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.
AUG 25. EVERY family tree has a few bad apples, but on Succession they’re all rotten to the core. The revolting Roy clan are as dysfunctional as the Simpsons, but as rich and ruthless as Mr Burns. Billionaire boss Logan is the Machiavelli of the boardroom. Smart, cunning and manipulative, Logan could play tag with an octopus and never get caught. His warring offspring are just as dodgy. Toxic sons Kendall and Roman needle each other constantly as they battle to inherit Dad’s multi-national media business, although love cheat daughter Siobhan (Shiv) seems be to his favourite. The comedy drama reminds me of Veep. The patter is as nimble as the Artful Dodger’s fingers – and just as grimy. Even Chubby Brown might feel the lingo is a bit strong. But JR Ewing would tip his Stetson to the Roys’ relentless plotting and betrayals. Dallas gave JR demonic charm and surrounded him with good-hearted stooges. Succession doesn’t bother. These are not likeable people.
Season one ended with cocaine-crazed Kendall and his pal poised to launch a hostile company take-over. The cunning plan collapsed when Ken managed to kill an off-duty waiter who was scoring drugs for him. Luckily Logan was on hand to cover it up... on condition his son called off the coup.Season two opened with Logan forcing beaten Ken to go on TV and explain why he’d changed sides. “I saw their plan, Dad’s plan was better,” he mumbled, sounding for all the world like David Blaine on horse tranquilisers. Now it’s dog eat rabid dog again with Logan sending Ken and Roman into battle over a data company, giving Ken the opportunity to double-cross his way back into favour. Writer Jesse “Peep Show” Armstrong should be baptised nightly in a vat of Jack Daniels for rescuing August TV from the doldrums.
THE Day Mountbatten Died was an oddly muted way to describe his cold-blooded murder. In 1979, the IRA planted a 50lb remote-controlled bomb on Mountbatten’s holiday boat, Shadow V. The explosion not only killed the Queen’s second cousin but also his grandson Nicholas, 14, local boy Paul Maxwell, 15, and his daughter’s 83-year-old mother-in-law. “It was like a crack of thunder,” Paul’s still grieving mother Mary recalled. “I knew he was dead because I felt a part of me go.” Sam Collyns’ harrowing documentary told the story unflinchingly. Mick Treacy of the helicopter rescue crew remembered pulling Nicholas’s body from the water. “It was the first child that I handled in death,” he said. “I see that young boy’s face over and over... it doesn’t go away.” Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA volunteer, said that the Provo leadership knew children would have been on the boat. He called the bombing “a war crime”. Kieran Conway, once the IRA’s director of intelligence, said that the go-ahead came from Martin McGuinness. The mindset was “kill them without too much reflection,” Conway said. And then he laughed. That same day, they detonated two more bombs slaughtering 18 British paratroopers at Warrenpoint. IRA killer Joe Brennan, convicted for the Warrenpoint atrocity, was freed under the Good Friday Agreement. The shameful campaign to persecute former British soldiers continues apace.
ON Deep Water cash-strapped Roz finally succumbed to Scott’s big bulging wallet. He paid her £5K for sex, which seems nuts when Lisa is giving it away for free. Roz is the masseuse yet Scott rubs her up the wrong way. I predict an unhappy ending. Elsewhere, Lisa managed to keep her draws on, while Kate stripped for husband Guy (an obvious wrong’un) who rudely blanked her. No manners some people. Don’t fret Kate, I’m on call 24/7.
HOT on TV: Joseph Gilgun, Brassic (Sky1)... Aisling Bea, This Way Up... Sharon Horgan... Sarah Snook, Succession.
ROT on TV: Naked Attraction – degrading and infantile... Lady C, Celebs Go Dating... Deep Water – shallow piddle.
DON’T you just love subtitle cock-ups? Last week Sky Sports renamed Sheffield United “Syphilitic”... and you thought Watford had a poxy start. BBC News once claimed that five men had been arrested for “importing classic ducks” (sadly they meant Class A drugs, not Donald and Daffy in a cartoon crate.) But why are subtitles for domestic shows always white on large black strips that obscure so much of the screen? The ones translating foreign dialogue are far less obtrusive.
*THE Octopus In My House showed how inquisitive, mischievous and smart octopuses are. It quickly emerged that Heidi was way brighter than anyone on Celebs Go Dating.
*NEVER mind Greenland, can’t the Donald buy Albert Square and Trump it up? Phil Mitchell with an iffy comb-over would bring a smile to everyone’s boat-race. Lord knows they need it.
*ASKED on Who Do You Think You Are if she resembled a distant ancestor, cosmetic surgery enthusiast Katherine Ryan replied “I don’t know what I look like naturally any more, that ship has sailed.”
*STATH Lets Flats? Not working. Suggest Stath Hires Writers.
*GEMMA Collins wants Madame Tussauds to make her waxwork. Why not? They could always melt down Shamu and the Three Tenors.
SMALL joys of TV: The Gaffer (BT Sport). Joe Denly’s spectacular Ashes catch. Joe Cocker: Mad Dogs & Englishmen. The Octopus In My House. Quadrophenia (Film4). Ah Sahm vs Li Yung, Warrior.
RANDOM irritations: Channels without subtitles. Gemma Winter talking with her gob full. Jeremy Vine. TV weather presenters who deliver their reports in the style of a Shakespearean tragedy.
SEPARATED at birth: Shaun Ryder and Graham Walker, R.I.P.? One was a Grumbleweed, the other smokes weed and grumbles... both make me laugh.
Aug 18. DRAGONS’ Den is back again, then. The format is so strong even Evan Davis can’t ruin it. Gawd this bloke irritates the hell out of me. It might be something to do with the way he tells us EXACTLY WHAT WE’VE JUST SEEN, as if he thinks we’re toddlers with the attention span of distracted goldfish. Davis comes across like a cross between Gollum and a needy vicar. When he isn’t patronising us he’s hyping things up. “Mayhem erupts in the Den,” he’ll claim. But it never has and never will, although in fairness it came close when ex-publican Paul Stanley turned up with a satanic heavy metal band promoting his Cloven Hoof brand of spiced rum. Peter Jones seemed keen to sign the band, bringing back unwelcome memories of his disastrous venture into indie rock with Hamfatter, headlining Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage no time soon.
Stanley, who shares his name with the rhythm guitarist from KISS, had a strong product and a bad attitude. Sadly he’d given too much of the business away to be investible, even for self-styled “canny Northern lass” Sara Davies, the new dragon. Likable Sara, from County Durham, will invest in any pretty much any product she can flog on a TV shopping channel.
Hardworking couple Jack and Aneisha were on the verge of a £60K deal for their posh pet food business until Jack turned down Deborah. Deb wanted a bigger share – as dragons always do – and Jack wasn’t having it. Wife Aneisha was left “a little bit speechless”. After all of their struggle and sacrifice, he’d blown it. Let’s hope the marriage survives.
Good ideas included a toilet brush head that stays in the khazi and tanning cream with added sun protection. The Dragons don’t always get it right (see the Trunki, the Tangle Teezer etc). But at least den favourite Theo Paphitis is standing in for Touker later on this series. A welcome chance to catch up with news about his children’s inheritance and the good Mrs P.
CAN we stop the Woodstock overkill? The 1969 festival was less a glorious celebration of the hippy dream and more a disaster zone. The site turned to mud, the toilets overflowed and the only shop on site supplied narcotics. Some utopia. The US Air Force (boo, hiss) bailed out the hapless dopes with a food drop, farmer Max Yasgur donated milk and cheese, and locals laid on thousands of sandwiches.
DEEP Water does for blokes what Man U did to Chelsea last Sunday. It’s yet another deeply dippy ITV drama that portrays men as weak, worthless or wicked. There’s creepy physiotherapy client Scott who wants to pay cash-strapped masseuse Roz for sex, her waste-of-space gambling addict fella who’s brought her to the brink of eviction, a cheating cosmetic surgeon etc. The women are naturally all hardworking and responsible, apart from Anna Friel’s scatty Lisa who succumbs to drunken, zip-less bathroom sex at a dinner party, and forgets her Alan Whickers... We’re firmly in Big Little Rip-Off territory here. But for those of us who fondly remember when ITV made shows for blokes – Sharpe, Cracker, The Professionals – it’s just another reason to try Netflix.
ARE EastEnders writers pursuing some elaborate dare to see who can come up with the daftest right-on twist? They’ve had murderers making a stand against homophobia (Killers Against Hate! Yeah!); another murderer converting to Islam... What next, murderer Stacey Slater, eco-warrior? Amateur tealeaf Mick calling up Drag Queen SOS? Don’t put it past them. Halfway turned gay over-night, with a hastily added back-story involving a never-mentioned army pal who was the love of his life. Yawn. Rip it up and start again.
HOT on TV: Succession (SkyAt)... Mindhunter (Netflix)... Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing.
ROT on TV: Evan Davis, Dragons’ Den – specialist subject, the bleedin’ obvious... Poldark – gets dafter by the week... Gregg Wallace, Inside The Factory – clock off, son.
FREDDIE Flintoff says he’s “finally made it” after getting mentioned on Corrie. I hate to disillusion him, but they mentioned me once – they’re not that fussy. I was hoping for a screen fling with Kathy Glover for a win double. Sadly Emmerdale never called. (IF YOU USE SCREENGRAB) But she did soak my shirt... (insert your own wet jokes at your peril).
*RE: PC Khafi Kareem, the police woman who had sex on Nigeria’s version of Big Brother, is it fair to say she was caught banged to rights?
*A GIANT inflatable vulva has been banned in Edinburgh. Presumably there are so many puffed-up fannies on the Festival stage there was no need for another one...
*KATHY Burke bottled it when she met Rankin on Kathy Burke’s All Woman. He’s the photographer behind “heroin chic”. Burke rightly called it “repulsive”, but not to Rankin’s face.
SMALL joys of TV: Demelza’s smile. Brilliant documentary series The Vietnam War re-running on BBC4. Joan Jett: Bad Reputation (Sky Arts). Kate Winslett on WDYTYA, a Titanic performance of unbridled luvviness.
RANDOM irritations: The soaps – stale, far-fetched, ham-fisted and tediously repetitive. They’re the dramatic equivalent of getting stuck in a revolving door on a really grey, depressing day.
SEPARATED at birth: Halfway and Woody? One gormless, vacant and rarely shows signs of life. The other is in Toy Story.
TV questions: why exactly does Gregg Wallace wear a hairnet? On Deep Water, how did Cyclops know Lisa hadn’t been wearing ear-rings at the dinner party when she’d had her hair down? And why does no-one have a Lake District accent?
Aug 11. JADE Goody made Joey Essex seem like Einstein. The cheery South Londoner thought that Rio de Janiero was a person, Fats Domino was a Mafia don, ferrets were birds and Sherlock Holmes invented toilets. “Where is East Angular, is it abroad?” she famously asked on 2002’s Big Brother 3. According to Channel 4 she was Jade: The Reality Star Who Changed Britain. But her short, tragic life was more a parable of modern celebrity, with its instant fame and shocking consequences.
“Reality” TV rightly horrifies millions of viewers. It makes role models of people with no talent, turns us into a nation of peeping Toms and brings out dark emotions – Jade was despised before she became a national treasure. Those Big Brother Eviction Night crowds were like Orwell’s Two Minute Hate turned into a weekly ritual. The insults hurled at Goody were what passed for public shaming before Twitter. Fellow contestant Alex Sibley recalled that someone chucked a brick into the BB garden with a note attached to it reading “Jade, die you pig”. But what did the ditzy dental nurse do to deserve such sustained abuse? Yes she was loud, prone to strip off and had an accent that would make a jellied eel cringe. And yes she did daft things, not least with fellow housemate PJ (“We have a problem, there’s been a blow job” was the quote of the night). But there was no malice in her.
Common as muck Goody epitomised the appeal – and the dangers – of reality TV and in the process polarised opinion more than Brexit. In many ways she was remarkable. It wasn’t her fault that she’d missed a lot of school. She’d spent her childhood as the lone carer of her violent, disabled crack addict mother. Aged six, Jade had saved her mum’s life by dragging her out of their burning flat. Her absentee junkie father hid guns under her cot. And yet despite all that she grew up to be cheerful and full of fun. Jade Goody was a working class woman who wanted a better life. Who can blame her for sipping from TV’s poisoned chalice? Even in death, five short years later, Jade helped raise awareness of cervical cancer. Despite being uneducated, she was smart enough to tuck away millions in a trust fund for her two sons.
TALK about them and us! On Wednesdays, cash-strapped BBC One viewers are advised to Shop Well For Less. At the same time BBC Two shows us pricy posh nosh on Remarkable Places To Eat. How many penny-pinching weeks would you have to suffer before you could afford the £200 tasting menu at Mugaritz in northern Spain? It included crisps made from sheep’s milk, with wild flower petal garnish, presented on volcanic rock and steak tartare covered in mould (really!). Yeah. Think I'll stick with paella.
TO quote its Honeycombs theme tune, Hold The Sunset has come right back and I just can’t bear it. John Cleese was a comedy god, first in Python and then in the sublime Fawlty Towers, one of the most perfectly crafted situation comedies ever made. It’s a tragic to see him – and a wonderful cast – sacrificed on cringe-worthy characters, dismal set-ups and anaemic jokes. Cleese must realise this is a dead sitcom, surely? Bereft of life it should rest in peace.
THERE weren’t many chuckles on Who Do You Think You Are either despite it featuring its first comedy double act – Jack Whitehall and his father, former showbiz agent Michael. Jack confided he was hoping to find there was no biological link between them, which seemed less like a joke after they discovered one ancestor had devoted years to opposing the public’s right to vote. Thomas Jones Phillips was involved in the violent crushing of the Newport Rising and testified against 19th Century Welsh Chartist John Frost who was transported to Australia for life. Jack was mortified. “I think I’d rather he had syphilis,” he groaned. But that was another ancestor, a travelling salesman whose philandering sentenced himself and his wife to die from it. A pleasant bunch.
HOT on TV: Christina Applegate, Dead To Me (Netflix)... the Shoalin monk kung fu qualifying exam, Sacred Wonders.
ROT on TV: The Tez O’Clock Show – tezts the patience... Hold The Sunset – faulty shower... I Am Hannah – I Am Underwhelmed.
*MY mate is running a Strictly Love Rat sweepstake. I’ve got Anneka Rice. An outsider, yes, but look at it this way, it’s a challenge Anneka.
*THEY arrived in Hell on The Good Place only to find the trains were delayed by three hours. Proof, if any were needed, that Lucifer works for South Western Railway.
*KEEPING Faith? I’ve lost it.
*EUPHORIA is an hour of self-loathing and bad sex. Like a Tinder date with a Slater sister.
*GORDON Ramsay’s son Jack came over as a nice kid on Born Famous. Must take after his mum.
*FACT: the GC’s new show Diva Forever comes up as Gemma Collins: Div on some TV EPGs. Incorrect of course, but far more accurate.
*SEAN Lock didn’t do too well at school, he said “I’ve got a gas fire at home with more certificates than me.”
SMALL joys of TV: Karl Urban’s London accent on The Boys – was he voice-coached by Dick Van Dyke? Gone Fishing. The Sid James Three Hats For Lisa clips on the Jade show.
RANDOM irritations: idiot man-child Roger on Hold The Sunset. Poldark recycling plots. Emily Maitlis. The way EastEnders actresses’ voices go posh when they have emotional scenes.
SEPARATED at birth: Angela Barnes and Olive Rudge from On The Buses? One much-loved, down-to-earth and hilarious, the other is Angela Barnes.
*THEY had metre-high parrots in New Zealand once. Blimey, how tall were their pirates?
Aug 4. BRITISH TV has no monopoly on weirdness. Granted ITV once screened a live televised prostate exam. Who gave that the thumbs up? But as I write I’m watching a brand new US show called Holey Moley set on a giant crazy-golf course complete with eighteen foot high windmills, plus rotating foam blades, and uniformed mimes distracting contestants. It’s more Tripping Point than Tipping Point.
The number one show here is America’s Got Talent and even that’s bonkers. They’ve just had a lunatic with a semi-trained performing rat. The real contest Stateside though is the search for the next Game Of Thrones. Favourites are: The Long Night, which is HBO’s official prequel, penned by Jane Goldman and expected next year. Set 5,000 years before Thrones, it’ll cover the origins of the White Walkers, the story of the first men and Westeros’s original inhabitants, the fairy-like children of the forest who created the Wall.
Lord Of The Rings: 3,441 years before Frodo and co, the AmPrime saga features Gandalf and Sauron and will include Númenor – Tolkien’s take on the Atlantis legend. Due 2021. His Dark Materials: this lavish BBC/HBO co-production turns Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy into 16 episodes. Starring Ruth Wilson and James McAvoy, it’ll be first out the traps this autumn. Other contenders include The Wheel Of Time, (Loose Women with wands) and Cursed, which re-imagines Arthurian legends through the eyes of the teenager destined to become the Lady of The Lake. Mercifully no one has suggested Real Housewives of Westeros... yet. Monkey see, monkey do is the first law of TV. Poldark spawned Poldaft (Beecham House) and Poldyke (Gentleman Jack). So why has no one even tried to duplicate the incredible success of Only Fools & Horses? Smart, funny, popular sitcoms used to be at the heart of mainstream culture. TV is poorer for their loss.
IN other US TV news: Eddie Murphy is in talks with Netflix about a series of comedy specials. And while Patrick Stewart returns next year in Star Trek: Picard, William Shatner is fronting The UnXplained which sends eggheads around the globe to investigate inexplicable mysteries. Here are two of mine, Bill: why can’t there be a Star Trek: Kirk? And mathematically how come Seven Of Nine was a perfect ten?
THE show I miss most when I’m abroad is The Chase. Bradley losing it over foreign names like Fanny Chmelar and Dick Tingeler is long established as one of TV’s great joys. The contestants’ cock-ups are cracking too. No-one will ever top the nitwit who, asked what town New York, New York was about, replied “Chicago”. But genuine howlers include: that the only planet in the solar system that supports life is “Mars”. That the only British king to abdicate in the 20th century was “Charles Dickens”. And that Labour’s leader during both 1974 elections was “Margaret Thatcher”. The biggest dimwit was Hannah, a 19-year-old student who couldn’t guess which TV naturalist the ‘Attenborough-asaurus’ dinosaur is named after. She wasn’t a plant but she was certainly a cabbage.
KITTY Despard was spat at in London streets on Poldark for being black in 19th Century. A shocking scene, but was it fair on Londoners? Mike Jay who wrote their true story believes anti-slavery feeling was so strong back then that the Despards’ mixed marriage would have been celebrated. While my great-gran, born in 19th Century Poplar, said black people were seen so rarely in her childhood that locals would touch them in the streets for luck. Isn’t it time we stopped beating ourselves up about imagined crimes and concentrated on writing better dramas?
HOT on TV: The Boys (AmPrime)... Amber Gill, Love Island... Still Game – the most moving comedy finale since Blackadder Goes Forth.
ROT on TV: Killing Eve committing hari-kari... Britain’s Greatest Comedian – box-ticking bilge, Gold snubbed Peter Cook, Jim Davidson, Max Miller, Benny Hill and other genuine giants.
AS well as the 25th anniversary of the brilliant Friends, this year sees the 30th anniversary of Seinfeld, America’s greatest ever sitcom. It should have been as big as Frasier, but BBC2 threw it away. It’s now on AmPrime. Watch episodes like The Contest, The Soup Nazi and The Marine Biologist and see what you’ve missed.
*FIVE drama gems we should repeat: Fox, Out, Big Deal, Danger Man, The Champions. And why not re-make Sharpe, Hornblower and Adam Adamant Lives?
I’M always on the lookout for great Separated At Births. There hasn’t been a classic since Elton John and Nicola Sturgeon’s mum. Any gooduns gratefully received... especially of Boris. To me he looks like Little Britain’s Daffyd Thomas crossed with an Afghan hound.
*FAITH and her glum husband are a perfect match on Keeping Faith. She’s addicted to Chardonnay and he’s a whine merchant.
*I’M looking forward to the Mabuse pair on Strictly. Apparently she also has a sister.
RANDOM irritations: Weekend morning TV adverts – any alien race studying us from afar would assume that humans were a species of bloated, incontinent females plagued with thrush.
SMALL joys of TV: Mick Miller on ITV’s Comedy Years. Pip Torrens as Poldark’s Cory. Schitt Creek. Pawn Stars – happy tenth anniversary! I still can’t believe Bob Dylan appeared in season three.
LET'S hope ex-EastEnder Shaun'Fat Barry' Williamson was talking about a barge on Celebrity 5 Go Barging, not using Cockney rhyming slang when he announced: “I like it on the girls’ boat, it’s less smelly.”