BUSHELL ON THE BOX
Jan 21. Mystic chanting, pagan rituals, bare breasts, trippy visions, extreme violence... Life in Ancient Britain was like one long Led Zeppelin after-show party, according to Britannia. The Sky Atlantic drama is set in 43AD as the Romans under Aulus Plautius invade these islands for the second time. Unlike Caesar who famously came, saw and conked out, we know Aulus eventually triumphs. “Behold gods of Britannia,” he announces after his legions devastate a Druid ceremony. “I am Rome. Where I walk is Rome.” Naturally the woad-daubed locals would prefer him to roam elsewhere (insert your own woad rage gag here).
Sinister Druid sorcerer Veran rattles the invaders but the Brits are hopelessly split. Rival tribes hate each other even more than Theresa May’s Cabinet do. Zoe Wanamaker plays Regni leader Antedia, the angriest queen this side of Elton John in a tantrum. Her bitter enemies are the Cantii led by King Pellanor. Boudicca’s uprising is 17 years away, but warrior women abound. There’s Pellanor’s rebel daughter Kerra and Amena, his son Phelan’s scheming sexpot wife who has convinced her hubby that she’s only taken a hunky lover from another tribe in the interests of diplomacy. A proper Cantii, you might think.
Britannia is being touted as “the new Game of Thrones”, presumably by people who never watched the original. Thrones is a far more complex and serious affair. The tone here is lighter. The script almost winks at us. The cast are terrific – especially Mackenzie Crook as the scary, skeletal Veran who resembles a living corpse. And instead of fearsome dragons, Druids raise the dead or mesmerise their enemies. Crusty outcast Divis the Div dives under the sea in broad daylight and doesn’t come up until the dead of night, like some first century Aquaman. He also takes young Cait, their answer to Arya Stark, under his wing. As history it’s off-kilter. Plautius landed on the east Kent coast but Britannia is clearly not shot in southern England. In fairness though, it does serve up Wanamaker in a chariot and Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man as its theme. Barking, lavish and full of promise, Britannia may yet rule the airwaves.
ROAST Battle has comics ripping into each other for laughs. “Be funny,” Jimmy Carr told them. “This isn’t Mock The Week.” Suzi Ruffel scored a direct hit on Tom Allen, saying “If you were any more camp you’d be in Calais with a Syrian inside you.” Daniel Sloss took down tubby black US feminist Desiree Burch calling her “Malcolm Triple X-L”, “Rosa Porks” and “Martin Luther Burger King”. And Ed Gamble nailed Jimmy saying he looked “like a marionette of a paedophile” – a line many would find offensive, to paedophiles. Sadly the judges – Carr, Katherine Ryan and Russell Brand – are more adept at comedy insults than many of the two-bob competitors who can’t even swear inventively. Carr said of Ryan: “She once worked in Hooters, the restaurant famous for its sexy waitresses – I’m guessing in the kitchen.” And described Brand as “what Amy Winehouse might’ve looked like after gender realignment surgery.” Ouch. He’s the master baiter all right.
BRITAIN needs satire like the NHS needs a miracle. Can The Mash Report supply it? The first series was smug, not very funny and hopelessly devoted to bashing Brexit and Trump. In complete contrast, series two was smug, unfunny and tore into... Trump and Brexit. Our bold would-be satirists never find the time to mock EU corruption, Corbyn’s silence over Iran or the unelected power of the Lords. Instead we get Nish Kumar trying to be John Oliver mixed with a duff version of The Day Today. Only Geoff Norcott challenges the depressing group-think bleating. On metrosexuals, Geoff noted: “A lot of women want their men to stop crying and bleed the radiator.” If he and Andrew Lawrence had a topical show, it might be worth watching.
HOT on TV: Annabel Scholey, Britannia (SkyAt)... Donna Air, Dancing On Ice... Inside No 9’s backwards episode.
ROT on TV: Silent Witness – makes Doctor Who seem realistic... The Mash Report – dud spuds... barking mad Next Of Kin – beyond our ken.
ITV’s Britain’s Favourite Dogs was 150minutes long, and still didn’t ask the big question: if dogs are man’s best friend why do we neuter them? What kind of mate does that? The loyal, lovable Labrador was top of the pups, of course. Labs are friendly, dependable, easily trained, and make the best guide dogs and hearing dogs – like my Ozzy. Granted they’re greedier than Homer Simpson at an all-you-can-eat buffet, but it’s a small price to pay for a life-time of devotion.
*BRITAIN’S Favourite Dog clashed with Kat Moon star Jessie Wallace on Harry Hill’s Tea Time. Coincidence?
*OVER on Celebrity Big Brother Rachel Johnson moaned that the other inmates had “forced me into a position” which, yada-yada-yada, had left her with “no sleep, and chained to a stove.” Blimey. That beats Ashley’s showmance into a cocked hat.
*WILL Ash go from Made In Chelsea to Laid In Elstree?
*RYLAN told Lorraine he’d left This Morning because he’d worked in TV for five years and needed a break. Poor love. Millions of factory workers, nurses, fishermen and labourers must feel his pain.
*HOW to make Dancing On Ice watchable: 3) Cut the show back to the half-hour slot it merits. 2) Up the danger with strategically placed paraffin heaters. 1) Meet the new judges, four half-starved polar bears...
*WAS the person who pinched Donna Air’s ice-skates, the same toe-rag who nicked her accent?
*ITV’s Lorraine Kelly wants a shot at SAS: Who Dares Wins. There’s an image. Wouldn’t Ruth Langsford have more of a chance? She manages the “mountain sickener” with Eamonn, every time she goes on top.
SMALL joys of TV: Fast Show re-runs on Gold – scorchio! Rob Brydon. Brianne Delcourt. Real Football Factories (Netflix). Roast Battle (Com Central). The Coronation. John Humphreys. Cyrille Regis’s thunderbolt goal against Norwich, 1982. Nice one Cyrille, R.I.P.
RANDOM irritations: The One Show theme tune. CBB’s Bit On The Side insulting our intelligence more than usual by booking “psychic medium and aura reader” Alex Gibbs. Claudia’s squinting – buy some bloody glasses and maybe try applying half a ton less mascara.
SEPARATED at birth: Hugo from Inside No 9 and Michael McIntyre? One was killed by a hired assassin, the other gets away with murder.
JAN 14. WASHED-OUT comic Len ended Inside No 9 on with a gag Les Dawson would have been proud of. “I’ve spent the last four years looking for my mother-in-law’s killer... ” he said, pausing for a beat and then adding: “But no-one will do it.” The show sent up 70s-style comedy double acts with unexpected affection. Cheese & Crackers were a Northern duo from “the arse end of variety”. They weren’t in Eric & Ernie’s league. “We weren’t even Mike & Bernie Winters”. Reunited after decades, straight-man Tommy (“I’m Thomas now”) was a po-faced businessman who hated their end of the pier past and paid staff to remove the corny old clips from YouTube. But pot-less Len, a lush, revelled in it, recalling the happy days they’d topped the bill at the Leeds City Varities with “Mick Miller, Bobby Knutt and the Grumbleweeds”.
Len had killed their act with a careless incident in Bernie Clifton’s dressing room, which was alluded to throughout the episode, much as Frank Carson’s dressing room once was on Celebrity Big Brother. But whereas in real life, Linda Nolan’s late husband had shamelessly stolen Frank’s money, hapless drunk Len had thrown up – “the ostrich had to be destroyed,” Tommy recalled ruefully. He’d then collapsed leaving Tom to die a thousand deaths onstage.
The men bickered their way through their old act. It was mostly dated but Len’s mime routine with his coat sleeve was a joy. Then came the unexpected twist though. Len had never been there! This was his funeral. The memories and recriminations had all been in Tommy’s head. The final scene, with the two singing their Tears Of Laughter theme song and banging out gags was both poignant and hilarious. For all their corn, the fictional pair had a kind of magic about them, just as the likes of Freddie Starr and Charlie Drake once had. The idea that yesterday’s comics all stank is a myth. In 1985, Cannon & Ball put more bums on seats than Springsteen, and he sold out two nights at Wembley Stadium. Their TV shows weren’t great. But live, the ex-welders from Oldham had real chemistry and genuine appeal. Today’s TV makes plenty of room for cutting edge comedy. Some of it is terrific. But sometimes you just hanker for a noisy twerp with a bad perm twanging his braces.
THE big lesson of Celebrity Big Brother is it doesn’t matter what gender you were born, it’s what you are inside that counts. And a dickhead will always be a dickhead... Step forward India Willoughby, a needy, attention-seeking, self-absorbed sphincter of a trans-woman who turns everything into “me-me-me”. This stroppy dullard hung over the show’s first week like a cloud, wafting from row to row, taking offence at the drop of a personal pronoun and refusing to accept genuine apologies. But the former regional newsreader was also canny enough to generate other stories. India claimed she’d had her first female orgasm watching a Dalek, that she’s “drag queen phobic”, that she’d been kidnapped by Martians... Of course she had. Let’s hope they return soon and tuck the great flouncing nuisance away like Courtney Act’s tackle.
*TWITTER twonks threatened to punch Ann Widdecombe in the throat for expressing her opinions. Since when was it acceptable to advocate violence against a pensioner, or anyone, simply because they have a different view from you? What happened to freedom of speech? In today’s endless avalanche of virtue-signalling “You can’t say that” seems to have trumped Voltaire.
DO we really need two tortuous hours of Dancing On Ice? It wouldn’t be so bad if they were action-filled, but last Sunday’s six skating couples competed for a total of just 12minutes. The ad breaks were more than double that. ITV axed the format in 2014 but they’re so convinced it could be their Strictly they’ve even brought in their director. It still feels like the BBC1 hit’s poor cousin, though. The names are smaller; the routines are less impressive. Even the rink seems to have shrunk. Still, it was nice to see Love Island’s Kem without Chris. For a while I’d assumed the two had been spot-welded together.
*SHOWS ITV should revive #1: An Audience With for comics. There’s a whole legion of stand-ups who could refresh the format: Lee Mack, Jimmy Carr, Peter Kay, Micky Flanagan. Not to mention Jim Davidson. #2 Spitting Image – our useless “leaders” deserve to be mercilessly ridiculed on a weekly basis.
HOT on TV: SAS: Who Dares Wins... Jess Shears... Inside No 9... Vikings (History)... Hard Sun – even though it’s bonkers.
ROT on TV: India Willoughby – a migraine in human form... Dancing On Ice – total bolero... Antony Cotton– rotten... Wedding Day Winners – I don’t.
WHAT’S holding back White Working Class Men, asks Prof Green? Hmm. Communities torn apart through lack of jobs, careless immigration policies and rocketing house prices courtesy the super-rich snapping up property as investments... Throw in the devaluation of family, dubious teaching priorities, the decline of trade unions and widespread dependency culture and we’re halfway to an explanation. TV’s constant downer on men, working class culture and aspiration can’t help. It’s hard to believe we used to have a self-education movement. The white working class are the last group in the country that it’s entirely permissible to demonize.
*HARD Sun is brilliant IF you totally suspend belief. I can buy the murderous spooks, bent cops and the iffy science. I can even tolerate the writer apparently not having heard of DSMA notices. But the secret loft in Elaine’s hotel room? That’s mental. Where do you find hotels like that?
*WHY aren’t there more lard-arses in soaps? Look what they eat – chips, fry-ups, kebabs, deep-fried rat from McKlunky’s... They booze every day... Their four basic food groups are pies, spuds, grease and alcohol. They should all look like Heather Trott.
*ENDERS update: Abi’s still brain-dead. So’s Kym... Still no sign of Tanya. Has she eloped with Dot?
*PLEASE note: Masood’s uncle is called Arshad. For the Arsh-ole, see Robbie Jackson.
SMALL joys of TV: Harry Hill. Frank Skinner. Lethal Weapon. Candice’s tasty turnover (Dancing On Ice). Jeremy Kyle falling over. Big Cats. Anita Rani’s enthusiastic udder-cleaning technique on Countryfile – can the smile ever leave her husband’s face?
RANDOM irritations: Over-blown TV formats. EastEnders re-inventing Mel Owen as just another two-bob villain. James Norton in McMafia – he’s more Dermot O’Dreary than Bond. Casting directors who clearly believe police DCIs are male models in their 30s.
TV questions: Was the Dalek who turned India on chanting “Ejaculate!” or “Emasculate!”? If The Orville’s star-trekking divorcees Ed and Kelly got back together would she burn up on re-entry? Would we take Brian Cox seriously if his first name was Isaac?
SEPARATED at birth: Jeremy Corbyn and Scrooge? One hates spending his own money, the other can’t wait to spend yours.
CELEB maths: Stanley Baxter + Rebekah Brooks’s hair = Phyllis Logan on Girlfriends.
Jan 7. There are people out there, poor deluded souls, who will tell you that EastEnders is getting better. Perhaps they could explain, via their nurses or carers, the merits of Aidan’s big heist. It was like a cross between Reservoir Clods and Carry On Clueless. If this is a resurgent EastEnders, gawd help us when it goes off again. The plot boiled down to: Let’s stage an armed robbery on our own doorstep! Right outside The Arches! With wooden guns! Aidan assembled a crack team of hardened blaggers for the job: his former cellmate Phil, a man who’d get winded playing cribbage; dimwit life-model Keanu; and career non-criminal Mick Carter who the script contrived to arrive in comedy bull-dog slippers. That’s Lock, Stock & Some Shocking Apparel.
Aidan also roped in Vincent the grass, so he could menace him for stitching up his brother... something he could’ve done just as easily in The Albert. So not exactly Ocean’s Eleven... not even his third team reserves.
Aidan’s blag involved nicking his ex’s cash from a van. In the process, his gang of clowns were clocked by Bernadette, Masood and his new relatives... and stalked by Linda and Shirley. Naturally, it all went pear-shaped. The security geezers had real shooters and Mick got clipped in the bicep by his old mate Halfway (AKA Halfwit) who we’d never heard of and no serious villain would ever hire. Aidan hid the loot in a coffin at Billy’s funeral parlour and surprise, surprise it got buried. Then it vanished, suggesting the seventh man on the team was either Lance Burton or Dynamo. Laugh? You’ll never start.
Meanwhile Tanya, whose daughters had just plummeted from a ledge wider than ’Evver Trott’s aris, disappeared rather than, say, visiting them in hospital like the loving mum she is supposed to be. (Albeit a loving mum who once buried their father alive... ) Max doesn’t have much luck. His brother abducted and battered him. His daughter ran him over. His dad (genial Jim) tortured him as a child. Phil and Beale then framed him for Lucy’s murder, and richly deserve the revenge he’d planned for them... If only Max had remembered that his late brother Derek had been a proper gangster. He could’ve just approached Del’s old pals, taken out a contract on them and spared himself the heart-ache... .
AH TV’s greatest moments – Basil Fawlty thrashing his car, Basil and the Germans, Den handing Ange divorce papers, Spike Milligan calling Prince Charles “the little grovelling bastard”... all were missing from ITV’s lazy Greatest TV Moments clip-show. As were Steptoe, Minder, Yosser’s headbutt, Tony Hancock’s blood donor and his immortal 12 Angry Men spoof: “Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?” They picked the wrong Beadle prank, forgot Corrie’s love triangle, and swerved The Sopranos completely. You waited in vain for “You ain’t my muvva”, and The Prisoner’s “I’m not a number, I am a free man!” Del-Boy’s fall won outright, but classic Only Fools clips could have filled an hour on their own – the chandelier, “Cwying”, the blow-up dolls... We don’t make ’em like that anymore, as Xmas TV sadly reminded us.
I HATED the opening half-hour of McMafia, with its dull pace, microscopic subtitles and James Norton wandering around like a stunned mullet... But I’m glad I stuck with it. Two episodes in, most viewers will have been sucked into the web of international intrigue as surely as Norton’s Alex Godman has been. He started out a clean-cut hedge fund manager untarnished by his Russian family’s criminal background, and is now cutting deals with Polish hoods and up to his neck in iffy money transfers. The show has intelligence and authenticity, taking in several continents and an array of global crimes including counterfeiting, human trafficking and no doubt a UK railway board – surely the world’s greatest racket. The violence when it comes is all the more shocking for its brutality. It’s proper grownup telly, with a moral – never, ever take a caviar knife for granted.
HOT on TV: Eddie “The Beast” Hall, World’s Strongest Man... Black Mirror (Netflix)... McMafia... Inside No 9... Rob “Voltage” Cross.
ROT on TV: Guess The Star – guess the point... Girlfriends – weak Mellor-drama... All Star Musicals – hit more wrong notes than Les Dawson.
MEN stink, women are terrific. That’s the message of Kay Mellor’s Girlfriends... and virtually every other modern TV drama. See Liar, Top Of The Lake, The Handmaid’s Tale etc. Blokes are odious creeps, women are virtuous survivors. It’s like Rose West never happened. So cheer the all-female (largely unknown and very posh) starting line-up of “Celebrity” Big Brother. And ridicule any rash Doctor Who fan who dares to question Jodie Whittaker’s appointment... So much easier just to change the Doc’s gender than go to the trouble of creating a brand new sci-fi action woman, don’cha think? TV dullards say they want to redress the times when female characters were weak, which makes sense... if you’ve forgotten Emma Peel, Cathy Gale, Ace, Xena, Captain Janeway, Ena Sharples etc. But why deprive boys of decent male role models?
*HERE’S what worries me about the new Doctor Who. Imagine she has a skin-full on the first night, wakes up hazy the next morning not remembering regenerating, and reaches down... I mean, I get cranky enough when I can’t find my phone.
*ITV announcer: “The New Year is going from bad to worse, here’s Coronation Street.” Well at least he’s watching it.
*MEMO to Corrie’s bigots: the 1950s called, they want their insults back.
*LUCY Porter, 4ft 11, on her 6ft5 husband: “In the bedroom we look like a ventriloquism act that’s gone to a really dark place.”
*AND They’re Off? It soon was...
*OH dear. BBC subtitles had Iran’s President Rohani blaming his country’s enemies for “instigating the armrest” – rather than unrest. CBB subtitle cock-ups included “imewty” for immunity, mildew for milieu and “I was born Cath Lynn” (Catholic).
*MIRIAM Margoyles in Chicago? The Windy City just got windier.
SMALL joys of TV: Mavis Staples putting the nanny (and the hoot) in Hootenanny. The Beat & George McCrae too. Jess Impiazi. Hunted. Derry Girls. The Real T. Rex. New Will & Grace. Bruce Dickinson, University Challenge. Celeb Mastermind – even if we don’t know half of the “celebs” and most are as thick as mince.
RANDOM irritations: Test Match umpires. Miriam Margoyles. C5 nitwits warning us The Two Ronnies contains “mildly offensive language” – like what? John Robins still banging on about his break-up with Sara Pascoe – I’ve seen their acts, they’ve both had a lucky escape.
CELEB maths: Amanda Barrie from Carry On Cleo + clown wig = Sia.
SEPARATED at birth: Waldorf from the Muppets and Eric Pollard? One a cantankerous but strangely likeable old git; the other’s a puppet.