One of the participants in the new BBC2 series Second Chance Summer: Tuscany tells us: “Living in Tuscany and being a farmer is what I should be doing.”
Well, sitting on a bench by Whitby harbour eating banana-flavoured Angel Delight while Aidan Turner brushes my hair and Ralph Fiennes reads aloud to me from Alan Bennett’s diaries is what I should be doing.
Clearly, though, I’m NOT doing any of these things but maybe I should ask BBC2 for help. Can the channel organise it for me? Why shouldn’t it make my dreams come true when it’s giving this lot every opportunity to do what they are – brace yourselves, I’m going to use the p-word – “passionate” about.
Ten strangers are brought together to run an olive farm, vineyard and B&B in the lushly gorgeous Tuscan countryside. They aren’t young whippersnappers but men and women past, shall we say, the first bloom. Which is great, let’s see more middle-aged people on the telly.
For the most part these are perfectly nice, decent people (though there are a couple who will annoy the hell out of you) who want to leave behind their old lives for various reasons – bereavement, the search for romance, just general self-fulfilment. There are some sad stories, but let’s not get too tearful; everyone has a sad story somewhere. These kinds of emotional breakages are the shadows that accompany any life.
Now, I really admire people who want to get up and go off to try something new. Just because you’re middle-aged doesn’t mean you have to lie like a stagnant pond, filling up with newts. (I might perhaps have overworked that metaphor. But you get the idea.)
But there’s little form or substance to Second Chance Summer. Unlike The Real Marigold Hotel (both series come from the same production company), which actually had interesting things to say about ageing and friendship and starting anew.
The idea behind it doesn’t hang together. The farm is for sale and it’s hoped that, by the end of the experiment, some or all of the participants will want to club together, buy it and run it as a business. I don’t care at all about this. So you might want to run a business? So what? I can see people in The Apprentice do this, much more entertainingly and with more opportunity to see them fall flat on their young faces. Second Chance Summer merely features lots of people grumbling about having to do housework or take part in the grape harvest. Blah blah blah.
My biggest objection, though, is that it’s an hour of brief soul-searching and a light brushing of self-examination that tells us little. There’s possibly a germ of a good idea here but maybe if there were fewer people involved, it might be more engaging.
But we get just brief personality-bites from the ten volunteers, which is nowhere near enough to build up any kind of interesting picture of what motivates any of them. A quick story of loss or ambition – one of the little group is “passionate” (yawn) about wine, while another says, “The time is right to do something for myself.” Good for you. Strangely enough I too am “passionate” about wine – I opened a new box only the other night.
There’s no sense of anything particularly deep or involving going on here, so I recommend you find the lovely 1991 film Enchanted April, about one brief, beautiful life-changing month in Tuscany, and watch that instead.
Second Chance Summer begins on Wednesday 5 April at 9pm on BBC2