpires’ changing room, the constantly shifting plot trumped by a magnificent last-minute revelation; last week’s bleak tale of a young couple destroyed by their crime-ridden new flat was uncomfortable viewing.

This is comedy based on excess, shock, and horror — but mentally challenged people obsessed with serial killers really aren’t funny.

Correction: in last week’s TV review Jeremy Bamber and Sheila Caffell were referred to as stepchildren of Neville and June Bamber: they were in fact adopted.

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