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.
May 24. RAZOR Ruddock was back on Harry Heroes: Euro We Go Again – a stone heavier, and about as graceful as a hippo in a tutu. Booze-hound Neil is so fat now even his clothes have stretch-marks. Harry Redknapp and his England veterans were on a mission to beat the Germans again – this time in Bavaria. But Razor was more interested in wearing his wife’s bra on his head and drinking like a Pogue. It took recovering alcoholic Paul Merson to tell him that he was killing himself. Razor threatened to shove him through the door but later admitted Merse was right. The next day he got the shock news he needed a pacemaker. Let’s hope it’s not Shirley Carter...
Serious messages about drink dependency and depression (Lee Hendrie) came wrapped in cheery banter and warm nostalgia. It may have been over-staged, but there was something endearing about watching blokes being blokes. We rarely see men laughing and bantering on TV these days. That it came with football was a bonus. The tortuous route to the Fatherland took the ex-pros via Paris, for a chance to take on a team of French nudists. “Quite hard in the tackle these boys,” joked the ever-likable Harry. Nobody mentioned the heightened risk of hand ball... although one excited woman did tell me the French goalie “looked like a keeper”. Then came Florence (who was map reading, Blind Pew?) to play a painful cross between rugby and mixed martial arts; followed by San Moreno – “a lovely tax haven,” noted H. “My dog Rosie has just opened an account.” With injuries mounting, things looked grim but as Harry said: “We are England and when the chips are down we come good.” Lee Hendrie certainly did, scoring the winner. How about Gazza and Stuart “Psycho” Pearce next time? And a less clumsy title?
*RAZOR was dubbed “the Pied Piper” for leading players to bars. Pie-eyed surely?
*WHAT about the naked footballers on Harry Heroes? I haven’t seen six dicks in a row like that since the General Election debates.
*ONE question: will ITV’s nude footballers stick it out for another season?
THE Big Flower Fight is basically Bake Off with floral sculptures instead of biscuits and cakes. At first it seemed like a spoof. Jim “Vic Reeves” Moir was at the helm with resident judge Kristen Griffith VanderYacht. Come again? He sounded like a distant relative of Python’s Nigel Incubator-Jones. But incredibly the camp New Yorker is for real – as is the Netflix show. The “avant-gardeners” competed to create huge flowery bugs. First winners were Dutchman Henck and Yan, a Dane who appeared to have borrowed his hat from Ken Dodd’s Dickie Mint. It was blooming daft, but the creations were impressive. Charlie Dimmock eat your heart out, I thought, although these days it looks like she’s done that already. The show lacks innuendo and glum-looking co-host, Natasia Demetriou is a bit of a wallflower, but our Vic shrubs up well.
THE Way Out felt like a variety show from Bedlam. It was Alice In Wonderland minus the wonder. Their Alice was trapped in a spooky theatre with Omid Djalili spouting gibberish as The Guide/White Rabbit. You’d get more sense in a Zoom chat with the Teletubbies. Omid was only slightly more irritating than being stuck in a lift with a GC/Katie Hopkins hybrid. The single-take camerawork impressed, but most of the acts would struggle to pass a BGT audition. Check out hoop-la wiz Amazi though, Simon. (Also Sweden’s the Mamas and comedy magician Andy Leach while you’re at it.) If I’d seen this in a theatre, I’d be looking for the actual way out.
HOT on TV: Gangs Of London (SkyAt)... The Last Dance (Netflix)... Harry’s Heroes... George Sewell, Special Branch (TPTV).
ROT on TV: John Robins, The Darkness Of Robins (Netflix) – witless whinge-athon... Eurovision: Shine A Light – nul points.
THE Beeb want to scrap BBC4 to bring back BBC3 – which they kicked online four years ago. It’s like rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. As with our government of clowns, it’s hard to follow Auntie’s logic. If BBC3 works so well online, competing with the streaming giants, why does it need to be back on the box? And why would any sane public broadcaster axe BBC4, whose rock, arts and science documentaries make it a rare oasis of quality and brains in our increasingly infantile world of British broadcasting? The only way to “save” the Beeb is for it to concentrate on great dramas and mainstream comedy. There are loads of funny people around, it’s just a pity nobody in TV knows where they are.
NEW TV idea: The Great British Barrel Scrape – a group of upper-class twerps called Tarquin and Tamara compete to pitch increasingly unwatchable bilge. Say for example: Gran Designs – your home made-over by a short-sighted, vindictive granny. Gender Swap Shop! Or Strictly Come – you loved the dancing, now suffer the bondage spinoff... worst idea goes to series.
*I WASN’T sure about that new Mitchell brother on Tuesday’s EastEnders. Eggy Mitchell. For starters, he was smiling. He’ll never fit in.
*ONE key symptom of Coronavirus is having no taste. So, if you enjoyed Eurovision...
*AN anagram of Piers Morgan is Mr Ego Pain. Granted there’s an ‘RS’ left-over, but he’s that as well.
TV mystery: what’s going on with Ian Hislop’s hair on HIGNFY? It looks like the clippers ran out of power... like the series. His hair’s thinner than the humour.
SMALL Joys of TV: Elvis & The Memphis Mafia. The Changin’ Times Of Ike White. Eric & Ernie in America. New Schitt’s Creek. Josie Gibson saying “yurt” on This Morning. Stevie Wonder: A Musical History.
RANDOM Irritations: THE BBC inflicting Eurovision on us, despite it being axed, without the voting – the one thin
g that makes it watchable. Twits on The Chase describing their wrong guesses as “educated”. *EYEBROW twins: Great British Menu finalist Ruth and king clown Charlie Caroli? Both are definitely more eyebrow than highbrow.
CLASSIC CLANGER: Chris Packham, talking about feathered birds, on Springwatch said: “I’m going for lubrication because that bird’s mouth is incredibly dry.”
May 17. WORDS I never thought I’d write – Romesh made me smile last week. I don’t think it was wind. The Ranganation was filmed in his garage. “If you listen carefully you can hear the sound of kids screaming coming from my house,” he said. “And my wife having sex with one of my neighbours... ” Mercifully, the producers had the sense to light it like a studio and hire six gag-writers. Katherine Ryan and Danny Dyer, hilariously described as “the cream of British entertainment”, joined Rom and his small Zoom audience. Celebs were “so much easier to book now they are essentially prisoners,” he said. The professional sourpuss cast his lazy eye over the news, noting that Neil Ferguson breaking lockdown rules for sex was a huge insult to those who “can’t persuade people in the same house to have sex with us”. He sneered at Yo Mama gags but used them anyway: “Your mum’s so stupid she got an STI to join in for Clap For Carers... your mum’s so ugly she should wear a facemask as a courtesy... ”
Unsurprisingly Romesh dropped all pretence of comedy when it came to politics. Farage was written off as a “bigoted tosser”. Such wit. And Rom got worked up about Michael Gove’s bookshelf because it contained some iffy volumes (not least tedious bilge by Vince Cable, Blunkett and Blair). Surely it sharpens the brain to read things you don’t agree with? Know thy enemy. It might even help you take them down less clumsily. Dyer, whose bookshelves were almost entirely stocked with DVDs, had a gratuitous rant about Matt Hancock. Katherine Ryan was funnier. “I’ve never been on a date,” she revealed. “I just have friends and then slowly over time I trick them into monogamy.” Romesh’s best line? Calling Dyer “an expert on himself”.
RALF Little was right when he described Ricky & Ralf’s Very Northern Road Trip as a “two-bob version of The Trip”. It was patchy and drawn out, yet small joys abounded. The ex-Royle Family stars were thrilled to find their names engraved on Blackpool’s Comedy Carpet, along with Jim Royle’s “My arse!” catchphrase. They met the immortal Mick Miller to share fish & chips and showbiz anecdotes, discovering that comic Johnnie Casson carries everything in a Lidl bag when he’s out and about on the grounds that “you never get mugged with a Lidl bag”. Why would you live anywhere else, Ricky Tomlinson asked? “The weather,” replied Ralf, deadpan. We saw the Tower, the Pleasure Beach and the piers but where were the gypsy fortune-tellers? Will they survive these trouble times? Surely they saw it coming?
*MEMO to TV: the South has working class people, down-to-earth comics and stunning views too.
KEITH Lemon and Anna Richardson have less chemistry than a sterile lab on The Fantastical Factory of Curious Craft. It’s an ill-conceived mess and the strangely neutered Lemon didn’t even throw in a lewd pegging reference. Still, that Eamonn Holmes puppet was good.
I’D rather eat a deep-fried batwing from a Wuhan wet market than upset Tony Bellew, so kudos to Ant Middleton for pushing him to the limit on Celeb SAS Who Dares Wins. When the former world champ snapped “I’ll show what a ****ing casualty is, you ****,” he definitely meant it. Risky. But if Bellew conquers his demons through this, it will have been worth it.
HOT on TV: The Last Kingdom (Netflix)... Hakan Berg, BGT... Miamie McCoy, Van Der Valk... White Lines.
ROT on TV: The Fantastical Factory of Curious Craft – a phenomenal f***-up... The Eddy (Netflix) – needs jazzing up.
*PAUL Hollywood ate absurdly expensive food in Japan. It was a TV first – a £350 strawberry devoured by a 196lb plum.
*THE permanently irate Piers Morgan may not have had COVID-19 but these days he seems to be LIVID 24/7...
*A NEW show asks, What’s The Matter with Tony Slattery? Is an hour long enough?
*LOVE the Corrie postage stamps. Understandably they swerved original Rovers landlady Annie Walker – no one would dare lick the back of her head.
*I KNOW This Much Is True: life’s too grim right now to watch a show this gloomy.
*TV questions: are Van Der Valk’s convoluted scripts technically double Dutch? Danny Dyer’s bookshelf is crammed with DVDs, so where does he keep his Viz annuals, Pirelli Calendars and back issues of Readers’ Wives?
SMALL Joys of TV: Peter Sellers: A State of Comic Ecstasy. Gangs Of London fight scenes. Nabil, BGT. Brassic. Andrew Townsley’s terrific run on Millionaire. Dave. Lucy Worsley.
RANDOM Irritations: Bad pun overload on Garden Rescue. Over-emotional “news” reports. Jeremy Vine. Mo Gilligan’s Happy Hour crashing off air – we’ll never know how bad episode two was now.
SEPARATED at birth: Jayne Tunnicliffe’s puppet on Fantastical Factory and Hartley Hare? One was in a trashy childish TV show that insulted the intelligence, the other was on Pipkins.
R.I.P. Jerry Stiller who played cantankerous Frank Costanza on Seinfeld, America’s greatest sitcom. Few actors could turn on comedy rage like Jerry. Frank made Victor Meldrew seem almost saintly.
IN the ad, is that really the sound of a woman cracking the chocolate coating of a Magnum, or is it her teeth shattering? An icebreaker ship is quieter. Don’t think I’d let her lick my Jubbly.
May 10. IT looks like we’ve reached another Emperor’s New Clothes moment with TV comedy. Mo Gilligan’s a likable guy but his All-Star Happy Hour was comfortably the worst entertainment show aired this year... so far. The live hour-long show was such an epic cringe-athon it made you think more kindly of George Galloway’s pussy impression. All over the country toes must have been curling up like Aladdin’s slippers. Technical problems abounded. The volume plummeted, links conked out and Johnny Vegas seemed as drunk as a sailor on shore leave. You had to be that sozzled to find contestants shouting “bloodclat!” and “dickhead” as hilarious as they did. As well as delays and repetition, the banter was awkward and the sound quality appalling. Sharon Osbourne dropped out before it started, proving witches really do have premonition.
Mo’s show made Rob & Romesh vs Ballet look like comedy genius. It wasn’t. It consisted largely of Beckett and Ranganathan wobbling about in tights looking like the before part of Celebrity Fit Club, and cracking weak, first-thought gags about bums and bell-ends. Fans will have loved it, but it wasn’t exactly Rita Rudner claiming she’d quit as a ballerina after injuring a groin muscle, “it wasn’t mine”. Or Jackie Mason’s “what’s the deal with her dancing on tiptoes? Can’t they find a taller girl?”
TV would generate more much-needed laughter by going down the Match Of The Day route and simply re-showing classic stand-up jesters from yesteryear. Sunday Night At The London Palladium on Talking Pictures had a vintage clip of Bob Monkhouse, one of our smartest and most inventive patter comics, but not trendy enough for 90s BBC bosses to ever repeat his On The Spot series. They re-run Bob’s Last Stand on BBC4 now though, proving Joni Mitchell right – you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
US spy thriller Homeland bowed out on a high after teasing us that mad Carrie Mathison might actually murder her mentor, the great Saul Berenson. She resurfaced in Moscow leaking Russian secrets back to him – a heroine again, but condemned to suffer years with a boyfriend who cruelly abuses her by dragging her to avant-garde jazz gigs. It partly compensated for Carrie grassing up Saul’s Russian mole – interpreter Anna Pomerantseva – to her ruthless lover Yevgeny of Russian military intelligence mob the GRU. She betrayed her to bring the US and Pakistan back from the brink of nuclear war. In a tense episode, Anna shot herself (not a misprint) in a UN store cupboard. Claire Danes’ Carrie never really fitted the image of a CIA agent, but with her bulging eyes and wobbly gob she was a world class gurner. On TV, only Dragon Sara Davies comes close.
BBC2’s Great British Intelligence Test was like Anne Robinson’s Test The Nation, but with less reckless winking. It found that playing video games increases your verbal dexterity – “kill ’im!... urgh... need pizza... thumb’s sore!” And that women are more emotionally intelligent than men, although when the studio test contradicted that we were told to ignore it (why show it then?). At least Anne let us play along at home. It also found that brain function declines with age. You don’t say. I suspect that’s true of aging institutions as well. The Beeb twin Panorama with Momentum and bombard us with their mawkish news reports. Either they’re senile or they have a death wish.
HOT Marina Maximilian, Fauda... Paul Mescal, Normal People... Homeland finale... Lennie James, Save Me Too... Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours To Kill (Netflix).
ROT on TV: Gemma Collins: Diva On Lockdown – disappointing, no sign of a prison... The A Word – not Awful, but generally Aggravating.
THINGS picked up on Killing Eve as Villanelle found a new murder weapon – a tuning fork. The fork was sharp, her victims totally flat. It’s fiendishly effective... especially when combined with a drive-by bassoon solo.
*IS it me or is the woman on Magnum advert getting far too much “authentic pleasure” from an ice cream bar? She’d be bouncing off the ceiling with a Knobbly Bobbly.
DEVS has a device that lets you to view scenes from the past, like JFK and Marilyn at it on the Oval Office desk, Christ on the cross etc. Once they even caught a glimpse of Nish Kumor saying something funny, although boffins suspect this was a glitch in the system.
WHAT about the backdrops of people broadcasting from home? Some are clearly buying in books by the yard to impress us. “Give us six inches of Shakespeare, nine inches of Paine, and chuck in some Socrates for gravitas... ”
*PIERS Morgan has just tested negative... for humility, modesty and self-doubt. No word on the virus.
TV Questions: Jo Brand’s Cats & Kittens – show or starter? Would any Judge Judy photo do her justice?
SMALL Joys of TV: Nikki Sanderson carrying 16stone Tony Bellew on her back (Celeb SAS) – by ’eck, they make em tough on Corrie. VE Day In Colour. Harley Quinn. Double Agent: The Eddie Chapman Story.
RANDOM Irritations: Jimmy Fallon looking like he’s doing The Tonight Show at gunpoint. BBC TV failing to honour Tim Brooke-Taylor (ditto Eddie Large). Russell Howard’s Home Time – time to go home, pal.
SEPARATED at birth: Emma Barnett and Camilla Long? Both bright, blonde, bespectacled and spectacularly unfunny on HIGNFY...
*JOHN Fashanu said football is “just you, God and a ball”. Pretty sure God played in the No 10 shirt for Brazil.
CLASSIC Clanger: Anne’s date on First Dates Hotel told her “you can call me Richard if you like”. She replied: “I like Dick better.”
May 3. THE best thing about the original Van Der Valk was the theme tune. Eye Level, by the Simon Park Orchestra, was so memorable it topped the charts for four weeks in 1973 – so well done ITV for “modernising” all of the joy out of it. Have they done the same for the Dutch detective though? In truth there was little about Van to ruin. Barry Foster’s Piet VDV was never much cop. Billed as an “astute observer” he failed to spot that his wife Arlette’s head changed three times over four series... and he had the charisma of a lost clog. The real star of the show was Amsterdam, with its picturesque canals and traditional drug-dealers and hookers.
All of which still feature, along with pushbike chase scenes and political extremists (far-Right of course, TV drama rarely troubles itself with any other kind). The new moodier Piet (Marc Warren) is unattached, partial to Tinder and attracted to dodgy dames – in the first episode he managed to bed the woman behind the murders. Boxes are dutifully ticked and clichés wearily recycled. Piet’s old sidekick Johnny is now hot lesbian Lucienne (a Van Dyck?). There’s also Job, a stats-obsessed nerd, a sozzled pathologist, and more bicycles than the Tour de France. But the important thing is Warren, who resembles Steve McQueen played by a shagged-out Sting. (Foster looked more like a sawn-off Jack Regan in a Harpo Max syrup). Is he mesmerizingly sexy or miserable as sin? You decide. His VDV lacks the subtlety of novelist Nicholas Freeling’s creation. The show felt 30minutes too long and the “Dutch” cops are all English. For my guilders, the 1977 Euston Films version was way better. But this is still less of a wash-out than ITV’s reboot of Maigret. Why bother calling it Van Der Valk though? Manchester’s got canals, dealers and hookers – how are they coping with social distancing? Those poor women need the advertising.
THE Top Ten greatest ever TV theme tunes: Hawaii 5-O, The Sweeney, Bonanza, The Professionals, The Benny Hill Show, Stingray, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Avengers, Rawhide.
THERE was no Dick Tingeler, no Misty Hyman and not a sniff of a Fanny Chmelar... but didn’t Beat The Chasers start well? For the first time, solo contestants can take on all five Chasers at once. The more you face, the higher your potential winnings; and there was real drama as they played against the clock. The contestants could have come straight from Central Casting – wise-cracking pharmacist Bernie (“I sell drugs, Brad”) and Father George in the full Friar Tuck kit (“What do you do for a living?” Brad deadpanned.) In the opening show student paramedic Alex took on three Chasers and won £25K. I’m sure no one was distracted by her near-transparent top. The normal Chase format is as solid as The Beast himself; it’s brilliantly cast and hosted, so you can see why ITV want a prime time variation. This is the smartest spin-off yet. Although I haven’t felt the need to tackle five chasers in one go since I had to sit through TOWIE Live.
*WAS Brad flirting with contestant Chelsea? You can’t do that now mate. Get a Zoom!
BBC2’s Blackpool Big Night In was an oasis of nostalgia with footage of the great Frank Randle – “star of stage, screen and magistrate courts” – and terrific anecdotes. Wigan-born Randle, a notorious boozer, once took Laurel & Hardy out on his yacht, the Namora, and had to be rescued by the emergency services. He also nailed George Formby into his dressing room. In the 50s, Sinatra would only play Blackpool and the Palladium. In their 80s pomp, Cannon & Ball entertained 36,000 people a week for 22 weeks there. Who could do that now? Once the beating heart of variety, Blackpool is now on a respirator in a Corona ward, along with the old breed of wonderful down-to-earth comics who popped up as talking heads. Telly snobs with their loopy war on the past have thrown the blue collar baby out with the bathwater, killing off summer seasons. I’m grateful for the handful who got under the wire but where will the next generation of entertainers come from?
HOT on TV: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Normal People... Sonoya Mizuno, Devs... The Last Kingdom (Netflix)... Jimmy Akingbola, Kate & Koji (ITV Hub).
ROT on TV: Susan Calman, Great British Menu – over-heated, under-cooked and sticks in the gullet... Killing Eve – the plot is just killing time... Run – done.
HE’S no Clive James, but Paul Hollywood Eats Japan saw the twinkly-eyed baker relishing local dishes including deep-fried eel spine and delicious Ramen noodle broths. If your appetite was whetted, watch Anthony Bourdain in Japan. He was more inquisitive, more respectful and more daring. Fish sperm sacs anyone?
*NEXT? Nish Kumar Eats Chinese Wet Markets... please.
*AVOID crowds, the government tell us, so well done The Steph Show which attracted so few C4 are pulling it off air.
SMALL Joys of TV: The Shadows At Sixty. Primates. Ainsley Harriott on Sundays. Paul Kaye and Diane Morgan, After Life. Jay Leno, Bill Maher’s Real Time. Code 404. Most Dangerous Game (Quibi).
RANDOM Irritations: Men with monobrows. Lazy comics who rely on swearing for laughs – c***s! The wet & wimpy Van Der Valk theme. Piers “Shouty” Morgan – a man driving through life with the horn jammed.
TV Question of the week: what was Carolyn Martens – the head of MI6’s Russia Desk on Killing Eve – doing at the government’s daily briefings? Insert your own conspiracy theories here...