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.
April 25. LINE Of Duty is now so tense I briefly considered joining the bomb squad for light relief. We don’t know if Kate Fleming is dead. But we do know that, after more twists than a Curly Wurly, the pieces of this complex jigsaw puzzle of a show are finally coming together. The OCG – organised crime gang – make the Krays look like rank amateurs. No mob has exercised this much influence over the cops since the Penguin ran Gotham City. They’ve got fingers in so many pies it’s a wonder they haven’t got a former Prime Minister lobbying for them. They kill, rob, kidnap, deal drugs, run sex slaves and can rustle up a posse of armed thugs at the drop of a hat; often in uniform. Bent Old Bill on their payroll include Chief Constable Philip Osborne, and retired DCI Marcus Thurwell. Reluctant wrong’un Jo Davidson turns out to be the daughter of dead kingpin Tommy Hunter and his own sister.
Thanks to Lakewell’s tip, AC-12 know the rot began with the murder of Lawrence Christopher (writer Jed Mercurio feeds off so many real crimes I’m expecting Harold Shipman to rock up next). One of Christopher’s killers was Jo’s brother Darren Hunter. Thurwell was chief investigating officer, and his toxic team included Osborne, jailed DCI Buckells and paedo Patrick Fairbanks – in turn, the link to the Sands View Boys Home abuse ring. It’s a big stinking mess. So no wonder top brass are out to shut down AC-12 and pension off Ted. The return of his nemesis Patricia “Bloody” Carmichael was just one unexpected joy. The episode ended with Jo luring Kate to a deserted lorry park for a stand-off with rotten apple Ryan Pilkington. Two shots rang out. Gulp. Tonight, we’ll know who copped it. If anyone...
ITV’S latest bright idea was to repeat Gordon, Gino & Fred’s 2018 Road Trip over three nights. Yeah, thanks. “Three weeks, three countries, three coqs au vin,” said the voice-over. Naturally, Gordon was the biggest cock, even if Gino kept trying to show us his. They’re good company, especially Gino, but it was all more staged than a Towie bust-up, with Ramsay acting grumpy about scripted wind-ups. They detoured to Italian lemon groves and French cheese-makers even though lemons and cheese are readily available in every town they passed. Still the scenery was stunning and it was educational too – the main lesson being, never let Gino drive your camper van.
*FRED is everywhere these days. Not sure why. I missed the meeting which decided no channel was complete without an amiable French waiter. You cannot be Sirieix, said nobody.
MEMO to Channel 5: Bread, Just Good Friends, Fools & Horses and Benny Hill were our most-watched 80s comedies. All drew audiences of 20million-plus, more viewers than anything featured on “Britain’s Favourite 80s TV”. I liked The Young Ones but their highest audience was 6.45m on a repeat. Still, TV’s war on mainstream humour has worked a treat. There were four comedies in the TV Top Ten in March 1985. Now? None at all. Well done everyone.
*SIX out of ten BBC3 comedies will be female-led, we’re told. Hurrah. And if we’re lucky, one in ten might even be vaguely amusing.
HOT on TV: Kate Winslet, Mare Of Easttown (SkyAt)... Anna Maxwell Martin, Line Of Duty.
ROT on TV: The Syndicate – a losing bet... Second Hand For 50 Grand – a third rate waste of space.
Random Questions: has the GC actually lost three stone or just loaned it to Arg? Shouldn’t Glow Up: Britain’s Next Make-Up Star really be called The MaX Factor? And if we can have GB News, free of bias, why not GB Comedy free of talent-lite virtue signallers and joke censoring bores?
ON Tuesday night, terrestrial TV served up a jewellery contest, a make-up competition, a make-up doc and five food/cooking series. C5 threw in three medical shows. It’s enough to make Gene Hunt weep into his whisky...
*WHEN we’re told a show is “based on a South Korean format”, it’s not a boast, it’s a warning.
*CHRIS Whitty on Strictly? No way, he should go on X-Factor singing something suitably cheery like ‘In the year 2525, if man is still alive... ’
*JANINE Butcher is coming back to EastEnders. Yippee! Just what Walford needs, another murderer. They should be bringing back writer Tony Jordan, but hey ho, at least there’s half a chance she’ll throttle creepy Gray.
*MAKE-UP: A Glamorous History, Glow Up: Britain’s Next Make-Up Star... any suggestions that the BBC are running out of ideas are entirely without foundation...
Small Joys of TV: Bent Coppers: Crossing The Line Of Duty. Our Yorkshire Farm. The classic Fawlty Towers moment when Basil gives his Austin 1100 Countryman “a damn good thrashing”.
Random Irritations: Measly portions of spuds on cooking shows. Who wants four chips with their fish or a hint of roast potatoes with a beef joint? Stop poncing about and serve adult-sized meals.
SEPARATED at birth: Mayoral candidate Brian Rose and former pop star Richard Jobson? One was in the Skids, the other’s campaign seems likely to hit ’em.
*QUIZ show howler of the week. Mary, on The Chase, claiming that the city state that destroyed Carthage in the 2nd century BC was “Dunstable”.
Classic clanger: Ian Findlay was talking about snowboarding on Eurosport when he said: “Cheryl Maas, great to see her big backside 540 opening up on the first run. Got a grab in as well.”
April 18. TOO Close involved downing happy pills and booze on an industrial scale. How else could viewers get through three hours of relentless misery? Near the end of the final tear-jerking instalment, our screens froze as if ITV itself couldn’t take any more of it. Denise Gough was so compelling as Connie Mortensen, you found yourself wondering if she needed a shrink or an exorcist. The woman was a bigger mess than Boris Johnson’s hair. The opening episode set her up as a hate figure. The “yummy mummy monster” had driven off the Kingsferry Bridge, nearly killing herself, her daughter and the daughter of her bisexual pal and neighour Ness. Fully psychotic, she tormented forensic psychiatrist Emma like a crankier Hannibal Lecter, sneering at her “swishy bag and sensible shoes” – pretty much what Lecter said to Clarice Starling.
Only as the story progressed did we realise the anti-depressants she popped to cope with her mum’s death and her husband shagging Ness had sent Connie over the edge – literally, in her car, while “seeing” demons.
Emma’s hubby Simon was at it too, although the couple did manage to shag on the kitchen island, which is one way to glaze a doughnut. How many women reacted to this steamy scene by saying, “I hope they wiped that down before breakfast”? Si was shocked, gasping, “Is it my birthday, have I won the lottery?” (Sound familiar, fellas?) It was a case of physician heal thyself though. Emma – wonderful Emily Watson – was hanging on in quiet desperation, coping with the death of her toddler and the slow demise of her marriage. She smoked menthol fags and drank red wine by the bucket. The acting sparkled, but the torment was overpowering. Too Close made Walford look like Disneyland. Life is depressing enough. Can TV not provide a scintilla of escapism?
I CAN See Your Voice brings us people who may or may not have any talent. But enough about Amanda Holden and Paddy McGuinness. It’s the opposite of The Voice where judges hear someone sing without seeing them. Here they try and guess if someone can sing by looking at them. Um, who cares? Meanwhile, on ITV, Game Of Talents asks us to guess what skills eight people have. We get glimpses of good acts, like young vent Max Fulham. But how much better would Saturday night telly be stripped off of gimmicks, rip-offs and guessing games, and devoted instead to professional entertainers? Vernon Kay is still straining to be the new Mr Saturday Night despite having the charisma of a rain-soaked Monday morning. There’s more chance of getting a blood clot from a jab than of TV finding the next Eric Morecambe.
ALL That Glitters aims to find “Britain’s next jewellery star”. Any idea who the last one was? The only jewellery star who springs to mind is Gerald Ratner who described his own products as “total crap” – much like this show’s casting. Host Katherine Ryan has the aura of someone who’d rather not be fronting a show called All That Glitters. She mocked the format asking what better way to celebrate jewellery-makers than “through a TV competition/talent search format”? Her disdain didn’t stop her banking the generous BBC fee, though. Hypocrisy goes with the territory. Worse, she advised worried Sri Lanka-born contestant Tamara to think “like a straight white man... think like Boris Johnson”. She could have told her to think like Priti or Rishi, but no. Playing the woke card, no matter how irrelevant, cements Ryan’s right-on credentials. Generic shows like this need warmth, not her dollar store Joan Rivers schtick.
*RYAN shows very little emotion. I suspect the Botox is leaking into her brain. She was more like Joan Dithers on Beat The Chasers.
HOT on TV: Line Of Duty – cooking with gas... Jaye Griffiths, Between The Lines... Bill Maher – always spot on.
ROT on TV: Sunday night’s film Baftas – dull enough to put you off movies for life... Katherine Ryan, All That Glitters – fool’s gold.
BENT Coppers reminded us how corrupt many Met police were in the 70s. A “firm within a firm” broke the rules, took bribes and fitted people up like a Savile Row tailor. They were brought down by AC-10 – the inspiration for Between The Lines and Line Of Duty’s AC-12. We see a lot of bad cops in TV fiction. It’d make a nice change to create a Jack Regan.
YOU never see inter-species boxing on Star Trek spin-offs. Why is that? I get why they wouldn’t have Miss Known Universe contests – a Tamarian wouldn’t stand a chance against a green-skinned Orion beauty. But who wouldn’t want to see a Klingon go twelve rounds with a Cardassian? Or better still, a Kardashian.
*JIMMY Carr has undergone an incredible medical transformation – new hair, new teeth and a Botoxed kisser. Shame the smugness bypass didn’t take.
*KATIE Price is asking fans to make-over her house for free. There’s a show in this. DIY SOS – Shameless Old Slapper.
*ALAN Carr is pitching himself to host The Generation Game. Why not? He’s mucked up every other gameshow format.
Small Joys of TV: BBC4’s Peter Alliss night. Jeff Dunham’s Pandemic Special. Hannah Waddingham, Midsomer Murders. Martin “Steve Arnott” Compton rocking up on Strippers Vs Werewolves. Frank Of Ireland, daft and filthy, yes, but funny enough to watch again.
Random Irritations: Day-time formats colonising prime time. All That Glitters getting the quote wrong, it’s glisters, as well as the host. The pox of TV guessing games. I guess commissioners think viewers want them. Guess again.
April 11. IS Louis Theroux fit for purpose? First Jimmy Savile out-foxed him, now we find out he missed the real Joe Exotic story too. The bloke couldn’t spot a wrong’un in Belmarsh. The unseen footage of Loopy Lou interviewing Netflix’s self-styled Tiger King on Louis Theroux: Shooting Joe Exotic was jaw-dropping. It showed Exotic, real name Schreibvogel, airing his hatred of his rival Carole Baskin – the woman he was later found guilty of plotting to kill. He talked about hiring a hitman to bump her off, warned of her impending doom and generally ran her down. Yet all of these quotes were edited out of Louis’ 2011 doc, America’s Most Dangerous Pets. As was footage of the sick former zoo owner gleefully shooting a horse in the head – so much for his claims to be an “animal-lover”. No alarm bells went off when Joe spewed toxic threats. Instead, Louis warmed to the “endearing” craziness of this fast-talking, gun-toting crank in his fake cop uniform, and was spell-bound by his “hillbilly razzmatazz”.
Mercifully Joe’s now behind bars, but is Theroux’s interviewing shtick – laidback faked naivety – a cover for actual naivety? Either way he’s amused us enough. Theroux clearly wouldn’t know a story if it mauled him like, well, an aggrieved tiger. Savile pulled the wool over his eyes more times than Line Of Duty’s balaclava man. Louis helped rehabilitate the creep, and he certainly helped fame-hungry loser Joe achieve his dream of undeserved celebrity. He couldn’t lay a glove on Max Clifford either.
Unable to interview anyone from Tiger King, Louis finally spoke to the Baskins for an undisclosed fee. The Netflix show turned Exotic into a cult hero and painted ageing flower-child Carole as the wicked witch. Ironically, Baskin now owns what’s left of Joe’s graffiti-blitzed zoo. She may be a little unsettling but nine out of ten tigers say compared to the previous boss, she’s GRRREAT!
INTRUDER was hilarious, but maybe not intentionally so. I was in stitches when cocky Sam pursued his booze-sodden ex-lover Angela calling her name repeatedly, like Alan Partridge shouting “Dan... Dan... DAN!” The soppy saga started with the smuggest middle class dinner party this side of Hampstead – puffed-up cocaine-snorting bores sneering at the Leave-voting oi polloi. Host Sam was a right-on radio shock-jock. Think James O’Brien but slightly less irritating... and markedly more violent. Later that night Sam killed a teenage burglar, stabbing him in the back as he tried to escape through his window, and talked his local reporter wife Rebecca into saying she’d done it. Angela, the only witness, started blackmailing him... so Becca topped her, and then left Sam to die too, giving a whole new meaning to meeting her deadlines. Don’t mess with the psycho press! There were bent cops, drug-runners, a dodgy farmer and a family liaison officer who cracked the case. We never found out how Sam worked in London when they clearly lived on the coast. And not just any coast. Intruder was obviously filmed in Ireland. That’s some commute. Or how they afforded that cool coastal mansion. Or indeed, the last time a local newspaper broke a police corruption story.
I KNOW there are more riddles on Line Of Duty than there are locks on Jo Davidson’s door, but why wasn’t Ryan Pilkington nicked last weekend? The undercover villain topped a WPC and tried to drown Terry Boyle. AC-12 have clocked him and his victim had scratch marks and bruises on her neck. Surely he’d have got a tug? Elsewhere Det Supt Buckells was collared, and Steve Arnott turned down sex with Steph – although he did have a good old rummage in her loft. He found the filthy lucre Ted Hastings slipped her, but not her well-thumbed copy of How To Speak Scouse Unconvincingly. The big question now is: will Arnott shop Ted before Ted suspends him for drug abuse?
*Ted-ism of the week. Told to stop fighting old battles, Hastings replied: “The name’s Hastings... I’m the epitome of an old battle.”
HOT on TV: Adrian Dunbar, Line Of Duty... Cat Deeley, Lorraine... The Grinder (Fox)... Jimmy Carr.
ROT on TV: Sort Your Life Out – sort your schedules out first... Game Of Talents – guess again.
IF Kat and Phil’s relationship on EastEnders were a car it’d come with a two-week warranty. The pair have hated each other for decades. I suppose for mechanic Phil, she’s a vintage banger (for the bus replacement service see Shirley Carter). And for Kat, well, he’s an ageing alpha Romeo, definitely one of the top 500 lovers she’s ever had
AGATHA & Poirot had more padding than Pointless. What a waste of time. There were way too many talking heads with sod-all to say (odds-on most hadn’t read the books). ITV even had Marcus Wareing making a cake Agatha Christie might have eaten... FFS! Two fine actors brought ’Ercule Poirot to life – David Suchet and Peter Ustinov. But the great detective was such a mincing clever dick the biggest mystery is how he mixed with so many killers and survived unscathed.
SEPARATED at birth: Poirot and The Magic Roundabout’s Zebedee. One a bizarre foreign irritant with a daft moustache who popped up regularly to show off his magic powers... the other was a jack-in-the-box.
*THIS Is My House lost one in five viewers in a week. In honour of the show’s concept, three of the four who were left were only faking interest.
*I CAN See Your Voice? I can’t see your point.
Small Joys of TV: Brian Conley claiming he’d once worked at a fairground “mucking out the ghost train”. Downtown Abbey butler Jim Carter playing a bent D.I. on Between The Lines. Lucy Beaumont.
Random Irritations: The new Saturday night “entertainment” line-up, the biggest yawn since the Deliveroo float. Celebrity Juice – take away the effing jeffing and it’d last all of five minutes.
Classic clanger. Brian Moore on Paul Ince’s footballing skills: “Ince is coming back into the game, his balls are showing.”
April 4. WHERE are the laughs on mainstream TV? There were just four comedy shows on the main channels last week, all of them were repeats and one was Citizen Khan which barely counts. Even the most self-satisfied TV exec must realise that their decades of collective prejudice have done for popular comedy what Boris Johnson was gleefully doing to Jennifer Arcuri for four years. Once our evenings were brightened up by masters – Eric & Ernie, the Two Ronnies, Benny Hill, Russ Abbott, Frankie Howerd, Pete & Dud, the immortal Tommy Cooper... Who brings us sunshine now? The BBC’s idea of cutting-edge comedy is a middleclass smug-bucket effing and blinding about Boris and Trump (still).
Worse, we have Toussaint Douglass calling white people “ugly” (he’s no oil painting himself), Sophie Duker quipping “kill whitey” and Jayde Adams fantasising about murdering her fella – all on the Beeb. Yeah, let’s beat racism and sexism by reversing it! No wonder ratings are through the floor. Dipping into Live At The Apollo makes me pine for the clever stand-up of Bob Monkhouse, Jasper Carrott and Dave Allen. We’re cursed with people who identify as comedians (Craig Brown’s phrase), and are indulged in that delusion by the licence fee but wouldn’t have lasted five minutes at the Wheeltappers & Shunters Club. Oddly you’ll find many better on the comedy club circuit. So either they have the wrong agents or they don’t want the exposure.
Even the best current comedians are wasted though. Lee Mack and Peter Kay should have big-budget prime-time comedy specials and Xmas spectaculars. Joe Pasquale too. The great ITV entertainment boss Nigel Lythgoe would have given Jimmy Carr, Mickey Flanagan and Jack Dee An Audience With. Revive it, ITV! And TV Burp! We need earthy sitcoms, mainstream, sketch shows, proper stand-up, topical comedy, farces, off-the-wall humour, actual satire... Forget box-ticking, show us the funny! And why shouldn’t old-school comics ply their trade on BBC1? The bosses don’t like their politics? So what? Let viewers decide. We’re the ones paying. Or have they forgotten that?
THE first thing you notice on Between The Lines is the boozing. These 1990s cops knocked back enough Scotch to float a platoon of Highland pipers. Years before Line Of Duty, flawed hero Tony Clark of the Complaints Investigation Bureau took on bent Old Bill with sidekicks Mo and Harry. I dubbed it Between The Sheets because Clark was over the side like a Titanic life-boat. The plots were as rich as the characterisation and rarely predictable. What a pleasure to watch this smart, Bafta-winning drama again.
DODGY DCI Jo Davidson framed her ex, Farida, on Line Of Duty. Jo is working with villains, but she isn’t happy about it. Look how cheesed off she was about that burner phone. It can’t just have been because it was a Nokia, surely? Ted Hastings has got something going on with John Corbett’s widow Steph. He gave her £50K last series. Is he the one enjoying her Sky Sports package? Or worse, is Ryan Pilkington? Nice view from her house, by the way. Odd that so many people in modern crime dramas enjoy stunning scenery... a boon for estate agents, though. Forget the corpse, folks, dig the countryside.
*Questions arising: how do Steve Arnott’s painkillers kick in so quickly? Was that suspect solicitor Jimmy Lakewell’s voice on the partial recording? And since when did the CPS make such speedy decisions?
HOT on TV: Unforgotten finale – unforgettable... Between The Lines (BBC4)... Tina (SkyDocs).
ROT on TV: The Irregulars (Netflix) – all sh*t, Sherlock... The Walking Dead – sleepwalking these days... Alan Carr’s Epic Gameshow – tragic lame-show.
BOB Monkhouse’s newsagent once told him “I have more chance of being struck by lightning than of winning the Lottery.” Bob replied: “You have your dream and I’ll have mine.” The winners on The Syndicate were ripped off by shopkeeper Frank who legged it with their £27mill (well, those hair-dye bills don’t pay themselves). They were a kennel club syndicate – apt because the plot was so unlikely, I said “Kennel!” more than once. If that happened to you would you a) sensibly call Plod or b) insanely chase Frank to Monaco? They chose b! Good escapist fun though.
*WHAT happened to Katherine Ryan on Beat The Chasers? Had the Botox leaked into her brain? She made Joey Essex look like Bamber Gascoigne. Maybe she wore that strange tent to distract us. It made her look like she was trying out for the Stars In Their Eyes re-boot as Demis Roussos. Either that or she’d been taking diet advice from the Beast.
*DC Winter thought he had a chance with PC Jade-Marie on Midsomer Murders. Would he finally bring new meaning to Game Of Thrones catchphrase “Winter is coming”? Er, no. At the end of the fishing-themed episode, Jade-Marie liked him “as a friend”. She was the one that got away.
*MILES Jupp played a murder victim. No comic has died so publicly since Miranda hosted the Royal.
*ON Britain’s Tiger Kings, Ross Kemp met tigers in Oxfordshire, lions off the M1 and the asses who own them. The Grant Mitchell star is no stranger to polecats (Tiffany, Louise, Nina... ) but sadly Kemp’s monotonous narration could have tranquillised rhinos.
*IMAGINE Grant keeping tigers – less Joe Exotic, more Joe Psychotic.
*VERNON Kay will host ITV’s Game Of Talents. What’s his?
*KATE Humble, Julia Bradbury, Darcy Bussell, Susan Calman... is there anywhere we can go these days without bumping into a minor celebrity with a film crew in tow? It’s a wonder they don’t trip over each other. Or, given the laziness of TV producers, start filming each other for endless spin-off series.
Small Joys of TV: Finding Jackie Charlton. Churchill. Shaun Williamson beating all five chasers. Country Music (PBS America). Law & Order SVU – always reliable. Stacey Dooley.
Random Irritations: The BBC neutering BBC4 in a doomed attempt to chase “yoof”. The pandemic of pandemic docs – we don’t need them, we’re living it. TV’s metric obsession.