Reality TV with class

While it may not be the snappiest name for a television show, Landscape Artist of the Year is possibly the classiest reality TV competition I've ever seen.

An initiative of (British) Sky Arts, it has artists compete against each other for the eponymous title and for a lucrative and prestigious commission for the National Trust.

In the first episode of season 2, which airs at 8.30 tonight on (New Zealand) Sky's Arts channel, eight artists are given four hours to present their artistic take on Scotney Castle in Kent, for a place in the competition's semifinal.

Hosts Joan Bakewell and Frank Skinner are on hand to guide the viewer through the day's events and to reassure those who suspect Landscape Artist of the Year might be too intellectual for the likes of them. In the introduction, Bakewell warn us that, ``our three judges will start using posh art words like impasto and sfumato and en plein air'' (ha, art snobs, am I right?), but Skinner reassures us, ``Don't worry, we'll be here to translate'', so that's all right then.

Despite the show's promise that ``the tranquil tradition of landscape painting is about to get messy'', it's still the Arts channel and this is reality television with dignity. There is no high drama here, no tear-jerking personal histories or inter-contestant backstabbing, just polite mutual acknowledgement and getting on with one's own work.

The mention of landscape painting might evoke mental images of a certain specific flavour of water-coloured monotony, but the artists bring an impressive and interesting range of approaches to the task, despite the subject matter being, as one contestant puts it, ``quite a chocolate box-y location''.

I found myself wishing the camera would spend a little more time on the finished works. The viewer gets a pretty good look at the judges' top three picks from the heat before the winner is announced, but the other finished paintings are shown in fairly brief glimpses, if at all.

Landscape Artist of the Year isn't exactly edge-of-your-seat viewing but it will appeal to fans of such gently paced, mildly educational viewing as Antiques Road Show. Watch it with your mum.

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I'm late to this one, but I'd like to register a solid thumbs-up for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. Starring Ellie Kemper in the title role, it follows Kimmy's efforts to build a new life for herself in New York, having spent 15 years in an underground bunker as a kidnap victim. It's funnier than that sounds, though.

With a cast of larger-than-life characters, plenty of excellent one-liners and occasional moments of laugh-out-loud absurdity, it's both hilarious and kind of heartwarming. And its theme song is insanely (infuriatingly?) catchy. Recommended.

 - C. Tilley H. Turner


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