Giles and Sue Live the Good Life

There is a world beyond consumerism.

Watching the first show in Giles and Sue Live the Good Life (8 November, BBC2, 9pm) was perturbing - and this, I promise, had nothing whatsoever to do with phallic vegetables, goat nipples or the use of Vaseline to aid a chicken in the laying of her egg. For one thing, it's upsetting to realise that I've already reached so ancient an age that a time I remember - the 1970s - now needs to be explained to audiences in pretty much the same tone of voice as the Tudors or Stuarts.

And then the person doing this explaining was none other than Giles Coren, who (full disclosure) was in the same year as me at university, where he was, for a brief time, my tutorial partner. In those days Giles was studiedly cool. He had a blue MG, for God's sake, in which he was forever disappearing to London (to understand the full import of this sentence, you need to read it aloud in an amazed Yorkshire accent and throw all of your emphasis on the word "London"). Now, he is dressing up in blazers and pastel polo necks and pretending to be Jerry Leadbetter from The Good Life. Is it any wonder I'm bewildered?

His double act with the comedian Sue Perkins has thus far involved the two of them cooking and eating food from different eras. In this sense, I believe they've visited the 1970s before. But in Giles and Sue Live the Good Life (Mondays until 22 November, 9pm), they are trying out not grilled grapefruit and duck à l'orange, but self-sufficiency in suburbia à la Tom and Barbara Good. I think this is a bit feeble: jumping on the back of someone else's jokes. I also think it's stretching it a little to pull the thing into a three-part series; one programme would have done.

On the other hand, if anyone can get away with it, they can - both being charming, funny (especially Sue) and weirdly sincere. The look on Giles's face as the old man who delivered their chickens explained where they should dab the Vaseline in case of emergency was completely adorable: concentrated and dumbstruck. (I'd love to say this is how he used to look as I read out my brilliant essays but that would, naturally, be a lie; once, he actually yawned.) Will we see Giles getting stuck in to the Vaseline in a future episode? My God, I hope so.

For more nostalgia, try Turn Back Time - the High Street (BBC1, Tuesdays, 9pm), in which real-life retailers do a Giles and Sue - what is it with all this TV cannibalism? - and try selling stuff according to the mores of other times. This show really shouldn't work, not least because it is presented by shouty Gregg Wallace, who looks (to pinch from Philip Larkin) like an egg sculpted of lard and sounds like he is speaking from inside the cab of a mechanical digger.

But I (sort of) like it. I'm in love with the butcher and his cocky son and, although it is obviously stretching the bounds of credibility to believe that people will honestly buy corsets and weird bits of ironmongery in 2010 (though I see no reason why the "obesity soap" sold by the grocer in the Edwardian episode wouldn't go down a bundle in a world where people believe in seaweed wraps), I find this pair's unforced longing for an economy in which it would be possible to serve people, as opposed to palm stuff off on people, rather piercing.

All the couples taking part have proper, unstaged rows about how best to run their archaic businesses, which suggests that pride in one's work still exists out there somewhere, beyond the brightly lit counters of Boots, Next and Argos (I speak as an ex-Boots girl myself, so don't all write in). I can't help but be cheered by this. And how delicious it is to see soppy types quailing at the sight of a dead rabbit or pigeon.

I think they should teach the skinning of rabbits in schools: a skill for the end of days and a hole-in-one lesson in just how hard our forebears had it. It's possible Giles would agree with me on this one. He might be frightened of pecking chickens, but at least he knows that civilisation wasn't built on clingfilm.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.