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.
Nov 26. OUR screens are full of vicious rows, stomach-churning horror and unnecessary cruelty. And as well as I’m A Celebrity, there’s Boat Story... The Beeb’s latest Sunday night drama is less Call The Midwife, more pass the sickbag. It’s aimed at viewers who think Quentin Tarantino’s gone a bit soft – and ones who won’t notice how much the Williams brothers are nicking from the Coens. Two law-abiding strangers happen upon a fishing trawler, washed up on a beach, containing two corpses and a shed-load of cocaine. Think Whisky Galore! with Peruvian marching powder instead of Scotch, and more spilt blood than a sloppy abattoir.
The corpses are a Scandi drug-smuggler and a bent cop. The excellent Paterson Joseph and Daisy Haggard play the innocents who stumble into crime. Solicitor Samuel tempts jobless ex-factory worker Janet into breaking bad... Craig Fairbrass is Guy, a brutal gangland enforcer, out-done only by his French boss, The Tailor, who leaves enemies in stitches... if they’re lucky. The sadistic swine thinks nothing of slicing out one poor sod’s tongue. But in lighter moments he falls for meat pasties and the even meatier Pat Tooh. Hope she doesn’t get cut up about him. Or by him.
There’s gore galore. Janet loses her left hand in what looks like a pre-war industrial accident... Guy wastes an entire police station... But it makes sense.
Samuel is up to his neck in gambling debts, Janet was cheated out of compensation... in their heads, life owes them a break.
Believing her role-playing as a fake Albanian drug boss to befuddle local, small-time yokels requires a pinch of salt... and probably a snort of Charlie.
If you can cope with buckets of claret, and the play-within-a-play cobblers, it’s a stylishly told saga that needs more dark humour to balance the ultraviolence.
DID you see Fergie on This Morning? Ye gods! Even The Crown couldn’t make that seem more of a nightmare. The Duchess was riveting for the entire 150minute horror ride. Clueless, yes, but brilliantly so. At one point she misread the autocue and asked herself a question. Highs included her agony aunt stint. The dear old Duch advised Suzanne from Newcastle to spice up her married love life by getting: “A lovely saucy underwear department in your chest of drawers”. Hmm. Queen Victoria’s Secrets? She also recommended blow-drying her hair and “taking him out on a treat”; maybe “lovely restaurants and lovely hotels” – a snip on the minimum wage. Fergie revealed she leaves love notes in her fella’s squash shoes. Possibly saying “Your game might be awful, you’re down on your luck, but keep these toes sweaty, I fancy a suck.”
*REJECTED Fergie love notes: Let’s go somewhere quiet and polish your crown jewels. Hey big dog, what say we put the Buck in Buckingham Palace? How shall we do it, majestically or corgi-style?
NELLA Rose grabs the attention like a suspect device on a park bench. You just know she could explode at any moment. The YouTuber blew up at Fred the waiter on I’m A Celeb after perversely taking an innocent remark about him being old enough to be her father as a dig about her dead dad. It wasn’t. But you wouldn’t call her barking just in case her childhood puppy had been put down for distemper. Belgium-born sociology graduate Nella is best-known for her meme, “Are you not ashamed of yourself, are you not embarrassed?” Words that should play after all of her jungle rumbles. She’s not open to serious debate, but she’s not supposed to be. She’s ITV’s agent of chaos. In fairness, at least she’s not weeping most of the time like Britney’s sister. And she’s delivering what passes for drama on a show long past its best. Josie to win.
NIGEL Farage is coming across far better than ITV bosses had hoped. Hence the snidey digs from Lorraine Kelly, Ant & Dec etc etc. Could it be that Farage isn’t the racist demon he is often painted as, but rather is a likeable, can-do bloke whose views on the democracy-deficient, economically blundering EU and our suicidally destructive levels of immigration chime with the thoughts of millions? Winding up Nella to take him on, as the producers surely did, simply exposed the unwillingness of the “influencer” generation to debate anything calmly and logically.
*NOISIEST critters in the Aussie bush: 3) Laughing kookaburra 2) Greater Sooty Owl 1) Greater Stroppy Nella.
HOT on TV: Joe Pasquale as Dunny, The Masked Singer... Ciaran Hinds, Kin... Juno Temple, Fargo (Prime).
ROT on TV: Fergie – a right royal WTF... “Celeb” climate change hypocrites.
THE Kinsella clan are taking on Dublin drug baron Eamon Cunningham on Kin after hothead Eric “The Viking” sparked a deadly feud. Outnumbered and out-gunned, the Kinsellas seem to have all the wriggle room of a rhino in a tin bath. But never underestimate a smart woman... Peter McKenna’s taut scripts put Kin head and shoulders above most cliched gangster dramas.
*IF Russell T Davies can make Davros walk on Doctor Who, can he make Bobby Davro funny? And if he can cure Davros, why not fix the Tardis cloaking device??
*SCI-FI can still chill us, but nothing the Doctor faces compares to the horrors we’re seeing in ITV’s jungle shower.
*GEORGE and Elaine, the most unlikely EastEnders couple since Ian and Denise...
JONATHAN Ross guessed Joe Pasquale was Dunny on The Masked Singer. For once he had something solid to go on...
Small Joys of TV: Doon Mackichan, Two Doors Down. Hannah Waddingham, Home For Xmas. Squid Game – The Challenge (Ntfx). Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth.
Random Irritations. Nella, bless her. The words “Vegan traditional soya pie” on the Beale’s Eels menu – as trad as an A.I. gherkin. Russell T’s disregard for Dr Who lore.
TV maths. Brian Conley + Mr Hyde potion = Tcheky Karyo’s The Tailor (Boat Story).
Nov 19. WASN’T Halloween last month? Suddenly the dead are rising, and not just in Walford. First David Cameron, the ghost of political failure past, returns, unwanted, to Downing Street. Then the spectre of Princess Diana pops up to haunt the final series of The Crown. What next, Meghan Markle and the Phantom of the Oprah? Or two old queens from Tudor times stumbling around the Buckingham Palace bar, as headless as the beer? Netflix’s The Crown always plays fast and loose with facts. They invent characters, twist history, and lie about – sorry, “re-imagine” – real life events. Mountbatten never scolded Charles for slipping Camilla the, ahem, royal prerogative. Queen Elizabeth II was never crass, as she was in Olivia Colman’s era... etc, etc. Now, Di’s ghost turns up at Balmoral to tell the Queen how to reign after her tragic death in a Paris underpass. “Maybe it’s time to show you’re ready to learn too,” Di counsels. Her Maj duly complies. Give over. Di also materialises on Charlie’s jet, saucily flirting with him, then weeping, with ghostly mascara trickling down her cheeks. At least we’re spared the crash scene, and the sight of her lifeless body. We only see Dodi’s face in the morgue.
Skipping back, we watch scheming Mohamed Al-Fayed fixing up the Princess with his son and persuading him to dump his girlfriend.
Puppet master Al-Fayed also makes sure the paps catch the couple’s first kiss... engineering the whole relationship. Dodi’s marriage proposal never happened.
Elizabeth Debicki is stunning as Di and The Crown is well-made.
But these shows with their bullshit dialogue and assumed motives, usually reflecting the prejudices of the writer, are as iffy as any AI chatbot.
Great actors, grating script.
*THE Crown’s worst moment? Portraying the IRA’s slaughter of Mountbatten – and his grandson Nicholas, and Irish boat-boy Paul Maxwell, and 18 soldiers at Warrenpoint – as somehow poetically heroic. Bet Biden loved it.
*SHAME it’s ending though. I wanted to see Harry ask Meghan: “Can I offer you a royal marriage, or something more permanent?”
THE celeb-travel jaunt is a lazy TV staple but the right host can revive it. Cue Bill Bailey singing with the Albany Shantymen on his Australian Adventure. Bonkers Bill joined them on naval-themes ditties with lyrics like, ‘I’ve spent all of me tin/On the lassie drinking gin’. And ‘We’ll be all right if we take it round the Horn... ’ (about the Horn of Africa, your minds!) It was hard not to beam. Songs like A Drop Of Nelson’s Blood and Bastard Drunken Whaler had an instant impact. Real voices, real people, earthy humour, pub singsongs. Perfect. Why not film UK folk festivals, Bill?
THERE’S more to Pete Doherty than his wasted media image. Now smack-free, the Libertines singer is happily married and living in Normandy with a young daughter. Louis Theroux covered Pete’s many scandals, repeating the gag about Pete being a heroin addict who occasionally dabbled in rock.
He got straight answers about the death of actor Mark Blanco, and encouraged Doherty and guitarist Carl Barat to open up about their volatile partnership. Doherty counts Tony Hancock, Orwell and Rudyard Kipling among his influences. I’d have liked to hear him talk about them, his lyrics and his obvious affection for a lost England. Even strung out on enough smack to fell the Hulk, he wrote terrific rock songs. Somewhere in the mix of Porridge, QPR and Graham Greene, was a glint of genius, romantic but fatalistic. As he sang, “Cornered, the boy kicked out at the world, the world kicked back a lot harder.”
HOT on TV: Elizabeth Debicki, The Crown – superb, shame about the script... Kin.
ROT on TV: Charlotte In Sunderland – telly in blunder-land... the endless curse of true-crime drama, mining grief for ratings.
GLIDING tree frogs with an “urgent need to breed” were the stars of Sunday’s Planet Earth III. The frogs’ frigging frenzy lasts just one day, and males outnumber females by 9 to one.
When one got lucky another dozen hopped on top, until the female booted the surplus losers into the pond. It was like extreme Love Island meets The Bachelorette.
And if that thought doesn’t spawn an E4 series, I don’t know what will.
MICHAEL Portillo recalled the time Spanish dictator Franco outlawed the bikini (Portillo’s Andalucia).
When a cop told a British sunbather in Malaga that only one-piece swimming costumes were allowed, she quipped, “Well what half should I take off?”
Away from the front benches, old Portaloo is passionate, eccentric, and almost likable.
*DRAMA on EastEnders as Kaff of Kaff’s caff confronted Cindy in the Vic. Kaff was so angry she very nearly achieved a facial expression.
*SEX (Re)Education is the most revolutionary show on telly – it has retired people shagging. As the joke goes, old sex is a lot like rock climbing, you just concentrate on the craggy face and don’t look down.
Small Joys of TV: Lucy Beaumont. Blondie clips (BBC2). Bradley Walsh aghast at dumb answers on Blankety Blank. Dirty Dozen (C5). Classic T Rex clips (Sky Arts).
Random Irritations. The unlikely miracle of Walford NHS providing instant blood test results. Imelda Staunton’s portrayal of the late Queen as cruel and unfeeling
TV Maths. Gareth Kennan (The Office) + fairground mirror = Grace Chilton (Payback).
Classic clanger: Prue Leith was getting seeds out of a pomegranate on This Morning when she said,
“You bang them and then you get nothing but juice all over your dress.”
Nov 12. Remembrance Sunday. Lest we forget.
Nov 12. IT’S OK to be stupid, but telly execs make a career of it. Penny-pinching BBC dimwits wiped their own master tapes, destroying classic episodes of Doctor Who, Top Of The Pops and Dad’s Army. All worth far more than the two-bob cost of videotape. It wasn’t cultural vandalism, more criminal negligence. And naturally nobody got sacked. Dad’s Army: The Animations (Gold) rejigs three lost shows, but the result is like listening to the radio while flicking through a sketchbook. Although the scripts are still funny, the line drawings are basic and the characters show about as much emotion as a freshly botoxed Carol Vorderman.
In episode one, the Wilmington-on-Sea Home Guard face a crisis when wily spiv Joe Walker is called up for the regular army. In a well-crafted scene, Captain Mainwaring appeals to a committee who can allow sole traders to dodge the draft. Smart Sgt Wilson knifes his pompous boss deliciously: “When one talks as much as Mr Mainwaring does, by the law of averages, a certain amount of what he says is bound to be rather unnecessary.” We need to see Mainwaring’s face as that sinks in, but there are no reaction shots. CGI technology does exist to do it properly, though. One day it’ll be affordable, even for Gold. And future generations will appreciate the golden days when British sitcoms had real laughs, perfect casts, memorable catchphrases, and universal appeal.
*FIVE of TV’s worst mistakes. 1) After a perfect ending, the BBC persuade John Sullivan to bring back Fools & Horses and strip the Trotters of their fortune.
2) ITV axe Benny Hill. Cancel culture starts here.
3) Minder without Dennis Waterman was never as good; Minder with Shane Richie as Arthur was poxy.
4) Overdosing on soap – they clog up the evening schedules like Japanese knotweed.
5) Ice Warriors. It was billed as “Gladiators on ice” but all they could do was race and chase. Another multi-million quid muck-up.
WIVES were striking on Channel 5. No surprise. Their blokes were so bone-idle, it’s a wonder they didn’t come out in sympathy. The spirit of Andy Capp lived on in Wassim who cheerfully watched wife Laura clean, cook and care for their five kids, two dogs and her mum and dad. In-between his naps, that is. He also made her drive him to and from the station for work. Lazy? All he seemed to exercise was total control... until put-upon Laura left him to cope. Wassim’s cheffing was effing useless and he wouldn’t mop the hall floor on the grounds “it’ll get dirty again”. By the end, the Wife On Strike husbands saw the errors of their ways. Good. I owe my wife a lot. Without her, I wouldn’t be what I am today. Skint.
*I’d strike but she wouldn’t notice.
*COULD men out-strike women? It’s amazing how long blokes can last on beer, Sky Sports, one pair of y-fronts and a box of pork scratchings.
DRIPPY Reiss quoted Shakespeare on DeadEnders, asking Sonia: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” A winter chill more like. Zig & Zag had more sexual chemistry than these two twerps. But it made a welcome change. The only culture normally found in Albert Square is growing behind Billy Mitchell’s ears. Sonia though. Really? Son doesn’t even blow her trumpet these days. He’d be better off with Fiona the sheep.
*SURELY most men would dream of giving Anna Knight the Complete Works?
*IF Reiss had asked that in the Vic, would landlord George have said “Get out, you’re Bard”? Sorry.
*ROCKY is going out in a blaze of arson, breaking wife Kath’s heart. His new nickname should be Bilbo. He slips a ring on and disappears.
HOT on TV: The Newsreader... Gareth Gates, SAS: WDW... Spurs Vs Chelsea – drama of the week.
ROT on TV: The Buccaneers (Apple) – buccan daft... Vogue Williams, Spooked Ireland – put a Cork in it.
JOHN Cleese’s The Dinosaur Hour is closer to Twin Peaks than any other GB News show. It’s bonkers! He’s got nuns, kittens, bowler-hatted toffs and a Monty-Python-style French knight who insulted him – “Your auntie soiled her knickers... I spit on your gonads” – before being hurled to his death from castle ramparts. Ze prat? Splat! Cleese talked cricket with Stephen Fry and closed with an Apocalypse sing-song. Tonight, he treats Jeremy Hunt to a Basil Fawlty inspired “damn good thrashing”. Sorry. Dreamt that.
*GUILT, Crime, Payback, Six Four, Shetland... every villain on TV these days is Scottish. What next? The Loch Ness mobster? I’d cast Nicola Sturgeon. She’d guarantee a chill wind around the Trossachs.
*IS it called Shetland because it’s a load of old pony?
*COMIC Jake Lambert on his epilepsy: “I had my first seizure during National Epileptic Week... which was fitting.” (Live At The Apollo).
Small Joys of TV: HMS Brilliant (BBC4). Lovejoy re-runs (Drama). Big George Foreman (Sky). Bill Maher’s spot-on defence of Western culture (Real Time). The Met.
Random Irritations. VAR ruining live football. Millionaire sob stories. Reporters standing in gales. Storm-related news hysteria in general. The insipid King’s speech.
TV Maths. Alfie Moon + Kat + faulty condom = Keith Jayne from Stig Of The Dump (also Karen Taylor’s nickname).
Nov 5. LIKE the TV equivalent of Halloween’s Michael Myers, “reality” shows are the monster that just won’t die. Broadcasters see them as the gateway drug to hook a generation who are keener on social media than the thin gruel of the nightly schedules. It’s why ITV revived Big Brother – not a ratings hit, but it’s trending like crazy on TikTok – and why the Beeb have resurrected Survivor. On paper it makes sense. On screen, less so. Survivor has been a smash almost everywhere in the world except here; largely because ITV botched their version 20-odd years ago. But to younger viewers, BBC1’s version must feel like I’m A Celeb minus Instagram-friendly ‘stars’. It also feels like Total Wipeout on a beach, a less risky version of The Island with Bear Grylls, and The Apprentice with more focused tasks and less shallow bragging. There’s an echo of The Traitors in the plotting and scheming too. Crucially, nothing about it feels fresh. What was once ground-breaking is now entirely predictable.
The picked-to-order cast compete to win £100,000 – big money by BBC standards but far less than the £1million ITV once offered. Last weekend the revival averaged just 2.5million viewers. Ironically, Survivor and its ilk make many older viewers feel like decamping to a desert island just to get away from it and shows like it. A small fortune is spent chasing an audience who aren’t interested in TV while neglecting an audience of avid viewers who are... Would it hurt to invest our licence fee dosh into formats millions would love? Odds on, someone out there, outside of the BBC’s Oxbridge circle, has got the idea for the next Fools & Horses. Somewhere else the next Morecambe & Wise aren’t getting noticed because they don’t tick enough boxes. It’s a crying shame.
CELEBS were greeted with a quick cavity search on Banged Up, where they’re behind bars with play-acting ex-cons in decommissioned HMP Shrewsbury. C4 claim they’re revealing prison’s violent underbelly, but the show’s real point is to inflict indignities and mental torture on minor stars. Scary taunts and threats abounded. But Johnny Mercer’s cell-mate caused the biggest stink. Convicted contract killer Kevin Lane pulled two roll-ups in a plastic tube from his arse and was in no hurry to wash his hands. The stench made the Tory Minister smash the windows in their “flowery dell”. It brought new meaning to bumming a ciggie.
KUDOS to my pal Ally for dubbing the scene the Sure-stank redemption.
*WOULD it help our enjoyment if viewers could vote in more MPs and keep them there? 650 would do it.
*SID Owen – “Rickayyy!” to the ex-cons – is from a criminal family but had never done jail time. Surprising considering his appalling criminal record (Better Believe It, a flop 1995 duet with Patsy “Bianca!” Palmer).
FOR really scary islands see Shetland. It’s been over-run with psycho-killers and sinister Satanists for yonks. Glum DI Jimmy Perez has been replaced by the even glummer DI Ruth Calder, who’d left Shetland years ago to join the Met, presumably for the lower crime rate. Luckily, the London killing of an underworld accountant and police grass was witnessed by Shetlander Ellen, who was robbing him. She then fled shoeless, like a shady Cinderella, to her island birthplace with Ruth in reluctant pursuit, followed by hitmen. Calder is gloomier than the economic forecast. Even shagging her ex doesn’t cheer her up. The only person more miserable than her must be whoever authorises her expenses. The woman takes more taxis than Joan Collins. At least the satanists are back, slaughtering and spray-painting sheep, which presumably passes for light entertainment in the frozen north.
HOT on TV: Debs vs Matt Hancock, Celeb SAS:WDW... Sly (Netflix)... Ashley Jenson, Shetland.
ROT on TV: The Gilded Age – gelded drama... Mamma Mia! – a musical Abba-toir.
THE roasting of Matt Hancock on Celeb SAS: WDW was unfair, one-sided, and extremely enjoyable. Cocky Hancock was taken down a peg or ten by potty-mouthed Debs – think Liz Truss with a bad attitude and an over-flowing swear box. She called the shirtless berk unprintable words, and grilled him cruelly about his affair. His attitude didn’t go down well with directing staff. “If that was for real, he’s be missing a few teeth,” noted Chris. Still time. We have Dilksy to come...
*JODIE Whittaker was banged up on Time for “fiddling the leccy” – i.e. cheating her electricity supplier (robbers robbed shock). Harsh perhaps but deserved. Look what damage she did to Doctor Who.
*PLEASE note: Survivor is an adventure challenge not a documentary on the last Tory standing after the 2024 election.
*APT TV names continued: Leanne Troop, production manager, Soldier.
I HAD the pleasure of judging the final of Laughter Class, which trains unknown comedians in stagecraft and delivery, this week. Stand-up standards were high and comedy gold was struck at least twice. The show hits Ustreme around Xmas and is well worth watching.
Small joys of TV: The Gold Robbers with Peter Vaughan & George Cole (TPTV). Hitsville: The Making Of Motown (SkyArts). Anna “Sookie” Pacquin, True Blood re-runs.
Random irritations. We get a whole month of Halloween, seven weeks of Xmas ads, chased by Easter ones in January, yet BBC1 can’t manage a single decent Xmas comedy.
Separated at birth. Anneliese Dodds & Fleagle? One an absurd comic character you can’t take seriously. The other’s in The Banana Splits.
Classic clanger. Susie was talking about unfamiliar food on Come Dine With Me when she said, “I’ll just have to smile and swallow.”