BUSHELL ON THE BOX
Nov 12. Let’s hope the cast of Mrs Brown’s Boys are thoroughly ashamed of themselves. And for the tax-dodging as well... We live in controversial TV times. As well as over-paid actors and their slippery book-keeping, Aston got the bum’s rumba from Strictly in a week when Ruth fell over. But the month’s biggest issue generated the fewest headlines. BBC boss Tony Hall made a speech warning that British TV is threatened by the rise of Netflix and Amazon. His argument made no sense but it does show how these clots think. The Beeb see competition as dangerous when they should view it as a fantastic opportunity. Global streaming platforms need content and our TV industry is perfectly placed to service them.
The BBC gets a lot wrong, of course, but when it gets something right, the results can be mesmerising. Blue Planet II is head and gills above any other nature show. Doctor Who has a global audience. Terrific dramas like Line Of Duty and Peaky Blinders also prove that distinctive British content can have worldwide appeal. Even BBC comedy has picked up, with Motherland shaping up to be their best sitcom for years. Hall’s speech was probably laying the groundwork for yet another plea for more public funding and protection from competition. This kind of thinking is cowardly and it’s yesterday. Licence fee featherbedding makes executives lazy. W1A sends up the Corporation’s layers of useless management but reflects a greater truth. These days it takes 20-plus box-ticking executives to commission a sitcom. In 1980 it took one.
The BBC cops a lot of stick, and rightly, over everything from mumbling actors to blatant political bias. But the key to its future survival is simple: make more good stuff. More Life On Mars, less How To Orgasm On A Budget with Gregg Wallace. And if competition means losing pen-pushers and paper-shufflers, good! A leaner, keener BBC making smarter shows might help us forget to ask why three actors playing supporting characters in a sitcom managed to squirrel away more than £2million in public money.
*OUR tax laws are way too complex and greedy. Make them simpler and fairer and even TV stars would cough up.
DAVID Attenborough and his team go places no camera crew has been before on Blue Planet II. From the deepest depths of the Pacific to the un-filmed bottom of the Antarctic Ocean... where I’m pretty sure we saw the fish John West rejected. Fish with feet, fish with fangs, a fish with a transparent head made entirely out of jelly – the Towie fish, according to my notes. Attenborough saw it as “an alien planet”... I saw a whole new menu for sushi chefs. Other wonders included a lake of brine on the ocean bed, shrimps living their whole lives trapped in coral, and incredible underwater geysers (not Captain Nemo). Six-gill sharks tore into the carcass of a sperm whale, and then zombie worms used acid to burrow into its bones. Crabs used the hairs on their legs to feed on poisonous hydrogen sulphide, shrimps survived in water hot enough to melt lead. It made you realise that even if mankind does manage to wipe ourselves out, life will go on within us and without us.
IF the greatest comedies are built on truth, Motherland is already a contender. Frazzled working mum-of-two Julia struggles to cope with the daily grind. The problem isn’t her kids but a competitive clique of alpha-mums. When the formidable Amanda shames Julia into dropping plans to have her daughter’s birthday party at Pizza Express, she ends up hosting the bash at home. Cue dodgy cake, dodgier children’s entertainer – Animal Man, whose only animals were cats – and the full gang of grown-up mean girls turning up to see what she’s got. Julia’s selfish mother and Gooner husband are useless. So she relies on drippy stay-at-home dad Kevin and single mum Liz whose idea of a party game is to throw a quid into a room, tell the kids to hunt for it and shut them in. Genuinely funny, Motherland gleefully rips up the myths of middle class motherhood. It’s like Mumsnet with fangs.
HOT on TV: Motherland... Babylon Berlin (SkyAt)... The Walking Dead (Fox)... Blue Planet II... Tin Star finale.
ROT on TV: Elizabeth, The Apprentice – they should call her Thrush because she’s an irritating twat... Len Goodman’s Partners In Rhyme – harder to get shot of than an old pound coin, and worth precisely two bob.
AFTER murder, HIV, and postnatal depression, Corrie threw in assault and an arson attack. It’s like they’re channelling the spirit of 1980s Walford. Bosses need to get some gentle humour bubbling away sharpish, because right now our top soap is nearly as depressing as the thought of Gemma Collins going back into I’m A Celebrity.
*WALK Of Shame Shuffle has unknown drunks telling dull, sleazy stories... if we wanted that kind of thing we’d hang out with MPs. One woman wet the bed, another’s jump-suit split on the dance floor revealing she was starkers underneath, a third got so legless she brought home a dirty dog... Are these really true stories or advance plot lines from Geordie Shore?
*LESBIAN Tina slept with Billy again on EastEnders. He should stick that on his CV: if I can turn her around, think what I could do for your business.
*DEBBIE McGee told It Takes Two “I’m used to men being on their knees in front of me.” Blimey. It’s amazing she’s got the time with all that dance rehearsal.
*SIMON Cowell wants five X Factor singles in the Top Ten this Xmas. Memo to Rage Against The Machine: come back, lads, we’ve never needed you more.
SMALL joys of TV: The Rebel (Gold). The Gifted. League of Gentlemen re-runs, BBC4. Harry Mudd, Star Trek: Discovery. Detectorists. Sheridan. Rolling Stone: Stories From The Edge (SkyAt). Mickey Rourke, Dice. The Rise & Fall of The Clash (SkyArts).
RANDOM irritations: Rolling news driving small dramas into hysterical witch-hunts. The po-faced media establishment’s war on jokes. The premature deluge of Xmas adverts. Chasers throwing easy questions on the celeb editions of The Chase. Mark bloody Carney.
BAD enough that Romesh made his Richard Pryor doc all about himself, but playing his own lame stand-up after Pryor’s lewd genius was beyond a joke. It was like Cheryl comparing her voice to Aretha Franklin’s, or Louis Walsh mentioning himself in the same breath as Brucie.
SEPARATED at birth: Tom Allen and Nosferatu? One a terrifyingly camp figure who makes us chuckle; the other is an over-promoted comedian.
Nov 5. Sex, drugs, family feuds... Liam Gallagher has lived an outrageous life. So it’s surprising that the one thing that proved too much for him was... University Challenge. “I’m not watching this ever again,” the former Oasis star told Celebrity Googlebox. “It’s stressed me right out.” Ozzy Osbourne was stumped too. “I don’t understand the questions, I don’t understand the answers and I don’t understand why this thing is still on the f***ing TV,” the rock god moaned.
Big names joining the show regulars included Ed Sheeran, filth-hound Freddie Flintoff, Jamie Rednapp, and, um, “Jeremy in Edinburgh” who struggled to open a bag of Celebrations and proved to be reliably dull. Watching Nigella was the only thing that got the Labour leader animated. The show inspired him to give Jessica Hynes his recipe for coddled eggs, whether she wanted it or not.
Grime MC Big Narstie hadn’t even heard of Nigella, and seemed unaware of Strictly’s all-conquering success. But at least he didn’t mistake Iggy Pop for the Clash like Ed did. Everyone loved Blue Planet II. Flintoff likened a large lipped bass to Donatella Versace, while Liam accurately summed up the sex-changing kobudai fish as “mad sh*t”. We waited in vain for their verdicts on the week’s other big TV talking points, such as: how did Lauren’s wedding dress fit Abi like a glove on EastEnders? Why didn’t Phil Mitchell spend Halloween as Uncle Fester? And what’s the deal with Robert’s barnet on Corrie? He obviously hasn’t got anyone to “bank” his Just For Men. (We learned about banking – smuggling things into prison internally – on Ross Kemp Behind Bars, where banked items included phone sym cards and deadly blades. Bankers cough at their peril.)
The charity special swerved these choice topics to cover Michael Gove’s “controversial” week-old Weinstein joke. Corbyn’s views weren’t sought on that, or Westminster’s lame sex scandal. TV prefers to portray him as a benign uncle. I’d have asked his opinion of Pat Phelan’s recent executions, just to hear him condemn “all sides”. Naturally there was no Jacob in Somerset for balance. As it was, Dave the “knob-head” dog got the night’s biggest laughs.
*JO Brand claimed on Have I Got News For You that women are “constantly terrorised” by sex-mad blokes. Yeah? I bet she isn’t.
*CLAUDIA saved Strictly a few bob on their Halloween special. No extra make-up required.
WHAT is it about Nigella Lawson and her tasty if shrinking puddings that male viewers find so moreish? It’s hard to believe she eats what she cooks – that figure doesn’t suggest a diet of shoestring fries and emergency brownies. Her kitchen is full of things you’ve never seen – purple spuds, anyone? Or used – ramekins, spiralizers... She has a whole shelf devoted to obscure chillies. Her chat is oddly stilted. Her measurements are imprecise; “a splash” of dry Vermouth looked like half a bottle. And Nigella: At My Table is not great TV. Yet when she slips on latex gloves to massage chicken thighs... well, cover me in feathers and hear me cluck. Sensual over-load is the key. She sits on her stairs in a silk dressing gown. She talks about “firm peaks” and “ungainly squirts”. She tells us how much she enjoys “roughing it up a bit”. And then says: “Just be patient, it’ll happen. If it gets too hot, it’ll spit at you... ” I’ll say. Why do men watch? Kneads must, I guess.
WHY did bisexual Tory MP Michael Fabricant go on First Dates: Celebrity Special? There’s more chance of getting inappropriately fondled in the Commons these days than on a TV dating show. Talk about more bangs than Guy Fawkes. It was just Fabricant’s luck that he was shown talking about romancing Parliamentary secretaries in the middle of the latest hysteria. Maybe they filmed it a while ago – possibly 2011, as they had Sinitta as 48 and right now she’s 54. Not like her to fib about her age... Is Fabricant even a celebrity? Maybe the bookers got him mixed up with Worzel Gummidge. People apparently mistake him for Boris Johnson all the time, which is ridiculous. He looks much more like BoJo’s dad, Stanley.
*JOEY on regular First Dates met date Jodie on the train the night before. “She got a six inch,” he revealed. He meant a Subway sandwich but you never know. Waitress CiCi hoped she’d get “something more substantial”. Either she meant for dinner, or the woman has been spoiled.
*HANNAH revealed she was once offered 2,000 Euros for “small sex” in Spain. Not sure what that is, but it looks like Robbie Jackson is on course to find out...
HOT on TV: Blue Planet II – glorious... Leanne Best, Tin Star (SkyAt)... Ross Kemp Behind Bars... Essie Davis, Electric Dreams.
ROT on TV: Josh Widdicombe: What Do I Do Now? – Quit? Emigrate? Join the Foreign Legion? I’m not fussed... Partners In Rhyme – why bring back Len’s awful cack?
SCARY scenes for Halloween on EastEnders: Shirley came as Grandpa Munster. Abi was the bride of Chucky. And Sonia came as Sonia... Dot stayed home. Just as well. She’d have traumatised the killer clowns. For the Grim Reaper see the producer. In a horrific twist, Tina ran over poor Janet. If that wasn’t unsettling enough they had Willmott-Brown turn up in Kaff’s caff. It was a relief he didn’t greet her with a bouquet of flowers and a cheery cry of “Seconds away, round two!”
THE BBC helped fund the documentary that portrayed Provisional IRA member Bobby Sands as a heroic martyr. The Provos slaughtered nearly 1800 innocent people – men, women and children. Some heroes. Will the Beeb devote as much time to the British soldiers wrongly convicted of killing Adrian Carroll in 1983? Three were acquitted on appeal but the fourth, Neil Latimer, served 14 years for a murder that the evidence suggests he did not commit. I suspect we all know the answer.
*ROSS Kemp really blended in at HMP Barlinnie. Big, bald, grim... he looked like the con you have to service to get an extra bog roll.
*IT costs £36K to keep a child molester behind bars. How much is a length of rope?
SMALL joys of TV: Queen: Rock The World. Dave Gorman: Modern Life Is Goodish. New Strike Back. Dolphins surfing for pleasure on Blue Planet II. A con telling Ross Kemp that if you act tough in HMP Barlinnie “People just punch you out of your trainers.”
RANDOM irritations: The absurd over-reaction to David Walliams dressing up as Kim Jong-Un. Grow up! The BBC constantly ignoring its Charter requirement of impartiality. EastEnders failing to dress up Swedish Ingrid as Harley Quinn for Halloween.
SEPARATED at birth: Michael Fabricant and Ronnie Barker’s yokel? One an absurd figure of fun whose lousy jokes make thousands cringe, the other is a comedy immortal. R.I.P. Ronnie.
*NOW Gordon Ramsay has investigated chefs’ cocaine, will he look into builders’ crack?