BUSHELL ON THE BOX
JULY 15. What must summer TV be like for anyone who hates sport and can't abide Love Island? I'd rather cage fight the Hulk than suffer the lacklustre scrapings of stale soaps and ropy repeats served up by terrestrial telly. ITV and BBC's schedules have been one long advert for Netflix and Sky Atlantic, where proper grown-up dramas reside. Sky's latest import Sharp Objects stars Amy Adams as Camille Preaker a washed-up, hard-drinking reporter (the very idea!) assigned to cover a shocking crime in her home-town. One young girl has been murdered, another has vanished. The missing kid doesn't drive the narrative though. It's all about self-harming Camille. The woman knocks back so much vodka her breath must be flammable. Adams makes a great drunk, up there with Kat Moon (and/or Jessie Wallace). Patricia Clarkson sparkles too as her estranged, passive-aggressive mum Adora. Trouble is there's more action on Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing. The moody saga moves at the pouring speed of cold molasses. Sharp Objects clearly wants to be this year's Big Little Lies - big liquor lies, perhaps? But its sloth-like pace makes Jethro seem quick-fire. Arty camera-work, dim lighting and a tragic backstory can't disguise the fact that nothing is happening...
Unlike Fauda, the boldest drama on TV right now. The Israeli show dramatizes clashes between an undercover Israeli anti-terrorist unit and Hamas on the West Bank. It's pacey, authentic and brutal. And its even-handed approach has made it a hit with Palestinian viewers too. Netflix have two seasons of it. Get Shorty (SkyAt) is another gem. Gangland enforcer Mike Daly gets mixed up with another bunch of crooks - the Hollywood film industry. Loosely based on Elmore Leonard's novel, its stylish mix of violence and humour recalls Fargo. Chris O'Dowd excels as Daly, with Ray Romano on top form as a sleazy producer. Finally the Glamorous Ladies of Wrestling are back for a second Netflix run in Glow, grappling and grunting like Colombian footballers in 1980s Los Angeles. These are tough times for UK broadcasters who urgently need to invest in quality dramas to keep up. Why not dramatize John Niven's terrific novels, Mick Herron's spy stories, or Caimh McDonnell's Dublin trilogy? Failing that, just remake Hazell.
*TV's Top 5 female lushes: Calamity Jane (Deadwood), Patsy Stone (AbFab), Kat Moon, Shirley Carter, Karen Walker (Will & Grace).
HORIZON threatened to show us How To Build A Time Machine but mercifully didn't. Imagine the havoc that would cause. Lunatics would re-fight old wars with 23rd century weapons, nitwits would be taking selfies with dinosaurs. We'd have Helen of Troy on Love Island, the Vikings on trial for historic sex crimes, and millions popping back to 1980 to buy shares in Apple. Horizon's boffins insisted it's theoretically possible, but then so is my marriage to Rachel Riley and that won't happen either. But if it did, what odds some pin-headed time tourist would bring back a pet rat from 1346 and re-start the plague on our wedding day?
*THE safe way to time-travel? Just listen to old TV theme tunes: Dallas, Bonanza, M.O.T.D., the Benny Hill Show... the floodgates of memory open immediately. Great themes like Hawaii 5-O, The Sweeney, The Muppet Show, Python and Star Trek TNG never age. But rotten ones never improve. Yes I mean you, The One Show, Demons and Star Trek Enterprise which stank like a Klingon khazi.
*FACT you can sing the words "The pub is open now" to the Corrie theme tune. My advice is to act on it.
*BEST ever demo chant: "What do we want?" "Time travel!" "When do we want it?" "Irrelevant!"
*FANTASY TV #1: Theresa May's Prison Break: chaos as Theresa's strong and stable escape tunnel leads straight back into Juncker Jail. "A triumph" - Anna Soubry.
*SARCASM alert: with so much great sport this month you may have missed Jacqui Oatley's fascinating World Cup anecdotes about who she's met in her hotel gym. Truly she is the new Ustinov.
HOT on TV: Jordan Pickford... Amy Allen, Sharp Objects (SkyAt)... Christian Brassington, Poldark.
ROT on TV: Nick Watt on Newsnight waving his hands around in a doomed attempt to become a "character"... Stuart Halfwit on EastEnders - make it stop.
THE year's funniest TV subtitle cock-up so far was the BBC News claim that five men had been arrested for "importing classic ducks" - sadly Class A drugs, rather than Donald and Daffy in a cartoon crate. Runner-ups: the lady whose bank was "rubbing salt in her wince"... ouch! And Alan Shearer saying Spain were "missing Iniesta, he's the one with the Kwik Fit" (quick feet). BBC News once reported that "a deadly fungus is wiping out Britain's ashtrays" (ash trees). And suggested Assad was "accused of using chemical weapons against rebel forces in Surrey." (Syria). Angela Merkel apparently said our countries must get on "for the sake of sex access". If that includes Claudia Schiffer, I'm in.
*FANTASY TV #2: Pot-holing with Gemma Collins. The Towie tubby is trapped in a Thai cave as floods loom. Vote to save her... or vote for the floods. Calls free.
*THE Top Ten TV characters we never saw: 1) 'Er Indoors (Minder) 2) Mrs Wolowitz (Big Bang Theory) 3) Monkey Harris (Fools & Horses) 4) Mrs Colombo (Colombo) 5) Vera Peterson (Cheers) 6) Miss Cathcart (Hi-De-Hi!) 7) Charlie (Charlie's Angels). 8) Mr Popadopolous (EastEnders). 9) Maris Crane (Frasier). 10) Father Bigley (Father Ted).
*BOFFINS have identified a chemical that makes women talk more than men. I'm no expert but I'm guessing it's Prosecco.
*THE Union Jack on Our Girl was flying upside down - a distress signal. Someone's been reading the scripts...
*I MISSED Monster Carp on ITV4, Help me out, was it a fishing show or misspelt Keith Lemon spin-off?
SMALL Joys of TV: World's Tiniest Masterpieces. The Instant Gardener voice-over telling us "AJ's been tasked with building a wind break for Amy's drafty aperture". Marc Maron, Glow. Preacher (AmPrime). Sacred Games (Netflix). Trippier's goal against Croatia.
RANDOM irritations: Odious Ossie's death on Poldark - where's the light relief now? Borderline demented NHS overkill. Reverse sexism and double standards on EastEnders; its nonce-finder nonsense too. Kate Garraway's ill-concealed joy at May's Brexit sell-out.
SEPARATED at birth: Shirley Carter and Zelda? One a scary alien who despises all humanity, the other was in Terrahawks.
RORY on Four In A Bed was talking about a furniture malfunction when he asked: "Who hasn't had a knob drop off?" Also a question on the BBC's gender survey... possibly.
JULY 8. It's hard to believe Morwenna is refusing to bed her husband on Poldark. What's odious Ossie done to deserve such cruel rejection? Except force himself on her when she was pregnant and poorly, knock up her sister Rowella and suck other women's toes for cash... Now the randy reverend wants to get her committed to a lunatic asylum. Tsk. You can't get sicker than a quick, stiff vicar. Mercifully, dishy Doctor Dwight won't hear of it. But there must be some base men, possibly even presidents, who are thinking "Really? Conjugal rights were a thing? Hmm... where's the Tardis when you need it?"
Ossie is gutted. He thinks a woman would have to be nuts to turn him down; oily, slobbering hunka-hunka burning love that he is. The holy hypocrite still reluctantly pays Rowella for favours, despite calling her a "vile acquisitive harlot". Incredibly he's the light relief... Poldark cranked up the misery to Corrie levels last weekend. The mine flooded, Dwight saved Bobby's life. Then tragically his own baby Sarah, died... and wife Caroline walked out on their marriage. Heart-breaking stuff, although you had to wonder how an 18th century GP managed to diagnose Sarah's congenital heart defect so accurately simply by staring sadly into the poor tot's eyes.
Poldark isn't just soap in fancy dress though. The storylines ring true for the time and the male characters are drawn well. Capt Ross is a proper bloke. He's wise, loyal, loving and hard-working, but ready to leap in with both fists flying when the need arises. Consequently, women drool over him in or out of his swimming britches in a way that'd be shockingly "sexist" if a man did the same over Demelza (gloriously dubbed an "impudent kitchen troll" by Evil Geo). God knows how they coped when Ross was swinging his big pick down that mine. "Does that feel moist?" was the question. I'll say. Everything got wet very quickly. And on the show too...
*RE toe-sucking, do you think Ossie pays extra for corns, warts and bunions? Old Prudie could be walking on a fortune.
POVERTY, earthquakes, Oxfam sex scandals... haven't Haitians suffered enough without inflicting Romesh Ranganathan on them? His Misadventures series is a completely original BBC idea, and nothing at all like P.J. O'Rourke's Holidays In Hell. Or Ross Kemp's Extreme World, which ran on Sky for six years with Ross reporting on the world's worst trouble spots in. His odd. Staccato. Way. Of talking. Romesh, real first name Jonathan, did it differently though. He made it all about him. He was terrified, he was horrified... He didn't seem remotely interested in chatting to the locals, as greats like Palin or Whicker (or Ross) would have done. The ex-teacher from Crawley does have a nice line in grumpiness, like a third-rate Jack Dee (himself a second-rate Les Dawson). He goes for deadpan, although the belly blubber says deep-pan, and in fairness he's generally funnier than Sue Perkins. But he lacks empathy - the single greatest requirement for a TV travel guide - and a journalist's enquiring mind.
*FRANKIE Boyle is another comic crashing and burning on the BBC. His New World Order was dismal. It's hard to take political lectures seriously when the guy putting himself up on the moral high ground made his name from shock-comedy. Boyle's savage gags about the disabled, blind kids, people with Down's, rape and Baby P make Bernard Manning seem saintly. To paraphrase Mrs Merton what is it about England-hating, royal-baiting, Israel-slating, Trump-berating Frankie that makes the right-on Beeb employ him?
R.I.P. Peter Firmin. You might not know his name, but millions loved his creations. The Clangers, Ivor the Engine, the Soup Dragon... animator Pete designed and built them all in a disused cowshed. And with Oliver Postgate he brightened up our childhoods. My favourite was Noggin the Nog (good-natured son of Knut, king of the Nogs). But their most-loved puppet was Bagpuss, a "saggy old cloth cat, baggy and a bit loose at the seams, but Emily loved him." The Clangers were the most bizarre, mice-like critters who lived on a moon made of cheese and communicated by whistling. One NASA engineer called the show "a valiant attempt to bring a note of realism to the fantasy of the space programme".
*ANYONE else old enough to remember Torchy the Battery Boy, or Twizzle who could stretch various parts of his body? Be thankful Keith Lemon wasn't around to write those scripts... And what about Bill & Ben, the flower pot men? The way they spoke made you suspect they'd been smoking Little Weed.
HOT on TV: Gabriella Wilde, Poldark... Kylinn Mbappe... GLOW (Netflix)... Humans finale.
ROT on TV: Megan, Love Island - mean and manipulative but still not quite as cringe-making as Caroline Flack... Versailles - off with their heads... Keith Lemon Coming In America - old jokes re-heated.
I WAS surprised during the Denmark v Croatia game to learn from the ITV subtitles that Danish keeper Kasper Schmeichel "had a cupboard". The commentator had actually said Kasper had it covered... TV subtitles are a constant source of unexpected joy. Recently the Beeb told us vampires were walking onto a cricket pitch - they were umpires. And when BBC China reporter Carrie Gracie resigned, the subtitles blamed it on "unlawful papist rumination" rather than the more mundane "unlawful pay discrimination". Best of all, Football Focus pundit Kevin Kilbane revealed that Paul Clement "has a massive Japanese hand". A mind-boggling image. Sadly he'd really said Clement has "a massive job on his hands".
*HATE sport? Try Fauda on Netflix and Get Shorty on SkyAt. More on both next week.
*PIERS Morgan seems to treat his Good Morning Britain job as an audition for voice-over work. All you hear throughout the show is his voice over everyone else's.
*WATCHING Simon Barlow and his Corrie cronies you understand why tigers eat their young.
SMALL joys of TV: England finally winning a penalty shoot-out... even if that Colombia match had millions of us sweating like Big Nastie under the studio lights. Vintage Paul Daniels clips on Britain's Greatest Magician. Jessica Ellerby. Mo Gilligan. Katy Wix.
RANDOM irritations: Phil and Holly pretending to be football fans. Barrios not getting sent off. Daytime TV being saturated by adverts urging us to buy insurance to cover our funeral costs by people who seem extremely chuffed about it - perverse!
THE BBC are proud of their record on diversity. Every ethnic, sexual and gender minority is covered. There's only one group they actively ignore - the long-suffering majority who pay their wages.
SEPARATED at birth: Ollie Walters from EastEnders and UKIP leader Gerard Batten? One an underperforming character in a long-running, declining soap opera... the other married Jean Slater.
AS Wimbledon progresses listen out for more classic goofs like Tracy Austin talking about Wang Qiang last year: "Hard, flat, deep, Wang's so penetrating on grass."
JULY 1. ITV achieved the unexpected with Good Evening Britain, they made the Nightly Show look good. Piers Morgan came over like a drunk at the wheel of his own ego on the post-football one-off special. Collar askew and steam coming out of his ears, Morgan ranted over guests and got het up over an England defeat that really didn’t matter. He claimed repeatedly that Colombia were a bigger threat than Japan, even though the Samurai Blues beat Los Cafeteros 2-1 earlier in this tournament. At one stage Danny Dyer told him “Just stop talking Piers, you’re rambling on. Just calm down, it’s not the end of the world.”
The live links flopped – Robbie Lyle in Kalingrad was drowned out by chanting England fans. Andi Peters was in Emmerdale’s Woolpack asking about Corrie. And the bookings were barking. Pamela Anderson, a star for 26 years, was patronisingly introduced as “the most famous WAG in the world” because she’s dating Adil Rami. She doesn't even like football. Then Suzanna Reid grilled Jeremy Corbyn (!) about 1966. Piers asked him how he’d voted in the referendum but failed to follow through with a lie detector. Corbyn came over well, but Dyer provided the Brexit bombshell calling David Cameron a twat, twice, for abandoning his post when the referendum didn't go his way.
How much better would this show have been with Danny Baker at the helm, or even James Corden? His Paul McCartney special on Sky One was magical. We’re in an odd period for TV. Execs have clearly lost the plot. Why send Warwick Davis abseiling with Bear Grylls? Why film Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse fishing? Nice blokes, amiable company etc, but it’s not what we want from comics. Neither is Lookalikes, which resembles a feebly acted am-dram version of Stella Street. Milton Jones is funnier. In fact five minutes of Milton after the 10’oclock News every night would cheer us all up. I felt for long-suffering Suzanna. At least with the breakfast show she’s got all day to get over it.
*GMB at 9.15pm. Does this mean that we’ll get Big Narstie for breakfast next? And no, that’s not the title of Gemma Collins’s sex tape; although maybe it should be...
HBO’s robot saga Westworld is brilliant in many ways – the cast, the setting, the direction... It looks incredible. It’s also the biggest and most expensive wind-up since Jeremy Beadle’s alien. The show jumps between time-lines so often even the androids are baffled. “Is this now?” asked Bernard. Who knew? They had more flashbacks than Lost. The over-complicated scripts make the UK tax guide read like a Mister Men book. Season one ended with magnificent Maeve leading a robot uprising, but series two rarely delivered the excitement that promised. It was pre-occupied with philosophy. Could humans make choices, or are we pre-programmed to make the same old mistakes? In other words, does free will exist? To which the obvious answer is yes now get on with the bloody story. It ended with Maeve apparently dead, Dolores reborn as a clone of Charlotte Hales, and the merciless Man In Black revealed as a robot. Most hosts made it to “the Valley Beyond” – a virtual paradise, but Dolores and Bernard are heading for LA where people are more false than any ’droid.
SHIRLEY Carter isn’t the friendliest of women. She’s got a gob on her like a vuvuzela and if she stood too close to a B&Q checkout, her mush would probably ring up as a bag of spanners. Yet she’s still the only one of the Carters I can stick. Sanctimonious Linda (unlikely “ex-Page 3 girl”) is like a haemorrhoid made flesh. And EastEnders have ruined Mick by rewriting his back story. Cue unhinged Stuart, the paedo-hunting “best mate” he’s failed to mention since 2013... and didn’t even bother inviting to his wedding. Enders is awash with dismal dullards: dimbo Robbie, shifty Hunter, alleged “businessman” Ian... Many quick-thinking Cockneys have grafted their way to millions – George Walker, Charlie Mullins, Alan Sugar... but never in Walford. The writers despise free enterprise so much they’ve made Beale an anti-businessman, a miserly deluded weasel. The soap has had it. Rip it up and start again.
HOT on TV: Milton Jones... The Bridge finale... US ambassador Woody Johnson, Inside The American Embassy.
ROT on TV: Denmark vs France – duller than the EastEnders chess saga... Britain’s Best Junior Doctors with dreary Jo Brand – more pointless than Pointless, DNR... Bear’s Mission.
WES bedded Laura on Love Island and then brazenly “cracked on” with Megan Parts-Out Hands-On. Sorry, Barton-Hanson. Livid Laura branded smirking Megan “a slag” and “a stupid bitch”. But the biggest loser here is Adam whose king stud reputation is in tatters. His new flame Zara got the tin-tack. Drippy hippy Eyal went too. The women decided to give peevish Dr Alex another chance. God knows why. Alex is living proof that on this show nice guys finish last. Nice girls don’t fare much better, but Dani Dyer is a sweetheart. Let’s hope her relationship with Jack survives the producers’ cynical deployment of his ex-girlfriend Ellie...
*IT was NHS week on the Beeb. Yes, a public body with trust issues in serious long-term decline made some shows about the health service.
*TV, like politicians, make a fetish of the NHS. Of course our dedicated doctors and nurses deserve praise but let’s get real. The health service wastes millions and has become second rate. Chucking cash at the NHS without root-and-branch reform is like sticking a plaster on an amputated leg.
*GEMMA Collins has a sex-tape. It’s pretty strong stuff. Apparently she ties the guy to the bed and then goes off and eats lard.
SMALL joys of TV: South Korea dumping Germany. Love Island newbie Savannah. Nature’s Turtle Nursery. New Glow (Netflix). Lionel Messi. Forged In Fire (History). Guns N Roses, Download (Sky Arts). Angharad Rees clips, Cult of Sunday Night.
RANDOM irritations: Hellish hour long soap episodes. Virtue-signalling bell-end Adam Hills. The institutionalised and irrational hatred of England and English patriotism that infects public bodies, broadcasters and most of the chattering classes.
RANDOM questions: whatever happened to England World Cup songs? Does Joachim Low have that haircut beamed in direct from the 70s? Is the Irish town of Muff twinned with Munchen in Germany? How do so many Slaters fit into one ’ahrse on DeadEnders? Either the Beeb use Tardis technology or those bedroom walls are elastic.
FATHER & Secret Son? Christopher Biggins as odious Ossie Wentworth in Poldark & Christian Brassington in the same role today...
TV Maths. Herman Munster minus his neck bolts and plus NHS specs = Richard Osman.