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.
Aug 9. THEY’RE at it everywhere on Harlots – in bedrooms, down side-streets, up back alleys... It’s like Geordie Shore with price-tags. Sam Morton’s ample charms are over-flowing as bosomy brothel madam Margaret Wells. Her gin-sozzled mother had sold Margaret’s virginity when she was 12 for “the price of a pair of shoes”. I’m guessing brothel creepers. So she’s put her daughters on the game. Charlotte is Soho’s hottest courtesan, and Lucy’s innocence has just gone under the, um, hammer. Charlotte is played by Downton’s Lady Sybil. If it'd been Lady Mary no-one would have batted an eye. Mercifully Violet Crawley isn’t alive to see her shame.
Margaret’s biggest rival is la-di-dah Lydia Quigley who thinks her own bawdy house is a cut above because her girls parlez francais and play the piano. Quigley quickly sets the law on Wells. Will her saucy strumpets come quietly? Only if you pay ’em to. Mercifully, Harlots isn’t the grim hoes-with-woes feminist tract it would have been had the BBC made it themselves (although most of the male characters are as thick as mince). These happy hookers enjoy their work. “I’ve ridden hard to be with you,” says one lusty toff. “Then I must ride harder,” grins Charlotte coquettishly. And when Emily is described “as looking for a position”, she replies “I’m never short of a position.”
The modern music on the soundtrack jars, and it all looks absurdly clean. Where are the chamber pots? The horse crap? London didn’t have sewers for another 100 years. It must have stunk like a butcher’s bin. Harlots was inspired by Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, a genuine 18th century directory which rated their bedroom skills and listed their prices. One review described fat Fanny as “a fine bouncing comely wench, not amiss in summer barring perspiration”. It was a regular Yellow Pages of Lust. One in five women was of easy virtue in the London of 1763. How things change. Nowadays on reality TV they give it away for a litre of cider.
ON The Deceived, naive/dull student Ophelia fell for her randy, charismatic English professor whose wife, a successful author, then perished in a mystery house fire. Cue echoes of Hitchcock’s Rebecca, possible ghosts, a heavy-handed soundtrack and a small part for Normal People’s Paul Mescal – a rare chance to see him with his clothes on. (After all the fuss, you’d expect his part to be larger but hey ho.) The pay-off? Ophelia was gas-lighted. The wife wasn’t dead and the Prof was a two-faced murdering plagiarist. The beard was the give-away. The oddest thing? A Charlton Athletic sticker in an Irish village boozer. Given the Addicks’ ownership issues, I think Charlton fans are the real Deceived...
HEROES, re-running on BBC2, pits a small group of mutants against the coming apocalypse... which is pretty much the plot of every Marvel movie you ever saw, not to mention The Umbrella Academy. High school cheerleader Claire is indestructible and self-healing. There’s a telepathic cop and a would-be congressman who can fly (our politicians can too, but only by the seat of their pants). Nice guy Hiro, who controls the space-time continuum, has been collared for a brutal crime he didn’t commit; while Niki is an internet stripper with a split personality and a violent other self (so, Stacey Slater with a webcam). The only super-hero challenge left is to dream up abilities that haven’t been done before. Like, say, the power to diffuse Twitter mobs... or to make sense of the government’s Covid advice.
HOT on TV: The Edge... Ali Larter, Heroes... Line Of Duty and Lennie James... new The Umbrella Academy (Netflix)... Chernobyl repeats (SkyAt).
ROT on TV: Joanna Lumley’s Unseen Adventures – unwatchable leftovers... clunking Corrie Covid scenes... A Suitable Boy – an unsuitable waste of £16m.
ONCE Upon A Time In Iraq is an outstanding documentary series that tells the tragic story of the Iraq war from the viewpoint of those involved – from US soldiers to the Iraqis themselves. It’s a heart-breaking catalogue of errors and ill-considered strategies. One jaw-dropping moment came when CIA analyst John Nixon revealed that Saddam Hussein had told him: “You people don’t understand what you’ve done. Iraq is going to become the playing field for international terrorism. You have created the conditions for more terrorism, not less”. He was right. Shocking US blunders bequeathed al-Qaeda. Then Isis...
*TV has gone all déjà vu (in Harlots case that’s déjà blue) but Jed Mercurio’s Line Of Duty is still absolutely stunning. Why not re-run Jed’s Bodies too?
*IN Prodigal Son poisonous snakes appeared out of the mouth of a murder victim. Cause of death? Reptile dysfunction...
*TEN of the TOWIE twerps are millionaires. Blimey. Imagine how rich they’d be if they had any talent.
THE BBC will “entertain” us this Autumn with “dancing, drag and dogs”. I wish they wouldn’t. This means: a copycat version of RuPaul’s Drag Race, televised dog grooming, and a Covid-restricted version of Strictly. On the plus side with that fringe and a facemask we won’t see Claudia at all.
SMALL Joys of TV: Rob Beckett’s Celebs Go Dating voice-over. The Go-Go’s (SkyDocs). Everything: The Real Thing Story. Long Lost Family. The Umbrella Academy sound track. Sam Morton’s heaving cleavage.
RANDOM Irritations: Muppets Now failing to hit the laugh ratio of the original – what would Waldorf & Statler say? Sky dramatising the sordid work of paedo-favourite Anais Nin. Ollie Ollerton getting axed from SAS: Who Dares Wins.
TV questions: how can a book as thick as A Suitable Boy inspire a drama so thin? Was the dirty dominatrix on Little Birds played by I.P. Freely? If Harlots was happening now would gimp masks be compulsory? (With 18th Century sanitation, gas masks would certainly be advisable).
SEPARATED at birth: Gareth Bale and Grom Hellscream? One had half a chance of playing for Real Madrid on Friday, the other is Gareth Bale.
Aug 2. WHAT an opener for A Suitable Boy! What a swirling kaleidoscope of colours! It was like an explosion in Michael Portillo’s wardrobe. If only the show had been that exciting. I’ve seen funeral processions move at a sprightlier pace. The “next week” trailer had more action than the first fifty minutes did. What we have here is a glorified soap set against mounting tensions between Hindus and Muslims in post-partition Indian. Sweet Hindu student Lata is pursued/stalked by Kabir, a secret Muslim; so a bit of Romeo & Juliet forbidden love. Feckless man-child Maan beds Saeeda, a singing courtesan twice his age. (Seedy boy shags Saeeda Bai... ) And Meenakshi, whose husband Arun gleefully fondles her boobs, is cheating on him. She also had his dad’s medals melted down for earrings. (The breast-kneading scene was inserted by adaptor Andrew Davies. Knowing his work we can expect plenty more, um, insertions along the way). The comedy comes from the roly-poly Raja, a charmless berk who can’t even sit down unaided. And bad-boy Maan who pushes the Home Minister into a fountain – a scene genuinely inspired by TV’s Dynasty. The heavy drama comes when Muslims protesting against a new Hindu temple are gunned down. The series is based on Vikram Seth’s novel which is not much thicker than an Indian elephant, and bloody hard to condense into six hours. In fairness, it looks terrific. But why exactly have the BBC spent £16million of our lolly on it? Surely not just so the self-loathing twerps can boast that it has no white actors? (Tsk, where’s the diversity now?) Davies needs to raise the pace drastically and flesh out the characters to justify that big spend.
*WILL we ever see Lata with Jools Holland?
*THEY need a Geordie in the cast, if only to say “Calm down Maan, man.”
ON French sci-fi thriller The Last Wave, surfers are swallowed up by a cloud formation so strange even Michael Fish would panic (ask your granddad). When they return they have super-powers. One kid has x-ray vision, one can cure sick animals by touch (Noel Fitzpatrick eat your heart out) and one is super-randy... so she’s already been booked for Love Island 2021. The unluckiest sap has super-migraines, which is like winning the lottery and having the cheque bounce. It’s comfortably the worst paranormal development since Stone Boy who could turn to stone, and, er, stand stock still. The creepy cloud is probably nature’s revenge for humanity’s ecological crimes. I believe it’s twinned with the dark one that hovers permanently over Janet Street-Porter’s furrowed brow.
WELL done BBC for the virtual Bafta ceremony. Against the odds it was almost as dull as the real thing. If only they’d thought to have an audience of cardboard cut-outs like football matches do, full of losing actors with fixed grins, their eyes blazing with envy and rage. As is now traditional, the host was wrong, the jokes were weak and some results were ludicrous. But surely we can agree Chernobyl was 2019’s greatest drama, Glenda Jackson was stunning in Elizabeth Is Missing, most TV comedies aren’t remotely funny, and Lee Mack is at his stonking best on Would I Lie To You?
HOT on TV: Shahama Goswani, A Suitable Boy... Ellen Thomas, In The Long Run.
ROT on TV: Fort Salem – more duffy than Buffy... Celebs Go Virtual Dating... Floor Is Lava – show is flawed.
ANVIL! The Story Of Anvil! wouldn’t have happened without This Is Spinal Tap, and in parts it’s almost as funny. The Canadian heavy metal band are 80s also-rans still attempting to make it big in their fifties. “Everything on the tour went drastically wrong,” admits lead guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow. “But at least there was a tour for it to go wrong on.” There’s a deliberate nod to Spinal Tap with a quick shot of an amp volume dial going up to 11. And an accidental one – Anvil’s drummer is Robb Reiner, while Tap was directed by Rob Reiner. Spooky.
*THE government is searching for a suitable spokesman to front their press conferences. Paul Chuckle could use the work.
*DO those “Escape to BBC2” trailers work? They make me want to escape from it.
*PERRY Mason has finally become a lawyer in the new Sky Atlantic series. All previous objections are over-ruled.
*PLEASE note: Get Shorty is a rather good US drama import, and not, as previously thought, Boris’ codename for his campaign against Nicola Sturgeon.
*WASN’T Anthony moving? Jimmy McGovern plays the heart strings like a Stradivarius.
SMALL Joys of TV: Anvil! The Story Of Anvil (Sky Docs). Norsemen (Netflix). Gospel According To Mica. Aretha Franklyn clips (BBC4). Elizabeth 1st exclaiming “I like my seamen” on Sir Francis Drake (TPTV).
RANDOM Irritations: C4 giving attention-seeking creep Steve Bergwall a platform. BBC4’s “summer TV classics” edition of What We Were Watching including Notting Hill riot footage. That’s entertainment?
SEPARATED at birth: Bernie Feldstein (How To Build A Girl) and Princess Beatrice? Not another Prince Andrew scandal...
TV QUESTIONS: why would a Master Chef do canteen cooking? If cycling is so slimming why has Boris got that blubber? If we’re serious about obesity why isn’t Bake Off on pay-per-view? And if it’s right to have “colour-blind” casting in Victorian England, why is it wrong in 1950s India?