BUSHELL ON THE BOX
JAN 13. ICONS successfully shafted my New Year’s resolution to stop shouting at the telly. What a travesty! Why is David Bowie pop’s only contender? Was he really more significant than Elvis or Aretha Franklin? Imagine McCartney or Elton John watching this at home thinking, “How much more have I got to do?” In typical patronising, we-know-best style, the Beeb want us to pick the greatest icon of the 20th century, but we can only vote for people they chose. Like Gertrude Bell. She certainly achieved tremendous things but how many people could pick her out of a police line-up? Ditto Roosevelt. The 1930s US President was a great man; and a reminder that the American dream once meant more than just trampling over the other guy... but what would his picture score on Pointless? It’s Che Guevara’s image that lives on, not FDR’s.
Tanni Grey-Thompson was a magnificent athlete, winning eleven golds in her paralympic career, but is she really a bigger sporting contender than George Best, Ronnie O’Sullivan or Jimmy Wilde?
You can understand the BBC wanting to keep mass murderers like Mao, Adolf and Uncle Joe at bay, but it’s perverse to blank Sinatra, Dylan and the Queen. Groucho, John Wayne, Johnny Cash and Otis are all AWOL, along with Jagger, Bogart, Louis Armstrong, Attlee, Dali, Hendrix, Freddie Mercury, Jesse Owen and Ronald Reagan. Reducing the series to box-ticking exercise ensured it reflects BBC-approved values, i.e. the views of what Clarkson called “seven people in Islington” (terribly unfair on the 37 who live in Hampstead). And they really didn’t want Churchill to win, hitting the great bulldog with digs about the Bengal famine (caused by Japan occupying Burma in 1943... when there just might have been a few other things going on) and allegations of racism. By today’s standards Winnie had some dodgy views, but so did most people decades ago – H.G. Wells supported eugenics, Castro persecuted gays, T.S. Eliot was a raving anti-Semite... Besides, Gallipoli was Winston’s real Achilles heel; that and the failed Norway campaign. Niall Ferguson would’ve put Churchill’s case better than Sir Trevor McDonald, himself a broadcasting colossus compared to Dermot O’Dreary... Questions kept occurring. If this was about British icons, where was Tommy Cooper? If it’s global, where’s Pavarotti? Why does it have to be a half-baked contest anyway? Why not just celebrate the greats?
WHAT a start to the year! We’ve had more new TV shows than there are bloody atrocities in Luther. And the funniest by a country mile was... Silent Witness! In one laugh-out-loud scene, a cop was dispatched to confront a potential murderer who was using a public phone (younger readers, ask your Nan). The phone box was completely empty, but she still opened the door and looked inside. Who did she think the killer-caller was, Ant-Man? Then she glanced up the street and radioed in: “Area searched. No trace.” With brains like that she’ll be Met Commissioner by Christmas. The barking mad BBC drama is the gift that keeps us giggling. British forensics experts call killers “perps” and solve crimes that baffle Plod. The scripts come with a right-on subtext. It’s like ishoo bingo: transphobia, tick, evil Tory cuts, tick, dodgy squaddie... HOUSE!
HAS poor Rita been pranked on Corrie? On Wednesday she had an advert in the Kabin window for a “French polisher” – unsavoury slang for the sort of service Hilda Ogden never supplied, not even on honeymoon. By ’eck, if the next ad says “beautiful butterfly needs mounting” we’ll know for sure that a red light district is operating within easy reach of Rosamund Street.
HOT on TV: Martin Clunes, Manhunt... SAS: Who Dares Wins... Hunted... When Heroes Fly, Netflix... The Paras: Men Of War.
ROT on TV: Nish Kumar, Question Time – Death In Paradise has more depth... Icons – more chronic than iconic... Cleaning Up – turning off.
BREXIT: The Uncivil War was weird, messy and unsatisfying, a bit like adding lentils to a jam butty. Benedict Cabbage-patch was mesmerising as geeky free-thinking Leave campaign co-ordinator Dominic Cummings, even if his accent went around the houses like a plastered postman. But his performance was sabotaged by the nitwittery of other Leave politicians who were all written as cartoon grotesques. The “impartial” Channel 4 drama had Aaron Banks played by the bloke best known as cranky Corrie villain Jez Quigley. No bias there, then. In contrast, Remain main man Craig Oliver (Rory Kinnear) was calm, reasonable and articulate – a portrayal no doubt completely uninfluenced by show adviser Craig Oliver. Brexit? Botched it.
*STUART Halfway’s a staunch Remainer – there’s no getting rid of that prat.
ITV have chosen to ignore my advice to liven up Dancing On Ice with a few strategically placed paraffin heaters. A shame. Great ice-skating can be magical. Unfortunately most of their skaters fall shorter than Jane Danson’s skirt. Gemma Collins has the easy grace of a P&O ferry. The only “triple axel” the GC knows is the truck that transports her to and from the rink.
*I LOVE Cathy on Two Doors Down but if she were your neighbour in a Glasgow suburb wouldn’t you be tempted to move to Arbroath or possibly rural Nebraska just to get the hell away from her?
*ALFIE on EastEnders ain’t a bad bloke. He’s just fallen in with the wrong crowd – his family.
*WILL Amazon boss Jeff Bezos’ divorce be a mini-series? Imagine the divorce papers being delivered by one of his drivers... arriving late, in an over-sized box, and tossed under next door’s hedge...
SMALL joys of TV: Ragnar v Rollo on Vikings, 5Spike. Mark Little duncing on ice. Catastrophe. Doon Mackichen, Two Doors Down. Neal Brennan, Netflix. Adeel Akhtar, Les Mis. Jameela Jamil, The Good Place. The Orville, Fox. Father Brown. On Drums... Stewart Copeland!
RANDOM irritations:. Clearly staged “random audience chats” on entertainment shows. Grating padding on The Greatest Dancer. The BBC imposing “Common Era” on us (still no common sense). Most Haunted – it is to honest inquiry what Wayne Rooney is to sobriety.
TV Maths. Alan Carr + chips = Gavin Spokes, Brexit: The Uncivil War.
TV questions: shouldn’t Oti Mabuse be spelt OTT? Will Gemma Collins’ skating partner go from a triple lutz to a double hernia? Do ITV know Cleaning Up is nicked wholesale from the Boulting Brothers film Ladies Who Do? If not, wanna buy my entirely original story Passport To Paddington about a resilient London district that declares UDI from the rest of Britain?
JAN 6 2019. Luther is brilliant. Granted it’s far-fetched, gory and totally bonkers – the modern equivalent of a Victorian Penny Dreadful. But it grips like EastEnders’ Ray Kelly on his wedding day. The mean streets Idris Elba walks as DCI John Luther get meaner by the series. This time around a psychopathic serial killer found a use for roofing nails that has so far eluded the good people of DIY SOS. He also ripped out his victims’ eyeballs, although I hear they may still have bright futures ahead of them as WBC boxing judges.
The killer wore a mask studded with LED lights which made him look like a reject from Vic & Bob’s Novelty Island. There was nothing funny about his death toll, though. His brutal assault upstairs on a Number 15 to Aldgate will keep the lower decks of London buses pilchard-packed for weeks to come. The LED lights apparently confuse CCTV; the plot occasionally confused me. There was more misdirection here than at a Derren Brown stage show. In a nutshell: Luther was kidnapped and beaten up by his gangster archenemy George Cornelius because, unknown to John, his demented occasional lover Alice Walker had kidnapped Geo’s boy. Alice wasn’t dead! She just swerved the last series as she was off having an affair in The Affair. She was selling stolen diamonds when George double-crossed her. So she kidnapped (and later killed) his son.
You felt for newbie DS Halliday plunged into this lunacy. “Is this normal?” she asked. Only for Luther. Elba plays him as a swaggering avenging angel in an ill-fitting overcoat. The bad guys were sadistic surgeon Jeremy and Vivien, his frosty psychiatrist missus played by Hermione “Cold Feet” Norris. She watched him deliberately slice into a woman on the operating table and told him “You were aroused sexually, I could see it.” It’s those gowns, they don’t do up properly; I blame NHS cuts. The gruesome twosome sacrificed her patient – a creep who got off on turning his private parts into a pin cushion – but couldn’t fend off the righteous hand of justice. It ended with Halliday dead, Alice apparently dead (again) and Luther in cuffs. Writer Neil Cross wanted to make this the darkest and scariest series to date. Well guess what? His wish came true. The sick bastard.
*TV’s Top 5 toughest cops who aren’t John Luther: 1) Regan & Carter, The Sweeney 2) Vic Mackey, The Shield 3) Andy Sipowicz, NYPD Blue 4) Gene Hunt, Life On Mars 5) Norm Buntz, Hill Street Blues.
WE had a Dalek streaker on Doctor Who – a Dalek out of his shell. It looked like the ugliest squid you ever saw... or as Gregg Wallace called it, dinner. The naked nuisance latched on to archaeologist Lin at a dig and took over her mind, much like the alien slugs in Heinlein’s Puppet Masters. It was briefly terrifying. But Chris Chibnall’s script got bogged down in soapy subplots with the Doc lecturing Ryan’s dad about parental responsibility. (Has Chibbers forgotten the Doc’s own daughter Jenny? She clearly has.) The Dalek built itself a new pepper-pot in a junkyard in minutes, as conveniently as the Doc whipped up her magic wand from scratch, and set off to contact his fleet... Daleks were exterminated years ago. But until Chibnall can create a decent modern nemesis he’ll have to go back to Who’s old enemies. If only they could dig up the old writers... This series has been an odd mix of CBBC-level stories, precious little sci-fi and way too much virtue signalling (Enid Right-on?). Jodie Whittaker started well but her character has no depth and too many so-so companions. Like the series which lingered too long in Sheffield, Yasmin’s a waste of space. Save the Doctor, ditch the Chib.
CRACKING comedy documentaries saved holiday TV. From Peter Sellers to Billy Connolly, it was a joyful reminder of how much effort great talents put into their performances. Turns like Doddy and Buster Keaton didn’t just stroll up and think “this’ll do” like today’s third-rate Royal Variety stand-ups. They were devoted to their craft, honing it to perfection. If vintage footage of comic greats was a poignant reminder of what we’ve lost, ITV’s “celebration” of the London Studios made you suspect they never knew what they had. The show was mostly devoted to Lorraine, This Morning, GMB and Loose Women – an insult to the giants who graced LWT’s stages over 46 years. Then Bassey, Dame Edna, Freddie Starr, Mel Brooks. Now, Piers Morgan. Why not revive An Audience With for the best modern entertainers?
HOT on TV: Idris Elba, Luther... Escape At Dannemora (SkyAt)... Lily Collins, Les Miserables... Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (Netflix).
ROT on TV: Delicious – indigestible... Insert Name Here – insert point first... The Greatest Dancer – murder on the dance floor... Britain’s Favourite Chocolate Bar – give us a break.
TV questions: is Luther pronounced “loo-fah” because many women would like to find a good use for him in a warm bath? Does Lucy Worsley think BBC stands for Big Box of Costumes? Why aren’t there any female Daleks? Who do they in-sem-in-ate? If they have no one to polish their plungers it’d explain why they’re so ruddy angry. And what happened to the Ood? Are they all dood?
*I WON’T make a song and dance about Les Miserables... and neither have the Beeb. The big shock isn’t how much music is AWOL from the telly but how much of the story is missing from the musical.
*CARLA Connor in leathers playing snooker on Corrie... Clear the table? You’d climb Ben Nevis for a view like that. Peter Barlow was delighted. He was looking at an easy pink.
*JANE McDonald was on TV five times on New Year’s Eve. Who does she think she is, Bradley Walsh?
*THEY’RE opening a gay bar on EastEnders. So at least when Grant Mitchell next comes back his butch black leather look will finally fit in.
SMALL joys of TV: BROS: After The Screaming Stops. Mel going cross-eyed like a silent movie star as Ray strangled her on EastEnders. Incredible Buster Keaton footage (Sky Arts). Patrick Malahide in Luther, although he’ll always be Charlie Chisholm to me.
RANDOM irritations: Obscure nonentities touted as “celebrities” in the festive barrage of dumbed-down celeb specials. Millions of us turn into Nikki Grahame shrieking “Who is she/he?” at the screen. Celeb Mastermind is the worst offender as most are neither.
*FIVE shows that should be on the History Channel: Britain Had Talent. London’s Burnt. I Was A Celebrity, Leave Me Be. Strictly Came Dancing. Who Did You Think You Were?
*THE Truth About Vegans? They’re whiney, sanctimonious, proselytising bastards.
*CHANNEL 5. 8.25: The Best Of Jeremy Vine. 8.26?
SEPARATED at birth: Suzi Ruffell and The Joker? One a comical nightmare with over-sized choppers... the other one fought Batman.
TV Maths. Fred from First Dates + Billy Gibbons’ beard = Javert on Les Mis.