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 27. POOR Vanessa Feltz. First her husband Fuzzy cheated on her, then longtime boyfriend Ben did. Now she’s reduced to hawking her charms on Celebs Go Dating. “I’m intellectual, I’m elegant,” she assured the camera, adding modestly “incredibly attractive, sexually irresistible, inordinately ravishing and...” A trifle deluded? All she wanted was a bloke with “the humour of Billy Crystal” and “the looks of Omar Sharif”. Yeah, they’re ten-a-penny, luv. In online chatrooms. Instead, her first date was duller than a slow-motion snail race. He had all the humour of the sheriff after Bob Marley had shot him.
This isn’t really celebrity dating, though is it? The “slebs” are mostly “reality” show rejects chasing screen time rather than romance. The show’s only saving grace is Rob Beckett’s mocking voice-over (written by Phil Kerr). How we cheered when Love Island love-rat Adam Collard was “mugged off” by striking brunette Natalie. Made In Chelsea snob Mark-Francis seemed the most punch-able. “There’s nothing worse than the smell of desperation,” he sneered. Oh irony of ironies. Only desperation drives twerps like him to prolong their five minutes of undeserved fame by appearing on these shows.
At least Lottie Moss is unusual in a “she-said-what?” kind of way. “What’s your favourite sex position?” she asks strangers. “Would you let me peg you?” Strap up! Sex-mad Yank advisor Dr Tara describes her as “sex-positive”, which I believe is English for slapper. What has she been through that makes her use shock as a defensive shield? Lottie’s mind is muckier than Vanessa’s make-up drawer. Likeable TikToker Spuddz just as unfettered. “I’ve got a boner,” he announced before revealing he’s been too busy “schlanging my rod” to bother with relationships. And they say romance is dead...
*LOTTIE said she banged Adan Collard because he was tall, dark and tattooed. Finally some boxes I can tick...
NIQUITA’S black wedding gown on Say Yes To The Dress turned her into a goth princess. “I look like Morticia Addams,” she said, approvingly. Or even a Wiccan wanderer. The only thing missing was a barbed-wire bouquet. I’d have said yes, but mum Simmi, a more traditional Asian lady, gasped “Are you for real?” They settled on a compromise followed presumably by a garlic-heavy wedding feast. Buffet – the vampire-slayer. Sorry.
I TRIED to watch The Confessions Of Frannie Langton but the dialogue was constantly drowned out by the sound of virtue being signalled. With a sledgehammer. The murky drama is supposedly set in the Georgian London of 1826 where inevitably every English character is either dim or repulsively racist. The “goodies” are laudanum-swigging Jamaican slave-turned-servant Frannie and her lover, her drugged-up, married French mistress Marguerette. But wait. The British anti-slavery movement began forty years before, and we abolished the vile trade in 1833 (years before France). So why no white characters to root for? Frannie’s wet brief sympathised but even he assumed she’d killed her master and mistress. Not unreasonable – she was found in Meg’s bed, with her corpse, and covered in her blood. Irritations included a time-jumping plot, unlikely dialogue, and the suspicion the series was made because it plays to a simplistic right-on narrative of self-loathing.
HOT on TV: Mary Earps... Rosario Dawson, Ahsoka (Disney+)... Never Mind The Buzzcocks.
ROT on TV: Celebrity Help! My Home Is Haunted – no it isn’t, grow up... Henpocalypse! – crashing like Luna-25.
IF we can re-introduce lynx, boars and wolves, why not ‘re-wild’ TV humour? Most “comedy” filtering through from the Edinburgh Fringe is feeble and tame. The Fringe once sold itself as the edgy alternative to old-hat mainstream comedy. Now it censors comics who don’t submit to modern right-on groupthink. It’s so ‘radical’ it’s in step with Coutts Bank. The most daring thing telly could do is invest in mainstream entertainers.
*THE winning Fringe joke was diabolical, “I started dating a zookeeper but it turned out he was a cheetah." Utter cobblers. “My boyfriend told me he was a tiger in bed – but it turned out he was a cheetah,” would be better. But it’s still not prize-worthy.
*HOT not on TV: Joe Pasquale, live in Dartford, a laugh-riot of sight gags, physical comedy, jokes and glorious nuttiness. Give him a Saturday night series!
*JUST when The Force was turning into a spent one, the Disney-diluted Star Wars franchise revives with Ahsoka, who is on the trail of evil ah-so Grand Admiral Thrawn. Light sabres are shining, maverick Jedi are on the loose, and Ahsoka is so hot Luke Skywalker is changing his name to Sky-stalker as we speak.
*ANIMAL Park found Ben Fogle and Kate Humble in Wolf Woods – “the scene of so much drama over the years”. Bloody doggers get everywhere.
*QUESTIONS. How does Ahsoka look so cool in headgear that ridiculous? What if you built a Tardis time machine and didn’t have time to use it? Is there any TV show Fred Sirieix would turn down?
Small Joys of TV: Leo Kearse’s hard-hitting comedy rants on GB News – give him his own show! Life On Mars (i-Player). At Home With The Furys (Netflix).
Random Irritations. Dave’s “funniest joke at the Fringe” award hitting a dismal new low. Dumbed-down telly. David Tennant’s chronic Huyang dialogue on Ahsoka.
TV maths. Mickey Flanagan + Marina from Stingray’s tail = Billy The Fish.
Classic clanger. Dog wanted Duck to play a game of “hide the bone” on Dog & Duck. She replied: “Okay, as long as you don’t slip it under the bush like you usually do.”
Aug 20. THE BBC see new comedy Henpocalyse! as daring and risqué, largely because it packs in more fake plonkers than a Question Time panel. This right-on write-off crosses a hen party with global catastrophe. A shock outbreak of “crab measles” has killed off every bloke apart from the hens’ male stripper, Drew. It’s a similar premise to the post-apocalypse Yank comedy The Last Man On Earth, except that was funnier and didn’t expect us to believe a group of largely young randy women would choose to have their hen weekend in a remote Welsh cottage, as opposed to say Newcastle, Cardiff or Magaluf. Sloshed and shrieking, they fall out with Pilates instructor Nesbit, who we’re not meant to like cos she’s a) middle-class and b) gets a bit sniffy when bride-to-be Zara hitches up her skirt to “wazz” outside a pub. The hens accidently ram her car, twice, and drive off without leaving their insurance details. Such larks. When they realise crab measles only kill fellas, they cuff poor Drew to a radiator in just his gold briefs. (Try reversing the genders and getting that commissioned).
Penis-shaped items abound – talk about penile dementia. But laughs are scarce. And none of the characters are likeable, especially not self-centred Zara or her mean manipulative mum Bernadette. Every cliché is ticked, every barrel scraped. None of it makes sense – why wait nine hungry weeks before venturing out to steal food? Hats off to the Beeb though. Despite plummeting viewing figures, and in ostrich-like defiance of public opinion, they still believe their comedy execs know what they’re doing. Every slice of lazy, laugh-free dross they bombard us with hastens their self-inflicted demise.
*JUST 434,000 endured episode one. By the end, it might even equal Talk TV’s Tom Newton Dunn’s golden score – zero viewers.
KIDS were fearless in the 1970s. We had death-trap adventure playgrounds, daredevil D-I-Y go-carts and deadliest of the lot, boil-in-a-bag cod with parsley sauce. The 1970s Supermarket offered a feast of foodie nostalgia. Back then Vesta curries were the height of sophistication. I loved Fray Bentos pies with their mouthwatering crusts, even if they were ultra-processed and certain to clog up the arteries. And what about Findus Crispy Pancakes, spam fritters and strawberry Angel Delight, which the show revealed was coloured by powdered cochineal beetles. Yeah. Maybe it’s best not to know.
*ALL those old supermarkets – Bejam, Somerfield, Safeway etc – are now as kaput as spud guns, polyesters suits and Mungo Jerry sideburns.
*70s things worth reviving: hot-pants, funny adverts, The Comedians, proper sitcoms, 2000AD, nonpolitical banks...
THE Cambridge Four were privileged prats who sold us out to Joe Stalin. So why does TV give them such a lenient ride? The toffee-nosed traitors became Soviet sleeper agents before landing top jobs – MI6, MI5, the Foreign Office – and leaking like ruptured sieves. Kim Philby knowingly sent anti-communist Albanian freedom-fighters to their deaths. The Real Spies Among Friends told their story more coherently than ITV’s drama, but offered no consideration of the evils of Stalinism, which had a shameful fan club here until its fall in 1989. And probably beyond. The Cambridge Four weren’t romantic heroes. They were rats who should have hanged.
*IMAGINE a whole generation of plummy-voiced toffs signing up to a demented, self-destructive political agenda. Couldn’t happen now. Could it?
HOT on TV: The Lionesses – come on England!... Winning Time: The Rise Of The Lakers Dynasty (SkyAt).
ROT on TV: Alison & Larry: Billericay To Barry... Henpocalypse! – henough is henough...
YOU didn’t expect Simon Weston to be the only one to Beat The Chasers when Carol Vorderman and Adrian Chiles were among the contenders. But Falklands veteran Simon stayed as calm as Meghan’s arm patch and played the quiz just right. It was such a fairytale ending you’d cry fix if it wasn’t on ITV, who are of course above such things. In fairness to Carol, she still looks curvier than Jessica Rabbit.
*STEWART Lee once likened Adrian to “a Toby jug full of piss”, which was hugely unfair. To Toby jugs. And wrong – he looks more like a senile cabbage patch doll.
THE Forces might call on a Dad’s Army of old soldiers. What next, Compo, Clegg & The Last Of The Summer Wine brigade taking on all-comers in a high-speed all-terrain tin bath? Quite why our ex-squaddies would fight for a country that left hundreds of them to live on the streets or be pursued unjustly through the courts is anyone’s guess.
*THE Queens Who Changed The World was surprising. Not a drag act in sight...
*BATMAN Vs Superman is on Sky. I hear the victor will take on the winner of Zuckerberg Vs Musk for a shot at Deontay Wilder.
*QUESTIONS. Anyone missing Philip Schofield on TV? Thought not. Couldn’t University Challenge find a taller chair for Amol Rajan?
Small Joys of TV: Real Peaky Blinders. Re-inventing Elvis: The 68 Comeback (PRM). Jimmy Jones: Live From Kings (Ustreme). At Home With The Furys (NFLX).
Random Irritations. The cancellation of Graham Linehan. Witless Amazing Hotels making the Maldives seem dull. Next to no Billericay in Billericay To Barry.
TV maths. Richard Madeley + bushier eyebrows = Commander Vex from 3Below.
Aug 13. IMITATION is the sincerest form of television. Right now, it feels like the only form. How many times can BBC bosses reboot The Apprentice? After Gordon Ramsay’s Future Food Stars, we have Ultimate Wedding Planner – The Apprentice plus weddings – and Crazy Rich Agents, which is Sugar’s show meets Selling Sunset. None of these humdrum hybrids are half as hot as The Apprentice in its prime, which was many years ago. Alone is yet another “let’s dump twerps in the wilds” show, as perfected by Bear Grylls and Ben Fogle. See also Shipwrecked and 2001’s Survivor – which is soon to be resurrected, along with Big Brother (again).
TV commissioners clearly work about as hard as an intimacy co-ordinator on Newsnight. ITV’s Cooking With The Stars is Celeb MasterChef with minor adjustments, DNA Journey clones Who Do You Think Are. Saturday night telly, once an oasis of joy, has dried into a desert of dull dramas and dreary repeats. Talent shows have tanked. Saturday Night Takeaway (House Party plus ads) is axed and most chat shows are just PR puffs. The Love Island finale was two million viewers down on last year. Mainstream TV is over-stuffed with soaps and so-so quizzes and under-supplied with the laughs we need to see us through these desperate days. No wonder viewers switch off. We need real talent and fresh ideas, yet nothing seems to shock bone-idle, risk-adverse TV bosses out of their over-paid complacency. My advice? Try action dramas instead of true-crime, joke-telling comics instead of student stand-ups, and entertainment formats rather than unknown “celebs” cooking, quizzing and carping. Scour holiday camps for entertainers. Think outside the box-ticking. Find sitcom writers who aren’t from the failed in-crowd. And, above all, don’t turn these searches into “reality” formats crossed with The Apprentice...
*ALONE? Like its viewer...
MANSIONS, Lamborghinis, piddling horses... BBC2’s idea of an “ultimate wedding” is clearly very different from Dave’s. They’d want the groom to go on a drug-fuelled bender and bonk a brace of bridesmaids. Ultimate Wedding Planner marries rival planners with couples picked for their oddball ideas. The first hired a cavernous aircraft hangar with space for 700 people for their “intimate” wedding. The bride-to-be wanted “a floral wonderland, like Concorde lost in the jungle”, which sounded more like the plot of Wings Of Glory (it had one survivor) than the happiest day of her life. “Make their dreams come true,” said Fred “You Cannot Be” Sirieix, now reborn as a wedding expert. Something old was the format, nothing was something new, and anything blue happened off-camera. Here’s hoping one of the brides will snap, like Daphne Moon telling wedding planner Frasier: “What kind of git walks down the aisle carrying pygmy orchids?”
*WHY spend a fortune on your wedding dress, girls? You’re only going to wear it six or seven times.
I WATCHED Celeb MasterChef open mouthed. How on earth did they book Gollum for the show? No wait, that’s Terry Christian – one Christian who makes you side with the lions. Max George admitted he couldn’t cook (yet still took the booking), but his steak and chips was the business. Only the grub on BBQ USA looked tastier...
*WHAT next? How about Celebrity Who Shed That – experts, including Fred Sirieix, must pair discarded items of underwear to scantily-robed semi-recognisable broadcasters. Laughs galore as Judy Love’s bra is wrongly assigned to Arg Argent.
HOT on TV: Meryl Streep, Only Murders In The Building (Disney)... Idris Elba, Hijack (Apple).
ROT on TV: Crazy Rich Agents – lazy niche commission... Matt Hancock – no Ken do... Ultimate Wedding Planner – divorce, click.
WOLF is an odd mix of torture porn and menace with side orders of raves, black comedy and scenes clearly aimed at TikTok. A mess. But if you watch until the end, it has one of the best twists since Chubby Checker and an unexpected Doctor Who in-joke aimed at Sacha Dhawan, aka The Master. Odds on we’ll see more of Ukweli Roach’s lone wolf Jack Caffery and his mate Walking Man.
QUESTIONS. What’s the scariest ride on Yellowstone – the rodeo bull or red-head Ruth? Is Jimmy Carr the first AI comedian? How long before telly toffs blame “climate change” for falling viewers? It’s blamed for everything else.
*WHAT kind of twisted, self-hating masochist would kidnap Emmerdale’s Laurel? Was there no bed of nails available?
*LOVE Island USA: same sh*t, more squealing.
SHOWS we should re-make or re-screen: Sharpe’s Rifles. Out. Harry Hill’s TV Burp. Big Breadwinner Hog. Brass. I Didn’t Know You Cared. Play For Today.
Shows they’re more likely to remake: Naked Jungle. Eldorado. Crossroads (again). Ice Warriors. Pets Win Prizes. Don’t Scare The Hare. Hit The Road.
ONE reason we’ve fallen out of love with the BBC is we can’t trust their TV news. They ignore genuine scandals that don’t confirm their prejudices and trade impartiality for trendy agendas. They’ve just been censored for wrongly branding anti-ULEZ protestors “far-Right”. It’s how they see most of us...
Small Joys of TV: Old Columbo episodes (5USA). Winning Time: The Rise Of The Lakers Dynasty (SkyAt). Terry Venables: A Man Can Dream. Sian Gibson.
Random Irritations. Devla Kirwan, 51, playing the mother of Ioan Gruffud, 49, in The Reunion. Amol Rajan pronouncing aitch “haitch”. Unwatchable Sky News.
TV maths. Rob Rinder + Bingo’s teeth = Rob Beckett.
Classic clanger. Test match cricket commentator Brian Johnston, talking about Michael Golding and Peter Willey: “The bowler’s Holding, the batsman’s Willey.”
Aug 6. WOLF was a dog’s dinner – part glum detective story, part psychotic black comedy. BBC1 were aiming for Killing Eve style cartoon gore, but got the TV equivalent of bolting the front half of a police panda car to the back end of a clown jalopy. We meet Jack Caffery, a dejected detective traumatised by his brother Ewan’s childhood abduction (chief suspect, his weirdo paedo neighbour who’s possibly Baldrick’s dad). Meanwhile, the posh Anchor-Ferrers return to their plush Monmouthshire mansion to find a tree tastefully draped in intestines, a dead phone, and fake cops “DI” Honey and “DS” Molina on their doorstep. The twisted twosome could have wandered in from Inside Number 9 and soon take the family hostage. Honey acts out a macabre opera-themed dance in front of their tormented victims.
Both plot strands converge at “the Donkey pitch,” which sounds like a holding field for better-equipped blokes on Naked Attraction, but was the scene of a horrific killing. Two teenage lovers had been murdered and disembowelled there five years earlier when Londoner Caffery was a local PC. Jack returns after jacking in his middle-class girlfriend (who’d lied about having cancer) and shags his randy female ex-boss DI Maia. Talk about banged to rights. Their old inappropriate relationship would be considered toxic now, but in my day would have qualified as a right result. Jack deduces the deranged killings were the work of two people – who we know are Honey and his equally sick sidekick. Meaning the bloke Maia collared was innocent. The resulting mess is bizarre, brutal and entirely bonkers. How can they pull this self-indulgent mishmash together?
*QUIZ. Who was called “One fry short of a Happy Meal”? Was it a) Michael Barrymore on This Morning b) Minnet Kable on Wolf, or c) Joe Biden, on a daily basis?
Who was called “A fully-grown adult, dressing like a teenage slut” – a) Amanda Holden b) Lucia on Wolf or c) Suzie Izzard? (Answers b, but for both questions, all three are acceptable).
SKY’s Superpowered delivered nine decades of DC comics history in three under-powered hours that felt more like a plug for DC’s latest spin-offs. Humble comic strip heroes like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman spawned a multiple-million-dollar industry. Geeks and artists created the costumed crusaders but Merchandise Man and Licencing Lord cleaned up. They weren’t alone. Comic-book artist Tony Abruzzo, who was paid just $15-a-page, saw Roy Lichenstein “sample” a single frame of his work and flog it for millions of dollars. Comics hit the skids in the 50s when they were blamed for delinquency. DC self-censored heavily. It took the rise of rival Marvel in the 60s to make comics interesting again. Six decades on, the gulf between the TV Batman of 1966 and Marvel’s WandaVision is large enough to park Galactus. DC’s The Boys and Harley Quinn would blow those 50s censors’ brains.
*HOW much would The Flash have to eat to burn enough calories to run around the world? He’d make Gregg Wallace and Casey Webb look like lettuce nibbling anorexics. And on a personal note. how much would my Sixties DC & Marvel comic collection be worth now if my late mum hadn’t binned it in 1973?
JUDGING by Confessions Of A Cam Girl, Stacey Slater is one the trade’s hottest practitioners. She’s also missing more tricks than a blindfolded magic act. Unlike her real-life rivals, Our Stace has no spanking paddle, no erotic toys and no confessions. She’s all cam no cum... bersome revelations. She soldiers on with a handful of clients while Maya and co get 100-plus paying callers a session and can earn over a grand a week. Stace is just too prudish. A disgrace to the Slater name.
HOT on TV: Molly Gordon, The Bear... Stuart Broad... The Lincoln Lawyer.
ROT on TV: Drag Me To Dinner – drug me to watch... Laura Whitmore Investigates – why?
TV bods are flocking to Edinburgh to see folk who identify as stand-up comedians deliver “tense monologues” about street attacks, house fires and other traumas. All very cathartic, I’m sure, but wouldn’t you prefer comics who simply wanted to made us laugh?
*THE news is far funnier than most telly comedy – Rishi claiming to be the drinkers’ friend, the Met’s drug advisor who was stoned every day, NatWest goon Alison Rose praised as “a great leader”. Endless chuckles.
*DANI Dyer served up laughs on semi-Celebrity MasterChef, saying things like, “I don’t actually know how long sixty seconds takes.” Why not take a minute to think about that, treacle?
*SMUG Marcus Brigstock is a far better cook than he is a comedian. Admittedly that’s not saying much.
*THE biggest challenge: identifying half the “celebrities”.
*CORNISH cows are 18% more likely to get pregnant under a full moon, found Dara O’Briain. It’s exactly the same for Blackpool hen-dos.
*CAN Walford and Weatherfield be hit by strikes next, and can they involve RAF F35B Lightnings?
*WHAT next after Barbie? A big-screen Action Man, now with PTSD? Bill & Ben, smoking Little Weed?
Small joys of TV. Dee Dee Bridgewater (BBC4). Dara’s Wonders Of The Moon. Juliet Stevenson, Wolf. China 1, England 6. Anton du Beke. Porridge repeats. Big Meesh.
Random irritations. The OTT background music on BBC2’s Earth. A Spy Among Friends – less OO7, more oh-so-dull. Jess & Sammy’s unmerited Love Island win.
Separated at birth: Gregg Wallace and Pac-Man – one a gurning cartoon with an endless appetite... and so’s the other one.