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TV review: Big Zuu Goes to Mecca, Pompeii: The new dig, and Dinosaur

26 April 2024

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In Big Zuu Goes to Mecca (BBC2, Sunday of last week), the rapper and TV chef wrestled with his Muslim faith and his enjoyment of a Western lifestyle

In Big Zuu Goes to Mecca (BBC2, Sunday of last week), the rapper and TV chef wrestled with his Muslim faith and his enjoyment of a Western lifestyle

“I WANT to continue getting closer to God” (NB: not closer to my vicar, rabbi, imam, or guru). Whatever your religion, this is a wholly successful result for any adherent on completing a significant spiritual exercise: in Big Zuu Goes to Mecca (BBC2, Sunday of last week), it sounded a particularly sincere ring of truth.

This popular rapper and TV chef, larger than life in every respect, disarms everyone with his huge smile and constant infectious laugh — not, perhaps, the most obvious standard-bearer for serious faith. Seriousness — or its lack — emerged as the programme’s underlying exploration. Should he consider himself a Muslim at all, given his enjoyment of a Western lifestyle embracing such utterly non-Islamic elements as alcohol and clubbing?

Preparations for the pilgrimage were largely practical: buying the proper clothing — proclaiming how before God the richest and the poorest are completely equal, all must be naked apart from two pieces of cloth, nothing tailored or fitted — and cutting off most of his hair. Discussions with an imam at the East London Mosque were more probing: Big Zuu accepts his more pious friends’ judgement that many of the things he does are sins — can anyone be simultaneously religious and a sinner?

Personal stocktaking emerged, movingly, as he admitted to himself, and to us, how much his persona derived from the pain of his childhood, the racial abuse that he suffered when his family moved to London. Submitting to the rigorous rituals of umrah clearly changed him: in what we might consider a quasi-sacramental process, the physical actions effected a far deeper submission to Allah and a determination to reset his priorities.

It prompted in me an idiotic fantasy: what if the BBC filmed some Christians undertaking the full rituals of our Sacred Triduum, free as we are from any anxiety about whether sinners are allowed to participate, our theology being crystal clear on this point: we sinners are, of course, the only ones welcome?

At least we now know more ancient deities’ preferred diet. Pompei: The new dig (BBC2, from Monday of last week) revealed a series of brilliant murals in a newly uncovered atrium. One depicts a delicious votive offering of food and drink, including the earliest-ever pizza. But, as the skeletons of two women and a child, crushed as the roof above collapsed from the accumulation of volcanic debris, were uncovered, what I found most touching was the archaeologists’ revealing their emotion and engagement across 2000 years. These had been real people, just like us.

The big innovation of the new sitcom Dinosaur (BBC3, from Tuesday of last week) is the autism of the lead character, and the writer/actor who plays her. The palaeontologist Nina’s neurodiversity gives her the best gags, far clearer vision, and removes inhibition. Contrasting with the others, she tells it as it is.

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