I was wondering when the robots would take over, and it is apparently now. The Fantastical Factory of Curious Craft (Sunday, 8.15pm, Channel 4) has clearly been generated by an AI-powered machine glowing ominously deep inside Channel 4 HQ, because I refuse to believe a human mind could come up with this idea. A clunking, Deep Blue-sized computer clearly spat out a reel of ticker tape that just said: “GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF BUT FOR CRAFTS. KEITH LEMON HOSTS. OCCASIONALLY THE SET WILL ATTACK THE CONTESTANTS.” I genuinely fear what idea this machine will come up with next. I’m storming C4 Towers with a baseball bat and destroying it before it can do any more harm.
Not that Fantastical Factory is harmful, exactly, but nor does it fit neatly into the “wholesomely soothing comedian-fronted hour-long craft show” niche. (cf: Joe Lycett’s Great British Sewing Bee; Vic Reeves and Natasia Demetriou’s The Big Flower Fight; and, the blueprint, Mel and Sue and Fielding and Toksvig on Great British Bake Off.) Lemon fronts things up as a sort of banter Willy Wonka. Anna Richardson brings a steady set of hands to the party on back-up presenter duty. Two suitably kooky judges – Tatty Devine’s Harriet Vine, who peers at contestants’ creations with encouragement, and French crochet artist Zak Khchai, who does not understand you don’t need to go in two-footed on every piece of art presented to him; come on Zak, mate, it’s just some teatime fun – run the rule over everything created on the shop floor. Four contestants have a crack at making a piece of art or craft according to a brief, before one is sent home and the remaining three make something for a celebrity guest (this week it’s Martin Kemp). The loser in the first round has to throw their creation into an industrial shredder.
Hats off ... Anna Richardson, Martin Kemp and Keith Lemon. Photograph: Mark Johnson
This week, the opening task is create a likeness of Lemon himself, and we see four completely different approaches – Wakefield native Betsy sews a teddy bear-cuddly version of his head, mounted like a kill; digital artist Jade draws his likeness with a 3D pen; recruiter Pierre rolls ropes of Plasticine and arranges them in an eerily Jesusy likeness; stoic lad Rob drills 2,000 screws into a board of MDF in the pixelated shape of Lemon. The judges mill around while contestants create things. Occasionally, Keith Lemon’s actual mother comes out with a tea trolley. It feels like a fever dream. It feels like the last TV show before your brain breaks and dies inside your skull.
The presence of Lemon is a strange one. He is a curiously wholesome presence in the middle of the Fantastical storm, going to bat for each and every contestant like the only art tutor in sixth form who really gets you. He shows flashes of genuine insight and makes astute observations about the art on offer. And, throughout, you never let your body relax around him. You constantly expect him to turn to camera, pull a lurid gurn and yell “HOLLY WILLOUGHBOOBIE” so loud your power goes out. He never does. But you can’t rest from the threat that he might. Perhaps Fantastical Factory can move past that and become a beloved addition to the Comedians In Studios Doing Hobbies canon. But I, personally, cannot.