I have been watching a lot of YouTube lately, which you are right to interpret as a cry for help. If you haven’t juddered over to YouTube in the last nine or so years – since that first glossy explosion of “vloggers”, when Zoella was somehow the most loved and loathed person in the UK, often by the same people – it has changed over there, drastically. People still say “Hi guys!”, obviously. There’s still a lot of ringlights and people talking too loudly in their cars. But the production values have shifted: instead of a constant loop of prank channels or people tediously detailing their trips into town, the big content creators make elaborate sets, take months to tell one story, employ studios to host setpieces and collaborate constantly with other channels. Being a YouTube creator is like being a cross between Ant and Dec, an elite athlete, a production company and a legacy TV channel, and YouTube itself looks completely different to that first cultural boom 10 years ago. And yet, the basis of every viral video – be it a celebrity going sneaker shopping or a group of lads battling over football challenges for 45 endless minutes – is always more or less this: put enough charismatic people in one room together and let them banter, and it will be fun to watch.
Which brings us to Big Zuu’s Big Eats (Monday, 10pm), the double-Bafta winning Dave flagship show now entering its third series, and an example of a modern TV concept that is willing to learn from YouTube without trying to be YouTube. The rough idea remains the same – Big Zuu and best mates from school Hyder and Tubsey travel around the UK in a food van, preparing a sweetly customised three-course meal for one celebrity each week – but now all the tiny niggles from the previous 20 episodes have been ironed out.
Season one just saw Zuu cook for comedians, and now he cooks for anyone. The food truck gets bigger every time. His sidekicks are more comfortable on camera, and don’t have to resort so much to that “what if we go shopping, but also mess around” type of planned slapstick. Two crucial changes make every episode of series three flow better than before: instead of spending excruciating screentime learning about the city they’re in, or going to watch a staged scene where the celebrity does some activity that sums up their reality (Maya Jama’s mum is at a cocktail-making class! Guz Khan is performing on stage in Leamington Spa!), guests now come to the van and make food while talking. This means you see each guest being genuinely, disarmingly charming while distracted by a fryer, and you get an extra wedge of what makes the series so magic: Big Zuu interacting with people.
What must it be like to walk through life with so much raw charisma? Everyone is enchanted by him: in the first episode of the new series, Johnny Vegas is on the form of his life, and seems to be having a kid-at-Christmas level day out with his new best friend. Guests often, two courses into their meal, raise a glass to Zuu and declare that they love him. Each menu tells a story – Zuu often asks about what they ate growing up, or what meant a lot to them in childhood, and never shies away from commiserating with a guest if they also grew up poor – and it’s neat that you actually get to see them make the food, rather than serving up clean bowls of production runner-assembled stuff. But crucially, nobody has ever had a bad time on this series, and it shows. Each episode is 28-and-a-half minutes of pure, infectious joy.
When have you seen a cooking show this fun? Sunday Brunch doesn’t count, because Tim Lovejoy slinks around the set like a man enduring one last cigarette before the firing squad and Simon Rimmer cooks with the elan of a man trying to get 10 tired stags on to a minivan for paintball. Jamie Oliver’s turn-of-the-millennium stuff wasn’t fun either, it just included a lot of scenes of him drumming and he had a moped. The best cookery shows are obviously just “Rick Stein in a straw hat, drinking wine in Europe”, the kind of sedate fare you can watch eight episodes of with a snooze in between. But right behind that is Big Eats: a show that understands that the best part of celebrity hang-out TV is the celebrities hanging out, and the best part of a meal is good company, and the best part of serving Johnny Vegas a keg full of gravy is that you both get to make jokes about it afterwards.