BUSHELL ON THE BOX
*This is an edited version of my TV column. The real thing, plus contests, goofs, lookalike pictures and more, can be found each Sunday only in the Daily Star Sunday.
JUNE 16. BIG Little Lies ended perfectly, so why bring it back? Two words: Meryl Streep. Donald Trump’s least favourite Hollywood actress is brilliant as Mary Louise Wright, grieving mother of wife-beating sleazebag Perry. She’s like Corrie’s Blanche Hunt, but not played for laughs – Mary Louise has come to find her son’s killer. Having dinner with daughter-in-law Celeste and her grandsons, she rants about “mediocre, second-rate, pudgy, balding, middle-management” men who have the temerity to live while her son is dead. That’s before she starts screaming like a banshee on a roller-coaster. Eat your heart out, Evelyn Plummer!
The cleverly constructed slow-burn US drama with its ocean views and A List cast was the surprise hit of 2017. It revolved around affluent Monterey mums, their school-run feuds and a mystery murder. We didn’t know who’d died until the end when Zoe Kravitz’s Bonnie pushed perverted creep Perry to his death. He and Celeste (Nicole Kidman) had an unusual marriage; think Itchy & Scratchy with added sex (still here in flashbacks). He’d also raped Jane, fathering her son. So when Perry pegged it, it was a relief for everyone... except his poor old mum.
Mary Louise can smell the cover-up. “You don’t believe my son just slipped do you?” she sniffs, treating the top cop like a dim child. She tells Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) “You’re very short. I don’t mean that in a negative way. Maybe I do. I find little people untrustworthy... ” Don’t let her meet Sadiq Khan. Mary Louise also calls Madeline “a wanter”, although I could have misheard that. She’s well-placed to hear Celeste wake from her nightmares muttering give-away words like “rape” and “kill”. Mary Louise will make or break series two, and right now she’s making it. She’s also making life hell for the Monterey 5. Can they stick to their lie? Bonnie looks dangerously like the weakest link. Any more zombified and she’d be in Hollyoaks.
DURING a row with her daughter, Madeline screamed “I don’t care about the f**king homeless!”. What a loss to the Tory leadership race.
THE row over the BBC scrapping free licence fees for the over-75s ignores one crucial question: why should the Beeb be funded by the telly tax anyway? A tax on watching TV is as out-dated as the wind-up gramophone. Attenborough aside, what have the Corporation got that makes them uniquely worth preserving? Their great popular comedies petered out years ago. They cocked up Top Gear, and Strictly would work on any channel (where it might be improved by a better host). Sure they make the odd gem – Inside No 9, Peaky Blinders, Line Of Duty. But these rare must-see joys are massively outweighed by the downside: the right-on drama commissions, the mirthless comics and the endless political bias of their news agenda. People say the licence costs “less than a pint of beer a week”. I’d rather have the beer. It takes beers and beers to get through Years And Years. Public featherbedding has made the Corporation lazy, complacent and wasteful (the new EastEnders set is an eye-watering £30million of our money over budget; no-one has been fired, no-one even cares). The BBC is over-manned, over-loaded with useless execs and its “stars” are hideously overpaid. The net result is... underwhelming.
LOVE Island kicked into gear on Thursday, by which I mean the women turned cattier than a spinster’s eiderdown. New beauties Maura and Elma brought out the worst in their rivals who watched them dating from the balcony, their eyes bulging like Anton’s calves. But when they mocked Maura they alienated the fellas. Michael ditched Amber and Tommy had a blazing wow with charmless Molly-Mae, who is now more gutted than a supermarket salmon. Perfect.
*I MISSED Love Island’s Unseen Bits. Given how much of them we see normally I can only assume it involved shower-cams.
HOT on TV: Meryl Streep, Big Little Lies (SkyAt)... What's My Name: Muhammad Ali (SkyAt).
ROT on TV: Shopping with Keith Lemon – shockingly poor telly... Gentleman Jack – dramatically slack... Wild Bill – cock-up.
OLD school London villains used to call the police “the Filth”. And they don’t come much filthier than Detective Inspector Rabbit. Marvellous Matt Berry plays the foul-mouthed copper in Year Of The Rabbit, a new Channel 4 sitcom that asks: how would a 1970s-style bang-em-up crime-buster fare in Victorian times? It’s a neat premise and it has its moments – a Dickensian urchin flogging London flog for tuppence a jar, Keeley Hawes making a tantalising appearance as a crime boss at the end... But it relies too heavily on uninspired effing and jeffing for laughs. If you’re 12 and think dirty words are side-splitting then this is for you. I’m not sold. It’s less Ye Olde Sweeney, more The Dull Sweary.
*GOOD to see Rob Lowe on British telly, but Wild Bill is barely a mild thrill. It’s like Heartbeat written by a distracted schizophrenic.
*BATTLE Of The Super Eaters? Jo Brand calls that breakfast. (For my views on Brand’s battery acid gag is the blog).
*DOPE, opium, cocaine... Tsk. If the Tories been on amphetamines they might have got Brexit done.
NOW Party 7 has been reinvented, here are ten more simple 70s pleasures we should revive: The Sweeney, Minder, The Comedians, Mrs Slocombe’s pussy, the Smash Martians, the Secret Lemonade Drinker, glam rock, Benny Hill, the Wurzels, the Six Million Dollar Man.
SMALL joys of TV: The Big Little Lies soundtrack. Bernard Ingham’s eyebrows. Julian Barratt, Killing Eve. Sharon Mitchell’s wine rage. Designated Survivor. Brad Garrett in Law & Order: SVU.
RANDOM irritations: Jo Brand proving beauty may be skin deep but ugly goes down to the core. BBC Scrooges targeting the over-75s while spending like Saudi Princes. The sopping wet Ann Lister.
SEPARATED at birth: Gregg Wallace and Captain Underpants? One a ludicrous caricature that it’s hard to take seriously, the other is Captain Underpants.
June 9. LOVE Island is back and so are the sculpted abs and waxed chests. How passé! If Joshua can lose to a bloke with a beer-gut why can’t Tommy Fury? Lucie from Newquay and Londoner Joe looked favourites to get the bedsprings twanging first, until boxer Tommy made his play. She and Amber are proper beauties. I was seeing women like this when I was on telly a lot... but only when I shut my eyes and daydreamed.
The Instagram-friendly, morally suspect contestants are designed to feed the Twitter beast. Notable nitwits include gym owner Anton whose mum shaves his bum. He’s one of the few Scotsmen “whose six-pack isn’t half a dozen cans of Irn-Bru”, according to Iain Stirling. Anton has “a serious medical condition – a wandering eye”. He tried to hit on “surfing Barbie” Lucie while he was coupled with air hostess Amy, who’s 26 but has the crunched up shoulders of a much older woman. Rugby player Sherif confessed he couldn’t be trusted not to make a move on a girlfriend’s best pal either. Curtis and Amy – now a happy, spooning couple – stuck their oars in to keep loved-up Joe and Lucie apart, which suited ITV2 down to the ground. At least the angst stopped her from trying to punt her lousy made-up slang. “Bev”? Behave, you muggy melt.
Joe, who sells sandwiches for a living, was gutted. Will he find someone else to spread ’em? “Plus-size” Anna looks like the lost Kardashian (a Car-crashian??) but isn’t remotely overweight. The only genuinely plus-size things in the Majorcan villa are the egos. Yewande seems too gentle and too smart for the show.
*LOVE Island is educational though. We’ve already learned about a sexual position called “the Eagle”, Curtis’s favourite. I’m more into “the Beano” myself. Insert your own Billy Whizz Dan joke here.
CHERNOBYL showed the best of humanity – the selfless heroism of the workers, soldiers and scientists who fought to contain the real-life 1986 disaster. And the worst – the incompetence and moral corruption at the heart of the Soviet system, and the politicians’ kneejerk attempts to suppress dissent and bury bad news. Everything about this astonishing series sparkled with effort and inspiration, from Craig Mazin’s script to Johan Renck’s direction. The cast were superb. It was yet more proof that we are living through the most exciting, adventurous and creative TV times since the 1960s. Great drama and bold visions abound. Now, if only we could sort mainstream comedy...
LET'S hear it for the bright new face of British talent – Colin Thackery! The singing Chelsea Pensioner, 89, beat a shed-load of showbiz professionals in Sunday’s Britain’s Got Talent final. Good luck to him. But I wouldn’t be pencilling in tour dates for 2021 just yet mate... or putting your winnings in an ISA. The final was underwhelming. It was grossly unfair to let Marc Spelmann have a second go, and a crying shame that Kojo ran out of material. Daredevil escapologist Jonathan Goodwin, already a successful pro, has genuine star potential. Talented Ben Hart, who’s been on TV for five years, had too much chat, not enough magic. Even Siobhan has been around a while. Here she is on a pro variety bill from the 90s. BGT needs to be less about the judges and more about the turns. Fresher ones would be appreciated.
HOT on TV: Harry Hill’s Alien Fun Capsule... Killing Eve... Miley Cyrus, Black Mirror (Netflix)... Chernobyl finale – drama of the year.
ROT on TV: The Ranganation – listless and tiresome... Riviera – Cote d’Absurd... David Walliams and his tedious fake-gay shtick.
THATCHER: A Very British Revolution took us through the Falklands, CND, the miners’ strike, Scargill’s comb-over and the Brighton bomb. It felt like a lifetime ago. This exceptionally well-made BBC series gives real insight into the Iron Lady. It included a Charles Mackay quote she loved: “You have no enemies, you say? Alas my friend, the boast is poor... if you have none, small is the work that you have done.”
NEVER mind Mum and her dumb brood, here’s my Top 5 of the funniest ever sitcom mothers: 1) Peggy (Married... with Children) 2) Samantha (Bewitched) 3) Gloria (Modern Family) 4) Claire (Modern Family) 5) Debra (Everybody Loves Raymond). Woops. Sorry, that appears to be the Top 5 sexiest sitcom mums... otherwise Elsie Garnett would be in it.
*ANDY Ruiz’s shock victory over Joshua had to be the best news for fat blokes since Ricky Gervais. You wouldn’t be surprised if gyms stopped selling protein drinks and stocked up with Corona Extra and burritos.
*FOUR billion years ago earth was “a troubled toxic world,” Brian Cox informed us on The Planets. Nothing’s changed then...
SMALL joys of TV: Our D-Day veterans. 63 Up. Legasov’s testimony on Chernobyl. Paul Ritter as Dyatlov. Kristen Bell, The Good Place. Discovering Robin Williams (Sky Arts). Two Doors Down (Gold).
RANDOM irritations: TV judges who can’t judge. Magicians doing variations of the same trick on BGT. BBC docs giving distances only in kilometres. Have I Got News For You – out of time and out of laughs.
SEPARATED at birth: Joe Goldberg and Joe Garratt? One is a man dangerously infatuated with a beautiful woman... the other is played by Penn Bedgley in Netflix’s You.
JUNE 2. Britain’s Got Talent finally came alive on Wednesday night. Exuberant stand-up Kojo Amin won a standing ovation with his routine about his African dad and “sick voice” phone calls. And John Archer entertained us with slick magic and easy humour – mostly at Cowell’s expense. He asked Alesha to do something without thinking about it “like Simon when he got dressed tonight... I’m kidding, I support charity shops”. In his lottery routine John said he wanted to win £6million “or as Simon’s dentist calls it, a deposit”, and asked the judges to pick interesting numbers “like 7, the age Dec stopped growing”.
It was about time. The first two semi-finals had been like the antidote to talent – a bloke making fart noises, a gormless ghost act, a brave police dog roped into a feeble magic routune, and a “Queen” who’d turn Prince Philip into a staunch republican. Truly barrels don’t get scraped any harder than this. As is now traditional, the amazing death-defying professional/imported circus acts who’d rescued the heats – the Vardanyan Brothers (what the Dothraki did next) and the Gomonov Knife Show – were damned with faint praise and dumped. Teenage opera singer Faith Tucker got knocked back too (although surely she’ll be tonight’s wild card). And kid band Chapter 13 made the schoolboy error of not playing something we know. But Chelsea Pensioner Colin Thackery warbled through to tonight’s final on a wave of nostalgia and sympathy.
Sadly quality plummeted again on Thursday with Ursula the harp-humper – the maddest thing on that stage until Sulky Simon stormed off it during Jimmy Tamley’s misjudged and cringe-worthy routine. Madcap Graeme Matthews has potential, but clearly needs time and new material. Cowell’s found three genuinely funny blokes this series. Not that he’d know. Comedy isn’t his thing. The scandal isn’t that so many of the best acts – Archer, Ben Hart, Jonathan Goodwin – have been on telly before. The scandal is that TV has no decent regular variety shows to build them.
HOW seriously should we take a show that claims Kathy Burke is funnier than Jimmy Carr and Harry Hill? That Victoria Wood was a greater comic than Billy Connolly and Spike Milligan. And that Lenny Henry is a bigger hitter than the immortal Dave Allen, who scraped into Britain’s Greatest Comedian despite the minor inconvenience of being born in Dublin... At least Gold remembered him. They forget Peter Cook, Max Miller, Les Dawson, Benny Hill, Bob Monkhouse, Jack Dee, Charlie Drake & Charlie Chaplin completely... Their comedy “experts” couldn’t have been more wide of the mark if they’d picked names randomly out of Count Arthur Strong’s Trilby. Tommy Cooper didn’t even make their Top Ten! Stan Laurel only won because they’d seen the film. Naturally they blanked Jim Davidson, the greatest stand-up of his generation, completely. But I’d love to have seen Kathy Burke or Eddie Izzard try and follow Jim or Mike Reid on a Saturday night at Lakeside.
*IF they’re counting comedy actresses as “comedians” where were Peggy Mount, Hattie Jacques, Patricia Hayes, Barbara Windsor, Dandy Nichols... I could go on.
THE foul-mouthed stock market traders on Black Monday are so mean-spirited they make The Wolf of Wall Street look like the Andrex puppy. Set in New York just before the 1987 crash, the show introduces us to a world where cocaine is snorted, whangers are whipped out and the language is bluer than the Med. Amanda Holden may well have supplied the dialogue. Don Cheadle sparkles as manipulative Maurice “Mo” Monroe who humps pricy hookers and persecutes new boy Blair dubbed the “worst trader in Manhattan since the Indians”. He isn’t, but Mo has designs on his family fortune. (Mo might have met his match in the peculiar Lehman twins, though.) Period jokes about Nancy Reagan and Marion Barry abound but if the humour were any broader it’d block FDR Drive. It’s so OTT it makes Joey Barton’s stag party look almost restrained.
HOT on TV: The Good Place (E4)... Regina Hall, Black Monday (SkyAt)... Kojo Anim, BGT.
ROT on TV: BGT’s “X” – Y? Zzz... The Haunting... Barbara Nice... Years & Years – aging about as well as Mickey Rourke... Britain’s Greatest Comedian – the most farcical waste of time since Riviera.
WE don’t know how much the BBC paid that much-hyped “intimacy coach” for the lesbian love scenes on Gentleman Jack but they definitely need a refund. After all the hype all we’ve had is some coy undercover manoeuvres – so swift you could barely put your finger on what was going on – and a briefer snatch of oral. You’d get more bedroom action on a Love Island first date.
*EMELIA Clarke said she turned down Fifty Shades of Grey because she “didn’t want to be pigeon-holed”. Pigeon-holed? That’s a new one. Maybe that intimacy coach can demonstrate.
*AMANDA Holden’s spider-web bosom was fetching and quite apt – she’s dropped a few flies in her time. It’s cruel to suggest the outfit matched the cobwebs between her ears but I will anyway
SMALL joys of TV: Bauer's late winner for Charlton. Good Omens (AmPrime). The Planets – despite dreamy/dreary Brian Cox. Don Cheadle. Timeshift on Mods & Rockers. Meatloaf: In & Out Of Hell.
RANDOM irritations: The Soap Awards – over-lathered. Summer Of Rockets, the spy drama without any spying... or drama. Piers Morgan's obsession with pushing his guests to tears – even Parky!
SEPARATED at birth: Michael Sandwick (Britain’s Got Talent) and Count Orlok in Nosferatu? One associated with vampires, the other has never met the BGT producers... both Orloks.