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 24. NOTHING shows up the BBC’s complacency like their failure to fix shows in terminal decline. Doctor Who has stunk like a log-jammed Judoon out-house for years. Sunday’s “special” resurrected the bug-eyed Sea Devils, but the dawdling plot made less sense than Putin. Clumsy editing didn’t help. No wonder viewing figures went down like the Moskva. Showrunner Chris Chibnall’s legacy is a glut of badly-written episodes, ham-fisted preaching and an arrogant disregard for the show’s traditions. 2021’s Flux was such a mess, Chibs had to post a video online trying to explain it. Instead of crafting gripping original stories, he’s been allowed – probably encouraged – to turn the show into a vehicle for what Elon Musk calls “the woke mind virus”. SF used to stand for science fiction. Now it’s Snowflake. Sci-fi can address politics – the Daleks were Nazis, the Borg were Communist – but watching Dr Who is like being lectured by box-ticking, stoned students.
Serious TV bosses would have clocked the show’s decline and ditched Chibs after The Tsuranga Conundrum. But the Beeb are more interesting in telling us what to think than in making quality programmes. See Sharon Mitchell comparing Brexit to Covid on DeadEnders. Naturally no Walford character ever moaned about EU red-tape or mentioned the real-life jihadists up the road in Leytonstone lest viewers draw “wrong” conclusions. Sunday’s “comedy” was Dan dressed like a panto pirate (Seaman Staines?). The “significant moment” had the Doc tell Yaz she loved her but there’d be no jolly-rogering. Give us a break. Compared to grown-up sci-fi like Picard and The Expanse, it’s just embarrassingly lame. Time to bring back the Doc’s biggest and most effective enemy, Michael “Axe-man” Grade.
*I DID like Elizabeth Tan as Madame Ching. The sexy pirate would make any crew so solid.
Seven greatest TV sci-fi ideas: The Holodeck (Star Trek: TNG). Black Mirror’s real-life mute button. Futurama’s what-if machine. Star Trek’s tricorders, replicator & 3D chess. Triple-breasted women (Total Recall, yes I know it’s a film, but she had three breasts, what’s not to like?).
THE Thief, His Wife & The Canoe had a new spin on True Crime – Truly Dumb Crime. Facing bankruptcy, ex-screw John Darwin faked his death in a canoe as sea-worthy as a ruptured colander so wife Anne could fleece their insurance company. He didn’t know it takes seven years for a missing person to be declared dead. D’oh! He moved into the house next door, which they also owned, grew whiskers and wandered around town. Double d’oh! Then in Panama the couple had their picture taken by a property company – biggest d’oh! He had Anne flog their houses despite knowing they couldn’t emigrate, and finally came home faking amnesia. ITV told Anne’s side of the story. But although John was controlling and she expressed doubts throughout, she still went along with it – and let their grieving sons believe their dad was brown-bread. The biggest shock was how close these clots came to getting away with it.
THE latest episode of dark-comedy Inside No 9 got the darkness right, but rationed the laughs. There were two decent jokes. Donna, talking about 5 Guys restaurants, asked gay doc Callum, “Have you been in 5 Guys, Callum?” “Oh at least,” he replied. And when she didn’t want to sit in the damp pedalo, he said, “The cold water will help your vaginal irritation.” Donna replied: “Excuse me, his name is Darren.” It was hard to believe in the set-up, or that the three chalk-and-cheese ex-students had ever been mates. And many will have guessed the boatman twist. Let’s hope it gets funnier.
HOT on TV: Derry Girls... The King (SkyAt)... Better Call Saul (Netflix)... Winning Time.
ROT on TV: Romeo & Duet – do one... Doctor Who – exterminate... Comedians Giving Lectures – as funny as Chinese water torture.
LIFE After Life is Groundhog Day stretched for Olivia’s entire existence. The poor kid dies more times than South Park’s Kenny – she’s still-born, she drowns, she falls out a window... But reborn, she knows how to avoid each fate. What would Boris give for that power?
*IF Ursula was born in 1910, why was she teenage in 1918? And did middle-class Edwardian couples really have cowgirl sex?
*BBC1’s Obesity report asked why so many of us are lard-arses. Not mentioned: Mary Berry’s Fantastic Feasts, MasterChef and Gordon Ramsay’s Future Food Stars... all on the BBC. They bombard us with grub then lecture us for getting fat.
*DARK days for Netflix. Their stock is in free-fall, subscribers are down, and they’re bringing in ads. It sounds like the kind of boardroom drama I’d enjoy watching... if it were on AmPrime.
*IT’S said that the British army wore redcoats so the enemy couldn’t spot blood spilling. Frankie Boyle wears brown for similar reasons.
*I RARELY agree with Frankie but he’s right to point out that Keir Starmer “has all the authority of the ‘do not tumble-dry’ label”.
Small Joys of TV: Idris Elba’s Fight School. Inside No 9. Sienna Miller, Chivalry. Monica Dolan as Anne Dawson. Predatory Gentleman Jack outed as a “tuft-hunter”.
Random irritations: Easter schedules. Staged audience comments on BGT. Piers Morgan’s desperate and misleading Trump chat spin – he just can’t help faking it.
SEPARATED at birth: Putin and Gazza? One a former idol who got addicted, got sick and went nuts. The other is the great Paul Gascoigne. Runner-up: Any Sea Monster and Lauren Harries.
CLASSIC Clanger. Mark Scott was talking about a shot on goal on Match Of The Day 2 when he said: “Not a bad effort with a measured poke.”
April 17. A STRANGE mechanical being wept fake tears on Britain’s Got Talent last night. And for once it wasn’t Simon Cowell. “Titan the Robot” sang Cry Me A River while spraying great fountains of water at the judges. Please bring him back for Ring Of Fire. Poor Amanda Holden was on her knees, cowering behind the desk, trying not to get soaked – a completely new experience for her, obviously. Titan aped Attenborough, aimed Barbie Girl at Amanda, and read the septic sewer that is David Walliams’s mind, claiming to see a “vision” of Cowell... The David-loves-Simon gag has more whiskers than Rum Tug Tugger, but the puffed-up panel love turns who make it all about them.
The Matricks Illusions siblings delivered a polished quick-change routine. And spooky magician The Phantom (from the enchanted forests of Wood Green) conned us into thinking he’d performed his entire act invisibly. He was so good that in one close-up moment Amanda’s neck seemed to return magically to its true age. The rest was stuffed predictably with cute kids, chirpers and hoofers – including a berk dressed as a giant bird. Decent comics are rarer here than discerning judges.
In a shameless steal from Michael McIntyre’s show, a “surprised” Nick Edwards was lured up to sing an original song by his adorable daughters. Heartstrings were duly plucked. American Loren Allred was easily the best singer. But she’s already had a Top 30 hit with 2017’s Never Enough from The Greatest Showman, and she’s recorded with Bublé – hardly fresh talent. Titan the Robot said of itself “you’re thinking the Terminator has let himself go”. ITV’s talent scouts certainly have.
*HAS Titan got a TV future? We already have a comedy android in Jimmy Carr. But if he scrapes through to the semis, what odds he’ll fashionably transform into Titania?
C4 have turned SAS: Who Dares Wins into the Rudy Reyes ego show. Annoying, isn’t it? The ex-US marine has replaced Ant Middleton (elbowed, it’s whispered, for thinking for himself). So now we have Reyes, who’s been an actor far longer than he was in the military, “beasting” people. “Lock your f***ing body, Cueball” he yells, like a witless, deranged Sgt Major, at a bald bloke. Remi Adeleke, a Bronx-raised former combat medic and Navy Seal, is more likeable but why bring in Yanks? It’s SAS: Who Dares Wins not NATO: Angry Blokes Shouting. You wonder what Billy and Foxy make of it. Special Forces soldiers aren’t big-headed loudmouths. We still get sob stories and touchy-feely moments of course, and irritants, sorry, characters like scatter-brain Claire – if she talked any more crap you could flush her.
RUDY was giving competitors a pep talk on SAS: WDW when he said, “I don’t care how tired you are, you must grind and grind and grind.” I heard something similar on Open House...
*PAHRNIA announced “I’ve got so much sand in my fanny”. A golden buzzer act for BGT, surely?
ANNE Lister is a strange choice for a BBC heroine. On Sunday, “Gentleman Jack” sacked a footman and threatened to shoot him. Last series she evicted a struggling 80year-old tenant. And she’s clearly only bedding wet heiress Ann Walker for her wonga. If Lister were a bloke, the Beeb would hate her. The alpha lesbian’s seduction techniques leave a lot to be desired too. During foreplay with wealthy Walker, she rabbited on about estates, accounts and property evaluations. It’s like going to bed with Money Box Live. Come on Anne, sex it up! Tell her about those big shafts you’re sinking and the long position you’ll be taking on her stock.
HOT on TV: Jean Smart, Hacks (AmPrime)... Lee Mack, The 1% Club... classic Gazza clips.
ROT on TV: Anatomy Of A Scandal – soapy, over-written & not a patch on real life political shenanigans... Gentleman Jack – jack it in... Hard Cell.
WHERE has the S&M countess gone on The Split? She was the only one I liked! Maybe she’s short of cash and is off somewhere having a whip round.
*DID Nathan turn down Hannah, the wife he’s divorcing, because he loves smug Kate or cos he’s fed up with the odd... gaps she... leaves... in her... sentences?
*7 greatest TV lawyers: Perry Mason. Rumpole Of The Bailey. Denny Crane (Boston Legal). Jackie Chiles (Seinfeld). Arnie Becker (LA Law). Saul Goodman (Breaking Bad). Alan Shore (Boston Legal).
*I ALWAYS know when I’ve been on telly because people stop me in the street to let me know. This week it was a Mrs Merton Show repeat where wonderfully caustic Caroline Aherne told me “You know, I can’t look at your face without thinking of a baboon’s bottom.” Me neither. RIP Caroline, a superb, much-missed talent.
*WHY Didn’t They Ask Evans? Strong cast, great direction... just one question: Why didn’t they find a better plot?
*DO you ever watch Audience With repeats just to count the dead people? Just me then.
Small Joys of TV: Liam Neeson, Derry Girls. Hullraisers. Stephanie Cole. Chasing Trane (SkyArts). Arthur Lowe: A Life On The Box. I Am Johnny Cash (SkyArts).
Random irritations: The BGT judges’ lack of judgement. Gutless Have I Got News For You – the once hot satire is now colder than Wim Hof. Owain Wyn Evans.
SEPARATED at birth: Kevin Maxwell and Reggie Kray? One linked by family to a criminal empire, large-scale fraud and unexplained death. The other was an East End villain.
April 10. AFTER a dreary series, Peaky Blinders finally played a blinder. Tommy Shelby and his Brummie hoods went out on a violent, revenge-fuelled high. His new-found son Duke executed Billy Grade, the traitor in the gang, and saw off Billy’s accomplice, Tommy’s own brother Finn Shelby. Mad Arthur stopped chasing the dragon long enough to lure Aunt Polly’s killer, “Captain Swing”, and her IRA cronies to an ambush. They might have turned the tide of battle with their sniper if Arthur hadn’t unveiled “an old keepsake from Passchendaele” – a cannister of mustard gas. “Vengeance is for the Lord,” said Swing. “Not in Small Heath it ain’t,” replied Arthur, before shooting her stone dead.
The final set-to was on Miquelon. Tommy met slippery cousin Michael Gray and his Boston Irish heavies to trade opium for a £5million bank draft. They’d planted a time-bomb in Tom’s car, but our drug-smuggling MP anti-hero was one step ahead. Johnny Dogs transferred “the ticker” into the mob’s vehicle, then Shelby ironed out Michael too. Believing he was terminally ill; Tommy was about to top himself when the spirit of his dead daughter Ruby rocked up to tell him he wasn’t sick at all. His doctor, a close pal of Oswald Mosley, had faked his diagnosis to push Tom to suicide. Mumbo-jumbo aside, it was a righteous end to this once gripping gang show. But even swathes of fog and gas couldn’t hide the script blunders. Mosley’s wedding in Berlin didn’t happen until 1936, three years later.
*PEAKY puzzles. When did the Garrison move under a railway bridge? What happened to the Hayden Stagg storyline? And if Tommy wasn’t sick, why was he having seizures?
*DIRTY Diana asked Tommy to screw her on the Tory front benches in the Commons. Tsk. That’s totally inappropriate. Those seats are only used for screwing the country...
*ANYONE else spot that Jason Williamson from the Sleaford Mods played that pulpit-chewing preacher?
WHO needs the most help on The Split – the law firm’s divorcing clients or their sex-starved solicitors? The posh soap is so full of messed-up space-wasters it’s hard to know who we’re supposed to like. Surely not Hannah, heart-broken at her own impending divorce, who spent last series shagging Christie, the flying Dutchman? Or her soon-to-be ex Nathan, who has accidentally knocked up his smug new squeeze. Then there’s Hannah’s randy sister Nina who copped off with another brief’s gay boyfriend at an AA meeting. (Which step is that?). I did take a shine to the posh Countess who kept her recently deceased ex close with her eye-watering S&M skills – think Mills & Bondage. Apparently every now and then she ran an iron over his Dickie. It’s preposterous old codswallop, but I’d certainly consult Nina on a trial basis.
WILL TV mark St George’s Day? On past form, let’s hope not. It brings out the worst in them. In 2006, Channel 4 filmed a St Geo’s event in Essex as part of some potty argument that the English don’t exist. Can you imagine proud Scots standing for that? The Queen Vic on EastEnders has hosted knees-ups for American Independence Day, Diwali, and, before the Brexit vote, an EU-themed supper club week. (Totally unbiased, the BBC... ) But the only time they had a St George’s do, it was an Alfie Moon scam. BBC4 once filmed me (bad) in a lavish rose garden, counter-posed against (good) Billy Bragg who was shot in front of the council estate I used to live on. The self-loathing of the “cultured” classes knows no bounds. Never mind that England gave the world trade unions, parliamentary democracy and the common law. To these snobby oddballs, any display of English patriotism is just a goose-step away from invading Poland.
HOT on TV: Brenda Fricke, Holding... the Muhammad Ali documentary... Amanda Collin as Mother, Raised By Wolves... the Peaky Blinders finale & Amber Anderson as Dirty Diana Mitford.
ROT on TV: John Barrowman, All Star Musicals – oi, flasher, try Goodbye! from The Producers... The Great Home Transformation – dry rot in the C4 defence.
THE last time I saw June Brown, she was dancing on a table at an awards’ do – in her 80s. She was as wonderful off stage as she was as chain-smoking hypochondriac Dot Cotton. June was special. She could do comedy, tragedy, she made Dot seem real and viewers loved her. Give her a proper tribute, BBC.
The 7 Greatest Walford teams: Den & Angie, Frank & Peggy (and Pat), Grant & Phil (and Sharon), Kat & Alfie, Pauline & Arthur, Ian & Cindy, Pat & her earrings.
*HOUSE Of Maxwell revealed that Ghislaine and Bob miaowed to each other over the phone. And you thought the Cats movie was cringe-making. Next week, milk-lapping with Prince Andrew...
*THE Kardashians return Thursday for their 21st series. Kim, Kendall, Kylie and Khloe will be joined by new sisters Ker-Ching, Kebab and Kobblers...
*LOUISE Perry was smart, articulate and impressive on Banned. Only a foul sexist would speculate about how good she’d look on a centrefold.
Small Joys of TV: The Many Saints Of Newark (Sky). Monty Python repeats (That’s TV). Banned recalling that the West End once staged a show called Yes We Have No Pyjamas.
Random irritations: The BBC continuity bloke giving away The Split’s next plot twist with an MND helpline (Motor Neurone Disease or Messy Nookie?)
SEPARATED at birth: Bert and Zachary Quinto’s Sylar on Heroes? One has worked with far-fetched foam-brained characters, the other was on Sesame Street.
Classic Clanger. Prue Leith, talking about a choux nut on Bake Off: “Quite often I need two holes so I can squirt.”
April 3. SOON after the slap that was heard around the world, a friend texted asking: “Is Will Smith the first bloke to win an Oscar by a technical knock-out?” In truth Peggy Mitchell slapped Pat Butcher harder but US TV comedians had a field day. “Will Smith can’t take a joke – Chris Rock can take a punch,” quipped James Corden, adding, “Will was handed an Oscar and a WWE Smackdown belt.” Jimmy Kimmel quipped, “Nobody did anything to help... Spider-Man was there, Aquaman was there, Catwoman... all sitting on their hands. “Even Kanye was like, ‘You went on stage and did what at an awards show?’.” British TV had nothing. The “Fresh Punch Of Bel Air” reminded us that we need nightly topical comedy shows as much as the Oscars need controversy to distract us from how dull and out-of-touch they’ve become.
ITV bungled The Nightly Show five years ago by having hosts who weren’t comics and letting wet producers censor the jokes. The prissy “you can’t say that” mindset kills comedy dead and sucks the joy out of life. Why not commission five great comedians, old school and new, with their own writing teams, to go out on different week nights? The edge of competition would do wonders for ratings. So take risks and send us all to bed laughing. It couldn’t be as lame as The Last Leg.
The Oscars, meanwhile, have less authority than Jackie Weaver. They’re unsavable as long as they’re more concerned with box-ticking than talent. Awards should go to the best. Nothing else matters. Will Smith’s King Richard was his finest performance since Ali. So what a shame his lasting legacy will probably be awards hosts using stunt doubles. Let’s hope Trevor Noah wears a gumshield at the Grammys.
MARY Whitehouse really copped it in the 60s and 70s. She moaned about the swearing on Till Death Us Do Part, so the writer, my old friend Johnny Speight, had Alf Garnett support her. She hated porn, so David Sullivan launched a soft-porn mag called Whitehouse. The BBC sent her up in comedy-drama Shizzlewick. Even Deep Purple taunted her with their song Mary Long... But Banned! The Mary Whitehouse Story reminded us that Mary was absolutely right about porn, paedos, and the BBC’s smug aloofness. Director-general Hugh Greene actually said, “We are going to use this organisation to change the way the rest of the country thinks. We want them to see stuff they don’t like. We don’t really care if they complain.” Nothing’s changed then. Mary was like Canute trying to stop the tide. But as Ben Thompson said, her “smoke alarm was set very high, but that doesn’t mean... there wasn’t a real fire.”
GARY Oldman is terrific as Jackson Lamb. The slovenly Slow Horses spy boss runs a group of MI5 misfits – “M.I.F***ing Useless”. He’s a foulmouthed mess of whiskey stains, cigs and sweat, but underneath that slob exterior, Lamb’s brain is sharper than his tongue. The agents are drawn from Mick Heron’s spy novels, which are fuelled by tension and barbed wit. Naturally, timid TV types have watered Jackson down a bit. But he still has zingers like, “Bringing you up to speed is like trying to explain Norway to a dog.”
7 Greatest TV Spy shows. The Avengers. Spooks. The Americans. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Alias. Homeland. The Man From UNCLE.
HOT on TV: Oscar Isaac, Moon Knight (Disney)... Jack Lowden, Slow Horses (Apple)... Bashy, The Ipcress File.
ROT on TV: Anyone Can Sing – they can’t, we’ve seen X Factor... Future Food Stars – shameless Apprentice steal, fork off.
RIPPING off The Apprentice, Gordon Ramsay’s Future Food Stars is effing and cheffing with a pinch of SAS Who Dares Cooks. Ramsay arrived by chopper, made the wannabes jump off a cliff and then flog street-food – cue a 40minute wait for an £8 cheese toastie. “I could’ve gone to f***ing Tescos, bought a Breville toaster and made one,” he snapped. The loser gets told “We’re done”. “You’re fried” would’ve been funnier.
C4 want to shock us with Open House, a tiresome threesomes’ “experiment” designed to break up couples for public amusement. Too tame. How about Full House – incest enthusiasts compete to sleep with all their sisters for a cash prize? Or restaurant-based orgy First Come, First Served where (Cut! – Ed)
*THE Island is really unique. It turns a show based around shipwrecks into a car crash.
*NEWARK, Newark? No laughs, no laughs.
*STAR Earendel is 13bn light years from Earth. Wow. That’s nearly as far as the Oscars are from popular taste.
*MORE bad news from Hollywood. Bruce Willis is retiring, Nicholas Cage isn’t.
*IF ITV’s Nina Nannar had a nanna called Nunu, she’d be a Bad Manners song.
Small Joys of TV: John C. Reilly, Winning Time (SkyAt). Hacks (Am). Regina Hall. Kristen Stewart’s hot-pants. Falklands War: Untold Story. Earth’s Great Rivers II.
Random Oscar irritations: They’re too long, and too wrong – Licorice Pizzzza and dull Dune up for best film? That’s nuts! And why no mention that Coda is a remake of a French movie?
*WHY is Laura Kuenssberg worth £335K a year for one day’s work a week? Seriously?
SEPARATED at birth: Harry Palmer, The Ipcress File and young Eric Morecambe. One brought sunshine, the other did jail-time... One worked with someone with short fat hairy legs, the other had Ernie Wise...