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.
APRIL 14. THE Durrells is escapism, pure and simple. Gentle humour, cuddly critters, charming views... the show’s biggest fans must be the Corfu tourist board. ITV even throw in a splash of ’Allo ’Allo! “I heard you are running a bawdy house,” odd-job man Spiros told Louisa Durrell. He meant boarding house of course, but it’d be an easy mistake to make with Larry’s fake girlfriends swanning about in their 1930s brassieres. Cor-phew! as Sid James almost certainly would have said. Add that image to the show’s small joys, along with Ulysses the owl.
Louisa’s Mediterranean paradise lost its sparkle when her romance with Spiros went down the “toualéta”, so the struggling single mum is taking in paying guests. There’s cousin Basil, a “great idle walrus” played by Miles Jupp (type-casting?) who had the sight gag of the episode – when he complained his laundry could be “crisper” Luisa starched his shorts stiffer than over-toasted pitta bread. The second guest was a drippy Communist rebel posing as a writer (“Don’t try anything in Dorset,” warned Basil.) He’d attempted to assassinate a fascist but only shot him in the scrotum. Best check the Albert Hall for the remains.
The Greek cops came searching. “You can’t come up,” one dancer told them. “My girlfriend’s naked.” (Oh and is the beer free too? That’ll definitely keep them away... ).
After a sub-farcical escape, Corfu’s answer to Citizen Smith finally set off in a small motorboat to Malta... nearly 400 miles away. Another triumph for socialist planning... As endings go, Margo’s done neater haircuts. Some moan that the Durrells are too middle class. But the middle classes get a raw deal on TV – they generally “dunnit” in crime dramas. And frankly, right now this soppy sunny show is a welcome hour-long antidote to the steady diet of Brexit misery.
LINE of Duty writer Jed Mercurio is throwing us more curve balls than an entire baseball season. Squeaky clean Arnott is misleading Fleming and covertly co-operating with undercover cop John Corbett, who may or may not have gone rogue. Meanwhile AC-12 boss Ted Hastings looks shiftier than Leslie Phillips in a sixth form girls’ boarding school bedroom. I’m not buying the idea that Hastings is H, the corrupt senior officer up to his truncheon in organised crime, though. How could someone this rubbish with money be a criminal mastermind?
*FLEABAG did wonders for sales of M&S pre-mixed gin and tonic. Game Of Thrones boosted Johnny Walker’s White Walker scotch. Maybe the Beeb should launch a Line of Duty Free hooch – you’d never know which bottle you could trust.
THE Radio Times’ “all-time” Top 20 sitcoms was meant to wind us up. No Porridge or Del-Boy in the Top 3? They must be round the twist. Oh, and Dinnerladies beat Hancock’s Half Hour, which along with Steptoe & Son didn’t even make the list! That’s like drawing up a Top 20 greatest British bands and blanking the Beatles and the Stones. We used to make smart, funny, popular comedies. Now we get dross like Warren which made Mrs Brown’s Boys look like Chekov. Don’t Forget The Driver is so downbeat and dismal it made me nostalgic for On The Buses. What makes BBC sitcom bosses laugh? An open grave?
*HOW about a series celebrating the brilliant Brit-coms Radio Times forgot: Phoenix Nights, Rising Damp, Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em, Yes Minister, Sykes, After Henry, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum etc, etc?
HOT on TV: Kelly Macdonald, The Victim... Karla Crome... Line Of Duty.
ROT on TV: Hard To Please OAPs – grumpy old rip-off... Urban Myths (SkyArts) – more fake news... Don’t Forget The Driver – needs to slam its foot down on the laugh pedal.
BIG shocks on Have I Got News For You as host David Dimbleby revealed that “Ian and Stacey have sex”. Human potato Ian Hislop and Strictly’s smouldering Stacey Dooley? Blimey. How did he Dooley that? It was another subtitle cock-up of course, the funniest perhaps since Carol Kirkland informed BBC Breakfast viewers that strong winds meant “some fairies are being disrupted”. She’d actually said ferries.
ODD to hear Andrea McLean talk about “entering your middle age” on Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins. She’s 49! She must have ruddy good genes. And guts of course to take part in this. Louise Mensch was first out, injured by an awkward fall from a chopper and some serious, heavy-weight name-dropping.
SMALL joys of TV: Moon-walking mannequin birds on Our Planet (Netflix). The Fleabag finale. Tom Ellis as Lucifer. Bob Mortimer. The Siddiques on Gogglebox. Still Game (iPlayer). Hornblower (ITV4).
RANDOM irritations: Dave bothering to repeat recent Room 101s ruined by guests who lack wit and opinions. “Comedy” shows in sitcom formats that aren’t remotely funny. Dramas that over-rely on leaping time-lines.
SEPARATED at birth: young Charlie Chaplin and Victoria’s Prince Albert? One added floppy hair and a moustache to become a figure of fun. The other was Charlie Chaplin.
*THE curious thing about Curiosity is how Paul Martin has morphed from affable antique show host into hyperactive ultra-camp irritant.
TV questions: If Frankie Boyle is such a fearless taboo-busting radical why do all his guests think the same? Should Victoria’s Princess Feodora be addressed as Your Royal Heinous?
APRIL 7. LINE Of Duty is the hottest crime drama on TV and has been since 2012. Jed Mercurio’s brutal and brilliant cop corruption saga packs in more thrilling twists than the Blackpool Big One. In this latest series another undercover officer has gone rogue. Everything pointed to it being Lisa McQueen, who was clearly battling her demons throughout. But you can never second guess Mercurio. He’s such a master of misdirection he should be running the Magic Circle.
The real wrong’un turned out to be DS John Corbett, played by the superb Stephen Graham. Corbett has lost touch with his handler and is sanctioning the killings of other officers, including poor Maneet who had her throat slit like a halal chicken. Adrian Dunbar excels as Superintendent Ted Hastings, the sardonic boss of AC-12 who hates bent Old Bill with an Old Testament vengeance. Ably backed by DI Fleming and DS Arnott, Hastings has banged up the rottenest apples this side of a G.F. Newman novel including Lennie James as DCI Tony Gates and Craig Parkinson’s DI “Dot” Cottan. Keeley Hawes gave a career best performance as DI Lyndsay Denton. Writing and direction remain first class – what other series could turn a 23minute interrogation scene into an edge-of-your-seat drama?
Some complain about the authentic jargon – the OCGs (organised crime gangs) and the UCOs (undercover officers). I’m more worried Jed might be setting Ted up to take a fall. His divorce and money problems mean he’s living like Alan Partridge did in a lousy hotel. (Apt – as Corbett is involved in Operation Peartree.) The Ulsterman “makes Greece look solvent”. But it’d be a shame if Mercurio brought Ted down. His sayings are one of the show’s great joys. After all, Ted Hastings didn’t come up the Lagan on a bubble.
IF only our useless politicians could be grilled by AC-12... Laura Kuenssberg’s Brexit Storm charted the mess they’ve made of leaving the EU under a PM who’s caved in more times than a cartoon gold mine. May couldn’t negotiate free ice from a Coke machine. But did “storm” over-glamorise our shower of third-rate MPs? Most are more like a light drizzle – wet, irritating and easily seen off with a well-aimed brolly.
*GEORGE Clarke should cover the Commons. It goes from Ugly House To Uglier House by the week.
WE can rely on Britain’s Got Talent to unearth fresh and exciting new acts. Take ventriloquist Jimmy Tamley who’s just as impressive now as when he won ITV’s New Faces in 1987. Well, it makes a change from Cowell recycling turns from The Big Big Talent Show (Francine Lewis, Steve Brookstein, Paul Zerdin... ) Maybe Si should go back a little further. 1981’s Search For A Star discovered brilliant Joe Longthorne who never had the TV career he deserved. Even now, he’d storm it. Elsewhere we got the usual mix of imported acts (Japanese dancers, Russian gymnasts), cute kids, camp cobblers and fake emotion... I liked Siobhan’s Victoria Wood-lite ditty, teen opera singer Faith and that Dalek whose metallic features showed more emotion than Amanda ever could. But there was no gee-whizz factor here.
HOT on TV: Line Of Duty and Stephen Graham... Jenny Powell... Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep (SkyAt).
ROT on TV: Georgia Steel, Celebs On The Ranch – 21 going on six... Jon Snow talking snowballs... Pose – soapy, ropey and way too dopy.
HOW long will Louie Spence persist with his OTT cavorting? Hasn’t he got any mates to tell him what a one-note embarrassment he’s become? Only squawking pony-obsessed Georgia Steel was more irritating on “Celebs” On The Ranch. Jenny Powell stood out amongst these halfwits being bright, capable and prone to saying things like “I’ve never actually experienced a genuine cowboy” and “I like to get dirty”. Just say the word... Jenny’s 90s kids show was called Gimme 5. It’s the least anyone could aspire to do.
*JAMES Corden wants sex scenes for fatties on TV. Talk about going the whole hog! Don’t we see enough of Gemma Collins as it is? Imagine her and Arg gasping those magic words: “Get off me... I can’t breathe.”
*PAT Phelan’s shoddy repair work caused Corrie’s factory roof collapse, then. Makes sense. But that doesn’t answer the bigger question: how did thieves half-inch the original roof in broad daylight without scaffolding?
*BEN Mitchell is back in EastEnders... with his sixth head. Blimey. That’s only one less than the number of actors who played James Bond. No wonder Dot’s worried about robots. Maybe Idris Elba could play him next. Or Jodie Whittacker.
*NO manners, Channel 4. They rushed straight in with Let’s Talk About Sex without a hint of foreplay. Would it have hurt to build up to it with shows about dating, dining and maybe a movie?
*ITV’s Loose Women will do a live version of the show at Birmingham NEC. Book early for broomstick parking.
SMALL joys of TV: George & Mildred (ITV Hub). Barry (SkyAt). Danny Baker. Tutti Frutti (i-Player). Bobby Davro on Good Morning Britain – he raised more laughs in four minutes than most comics do in 20.
RANDOM irritations: Fiona Bruce on Question Time. Six minute ad breaks in films on 5Star. Greg Wise – smugger than Angus Deayton in a room full of mirrors. Room 101 bookings lacking wit and opinions.
SEPARATED at birth: Victoria’s Princess Feodora and this cigar store Indian? One hard-faced and cold with an unsettling presence... the other’s more wooden than Prince Albert.