Do you remember the days when history programmes consisted of people talking about history and science programmes simply showed you sciencey stuff?  Well those days are long gone.  If you want to learn anything today you need either; 1) celebrities (such as the Real Marigold Hotel, reviewed here, or Channel 4’s Time Crashers) or 2) a contrived social experiment.  BBC 2 loves a good experiment.

The Back in time for…series has been given a new version with Back in Time for the Weekend.  Last years  hugely popular Back in Time for Dinner took the Robshaw family on a journey (in time, not physically.  Although arguably we are all time travels, as even sitting still we are travelling through time forwards.  Hold on, I just need to jot that down, I think there may be a series in that) through 5 decades of food.  The series was so successful that they even got their own Christmas special (yep, the Robshaws are the new Morecambe and Wise of BBC2).  In Back in Time for the Weekend the Ashby Hawkins family is taken on a journey (still through time) to experience 5 decades of leisure activities.  That sounds kinda cool.  I would love to go back to the 70’s and relive my childhood, which basically consisted of Swap Shop, playing with my Hornby train set and watching my cousin play asteroids in Kwik Save (I grew up in a very small town ok.  That passed for entertainment).  However the Ashby Hawkins had to endure the 1950’s where leisure time seemed to consist of making a doorbell from scratch or running up a pair of curtains.  This week the family moved into the 60’s and had a TV set delivered, were joined by Sir Trevor Brooking for a game of Subbuteo and were introduced to “Dial-a-Disc”.  One of the most fascinating facts to be revealed this week was that the GPO/Post Office/Telecom/insert sponsors name here Tower  was an “official secret” until 1993.  Never one to believe everything that I hear I immediately checked it out on Wikipedia (you can always trust the internet for the facts on official secrets and conspiracies).  It’s true.  It’s all here.

The strength of these programmes is down to the family and its willingness to throw itself into the experiment.  In both series they have managed to find the most amazing articulate and engaging parents and children.  I do marvel at the budget of these programmes as they completely transform the homes of the family (you can read more about how they did it here), but I also wonder if there is a cheaper way of finding out the information.  You could just ask your parents/grandparents or any old person for that matter.  They were there at the time. 

But where is the fun in that!  No, if you want to gain knowledge the best way is a good old pseudo-scientific survey.  Obviously the question of which is better: cats or dogs has been perplexing some poor soul at the BBC so they decided that the best way to decide was to pit the two against each other in Cats v Dogs: Which is Best.   Now I’m all for a bit of inter-species comparison.  I have often wondered which is best: an elephant or a donkey; a badger or a baboon; and even a banana or a potato (actually it’s a potato, obvs.  I mean you can’t deep fry or mash a banana can you?  Oh actually yes you can.  Yeah but you can’t used it as a base for a savoury topping such as coleslaw or tuna mayo.   Who’s ever heard of  “Nanaulike”?  Although now I think of it?  Hmmm.  Let me just jot that one down with the time travelling idea).

For the past two weeks Liz Bonnin (who we last saw on our screens trying todrown and suffocate John Bishop in the name of science as part of Stargazing Live) has been chief cheerleader for #teamcat while Chris Packham (who we last saw on our screens just watching winter) was head honcho of #teamdog.
Over the course of the two shows they challenged the two popular pets in areas such as trainability, communication and their ability to bust stress.  Along the way we met a Dr Sarah Ellis who had trained her cat to ring a doorbell to be let in  (not sure what’s wrong with a cat flap); the dogs who can lie perfectly still in an MRI scan (which is more than I can do); cats who understands sign language (again, more than I can I do) and a dog who knows more words than a toddler  (which either means the dog is super smart or we have a failing education system.  I think the point they were making was the former, not the latter). 
The other thing we learned was that universities seemed to be spending a lot of money and time researching animal behaviour.  It was never clear why they were doing this, but we saw a lot of universities and a lot of experiments.  It would appear the UK epicentre for all things testy for pets is the University of Lincoln (formerly known as University of Lincolnshire and Humberside; previously know as the University of Humberside which grew out of Humberside College of Higher Education.  Thank you Wikipedia.  I’m always a bit suspicious of anything that has rebranded itself 3 times in the past 25 years.  But that may just be because that is what all the energy suppliers have done and I don’t trust them, or know who now supplies my energy for that matter). I have no idea why Lincoln is an area of expertise for this niche, but I suppose somewhere has to be. 
The constrict of the challenge and the survey and the fighting talk banter between the presenters felt a little forced and at the end of the show the challenge ended in a draw, as how can you compare two totally different things? (Now if they had done Bananas and Potatoes we would at least have had a winner).  The real stars were the animals.  Now if they had just stuck all the films of the animals doing amazing things together and called it something like the Amazing Pets, it would have been great.  It would probably also be on ITV.  And presented by Paul O’Grady.  Ok BBC.  I see why you did what you did.
Next week BBC 3 moves online so we will be reviewing 3 of their new offerings.  Follow us on twitter (@shoutingtelly) or like us on Facebook for more updates or subscribe using the buttons on the right.

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