BUSHELL ON THE BOX
Dec 31st. It was the year Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey wished had never happened. Prue Leith’s tweet upset more Channel 4 viewers than Donald Trump. And Gemma Collins fell down a hole at the Radio 1 Teen Awards. People said it was just a stage she was going through. It’s just a shame Honey G wasn’t underneath to break her fall. We also discovered that Nicole Kidman claps like a seal... and Miriam Margolyes breaks wind like a walrus. In January, Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi announced he was retiring as Time Lord. He had his leaving party three weeks later... in 1393. But what was hot and what was rot on TV? Let’s celebrate the highs and lows of 2017 with my prestigious Bushell Awards for TV Achievement.
SHOW of the Year: Blue Planet II. From surfing dolphins to the sex-changing kobudai, Blue Planet II was a breath-taking tour de force. David Attenborough and his team went places no film crew had been before. They found fish with feet, fish with fangs, fish with transparent heads... it was the first ever glimpse of the fish John West rejected.
Flop of the Year: The Nightly Show.
Top Drama: Line Of Duty – addictively brilliant, always unpredictable. Best New Drama Import: Big Little Lies. Runner-up: The Deuce. Naffest Drama: The Loch. Runner-up: Top Of The Lake. Top Actress: Thandie Newton – mesmerising in Line Of Duty. Runner-up: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Fargo. Top actor – Sean Bean. Runner-up: Adrian Dunbar. Greatest battle scene: Daenerys + Drogon + Dothraki cavalry vs the Lannisters (Game Of Thrones). Runner-up: Perry & Celeste’s violent coupling on Big Little Lies – part lust, part cage-fight.
Most Mind-blowing TV Sex: American Gods came on top in a tough field. Curb Your Enthusiasm gave us fatwah sex and cowboy sex (giddy up!). We also saw toilet sex (Apple Tree Yard), hate sex (Doctor Foster), kitchen sex (Big Little Lies), and avatar sex (Twin Peaks). But only the goddess Bilquis consumed her lovers via her vagina. Most Dismal Sex: The Handmaid’s Tale. Top Sex Object (Literally): April, The Sex Robots Are Coming.
Biggest “WTF?” moment: Bilquis’s bedroom, umm, suction. Runners-up: the zombie dragon twist (Game of Thrones), and Viserion then destroying the Wall (also scene most likely to make Donald Trump weep.
Top comedy: Harry Hill’s Alien Fun Capsule. Runner-up: Inside No 9. Flop Comedy: Tracey Breaks The News. Best black comedy: The League Of Gentlemen. Top Sitcom: Catastrophe. Worst: Jack Dee’s Bad Move – the title said it all. Runner-up: Henry IX. Best New Sitcom: Motherland. Most Unnecessary Sitcom Revival – Porridge, it was thin gruel. The Last Leg award for Worst Satire: The Mash Report. Top TV comic: Lee Mack. Worst in a crowded field: Sara Pascoe. Top entertainment host who isn’t Ant & Dec: Michael McIntyre. Annual Mel & Sue award for Most Over-rated Double Act: Mel & Sue.
Funniest TV moment: Phillip Schofield following This Morning’s tantric sex item with the magic words “Still to come... ” Most unwelcome revelation: Ruth Langsford revealing Eamonn Holmes is “like a steam train” in bed. So... dependent on a feed pump? Rarely seen in action? Liable to go up the wrong track? Worst Entertainment Car-Crash: Cheap Cheap Cheap – AKA The Price Is Sh*te. Runners-up: Len Goodman’s Partners In Rhyme. Host The Week. Pitch Battle. Dance Dance Dance. Let’s Dance For Comic Relief. Best entertainment segment: Ant & Dec’s I’m A Celebrity, Get Out Of Me Ear. Runner-up: McIntyre’s Send-To-All. Top Talent Show Judge: Jennifer Hudson. Worst: Martin Kemp. Worst talent: dog yoga. Worst Results: Strictly shafting Aston, I’m A Celeb kicking out Stanley.
Best TV Quiz Show: Mastermind. Runner-up: The Chase. Worst TV Quiz Show: Babushka. Worst career move: Alan Carr, Crufts. Best Motoring Show: The Grand Tour. Best breakfast hosts: Piers Morgan and Suzanna Reid. Dumbest question: Amanda Holden asking ISS astronaut Tim Peake if he’d brought a piece of moon back home with him. Best review: David Baddiel’s dad Colin dubbing the comedian “a babbling turd”. Runner-up: Mel Brooks telling The One Show hosts “What a crazy show this is. This is nuts – I want you to know that.”
Best Documentary Series: The Vietnam War. Runners-up: SAS: Rogue Warriors. OJ: Made In America. Best single Doc: Chris Packham Asperger’s & Me. Worst: Is Love Racist? (No, next question.) Most Fearless Reporter: Ross Kemp.
Best sci-fi/fantasy: American Gods. Runners-up: Star Trek: Discovery. Marvel’s The Defenders. Worst: Marvel’s The Inhumans. Runner-up: The Orville. Maddest Drama: Twin Peaks. Runners-up: Legion, Paula, The Replacement. Dullest: The Kettering Incident. Grittiest: Broken (also Most Watchable Bleeding Heart Drama). Biggest let-down: SS-GB. Worst revival: Prison Break. Top TV name: Production runner on Lord Lucan doc – Guy Hide. Best True Crime: Catching A Killer. Worst Soap storyline: Pat Phelan’s crackpot kidnapping caper. Runners-up: Michelle & Preston’s unlikely romance and the Great Bus Disaster, EastEnders. Worst spin-off: Redwater.
Biggest TV Questions: Is Doctor Who’s Missy dead or just on eternity leave? Why were there no cottages on Britain’s Greatest Gay Buildings? Does Lucy Worsley think BBC stands for Big Box of Costumes? How did Corrie hostage Andy get that tan? How did Abi Branning fit so perfectly into Lauren’s wedding dress on EastEnders? Why did the daytime view from the Vic roof look like the set had been transported to Kew Gardens?
Best Performance by an Inanimate Object: Eva’s bra, Corrie. Runner-up: Anthony Cotton. Best Reality shows: Hospital. The Met: Policing London. 24 Hours In A&E.Best “Reality”: Love Island. Most gloriously bonkers celebrity: Kim Woodburn. Runner-up: Sarah Harding. Worst booking: Kezia Dugdale. Worst cooking: Culinary Genius. Rudest baking: Julia’s accidental penis cake, Bake Off. Top Lookalikes: Phil Mitchell and Goomba... one a dim, violent dinosaur in human form, the other is from the Super Mario Brothers film. Runners-up: Victoria Beckham/Linda Blair in The Exorcist.
Irritations of 2017: Unlikely one-sided politics on EastEnders with the writers inflicting their wet Guardianista agenda on the soap – see the Queen Vic’s EU-themed supper club, and people walking out the pub in protest at an old lady with dementia singing the Goons’ “racist” Ying-Tong Song. Sherlock losing the plot completely. ITV’s rash of all-men-are-guilty dramas. The dire/gutless state of TV “satire”. Gregg Wallace insisting on calling Ulrika “Eureka”. Sue Perkins’ smug unfunny Bafta monologue. The continued decline of Newsnight. Mark Watson. Josie Long. Soap characters burning money and/or cheques. The BBC subverting SPOTY. Guerrilla re-writing history (I could go on)...
Small joys of 2017: Rob Beckett’s Celebs Go Dating commentary. David Thewlis and his teeth (Fargo). Barbara Windsor’s cameos in Babs. Amanda’s nipples (BGT). The moth man metamorphosis on The Mist. Insecure’s Issa Rae. Debbie McGee’s standing splits. Peter Kay’s Car Share and Sian Gibson. Michaela Cole. The mighty Quinn (Homeland). Versailles. Would I Lie To You. Brian Conley’s Bradley Walsh impression. Lucifer. Masood from EastEnders rocking up on The State. Jimmy Carr revealing that his name is pronounced “Jamaica” in Jamaica.
Top Goof. Garry Herbert, commentating on rowing, said: “I want to see the British crew’s length. I want to see it flowing and coming at the finish.” Runner-up: David Goldstrom on women’s weightlifting, “See how deep Marilia Vostrikova receives this one, right in the bottom.”
Villain of the Year: Harvey Weinstein. (And to think there was a time when if a Hollywood producer greeted an actress with “Hornblow” it was just his name... ). Harvey Weinstein Man of the Year: Bruno Langley. Biggest Irritant: charmless malingerer Gemma Collins. Man of the Year: Anthony Joshua. Woman of the Year: Jessica Shears, Love Island. Posh Bird of the Year: Georgia “Toff” Toffolo. Runners-up: Camilla Thurlow. Poldark’s Gabriella Wilde. Word of the Year: Dicksand. Runner-up: covfefe. Performer Of The Year: Michael McIntyre. Star Of The Year: Sean Bean.
TV Quiz: Who said “Could you work with this penis?” Was it a) Kem to Amber on Love Island b) Anna Richardson to Izzy on Naked Attraction, or c) David Davis talking about Michel Barnier? (Answer: b... and probably c).
Dec 26. WHAT is it about the season of goodwill that brings out the worst in our state broadcaster? BBC1’s Christmas Day served up fatal accidents, suicidal desperation, gun-play, a still-born baby... It was the dramatic equivalent of E.coli in your turkey. EastEnders’ complacent reliance on festive heart-ache has spread across primetime schedules like a virus. But the soap still won the misery crown by having Abi and Lauren topple to their (apparent) doom from the Queen Vic roof. Merry Xmas everybody! That they managed to fall off a ledge that was two-foot wide only added to the unintentional hilarity. Meanwhile Corrie’s killer-vicar Billy survived after plunging 300foot over on ITV! Something broke his fall, but what? An angel? The foul smog coming off the script? Or the convenient fact that he plummeted in slow-motion? God moves in mysterious ways... Call The Midwife played the misery card early, with a young mum giving birth to a still-born baby in a caravan colder than Pat Phelan’s heart. Nurse Valerie tried valiantly to revive him before finally giving up. Can you imagine how agonising that must have been for any parents who’d suffered a similar loss? Not exactly good tidings of comfort and joy... It doesn’t matter that the baby pulled through. The scenes will have triggered unnecessary anguish for tens of thousands. And here’s the thing. It’s very easy to make viewers cry. But to make them laugh, to fill them with joy and hope – the real Christmas spirit – requires much more talent. Mainstream TV used to know how to do it, as the ghosts of Xmas past demonstrate every year on smaller channels. They need to learn how to do it again.
*MAX Branning’s week started well. Who needs turkey to stuff when Stacey’s available? She was wearing her nativity costume too. Tsk. Talk about have it away in a manger. Now if she could only make tea...
SMALL joys of Xmas TV: Chas & Dave’s Xmas knees-up. Jimmy Cricket. A Christmas Carol Gone Wrong. 300 Years Of French & Saunders. Carols At Kings. Feud: Bette & Joan. Elvis: The Rebirth of the King.
RANDOM Xmas irritations: TV’s traditional avalanche of unleavened misery. The laziest, lamest Mrs Brown’s Boys script to date. Doctor Who lacking point, pace, plot and protagonists. Karen on EastEnders ranting “I ’ate Christmas, it ain’t for people like us.” Yes it is, luv. That’s exactly who it’s for. That’s the whole point.
XMAS mysteries: How did Dawn French shrink her backside to play Kim Kardashian? Why do C5 cut Jim Davidson from Chas & Dave’s Xmas Knees-Up every ruddy year?
DEC 24. The League of Gentlemen was the funniest show of the year. Its joyous mix of low humour, smart satire, clever sight gags and grotesque character comedy was nothing short of genius. Side-splitting scenes abounded – the exploding hedgehog, the “vagrant” dentist, Luigi’s specials, Tubbs “trapped” in an iPhone, the bingo caller’s lady-boy lament... The first belly-laugh came 30seconds in, when a naked Val accidentally rubbed a bush like a ZZ Top beard into nephew Benjamin’s face. There were murders, magic and mysteries – like the new photo booth plunged unsuspecting women into a dark subterranean hell...
Fifteen years on from the last series, the council were plotting to redraw boundary lines so the inbred villagers of Royston Vasey would be merged into the next town along. This was understandable. The place is like Sodom on benefits. Old characters returned with inspired new twists. Job Centre fuehrer Pauline Campbell-Jones appeared to be working as normal, sneering at “dole scum”, but she was actually in hospital being treated for dementia. Barbara the gruff transvestite cab-driver had made her cab a safe space for the gender fluid. Babs wouldn’t use “LBGT”, she preferred the acronym ACRONYM – actively considering realignment or not yet made-up-mind. While pig-nosed Edward and Tubbs had moved their “local shop for local people” into their condemned council flat, where they and their hostages became the focus of rolling news coverage.
Dirty German Herr Lip, deranged Geoff Tipps, bighead Ollie Plimsolls – they were all here. But not it seemed Papa Lazarou, the blackface circus ringmaster who seduced women telling them “You’re my wife now”. Was his look too un-PC for today’s Beeb, we wondered? No. Lazarou was behind the photo booth shoot to his underground lair: “It’s a wife-mine now”. The macabre mini-series didn’t waste a moment. Every scene was filled with funny putty. The food bank delivered cheese butties from a cash machine style dispenser. Empty stores had suitable notices like the Bra Shop’s ‘Gone Bust’. The Tyre Shop promised: ‘Everything slashed!’ A lowlife boiler had “I wish my car was this dirty” etched on her grime-covered back. These three new but sadly final episodes proved LoG was one of British TV’s greatest-ever cult comedies, up there with Python and The Fast Show. The fact that two of the writers went on to create the equally creepy and unsettling Psychoville and the inspired Inside No. 9 is a testament to their twisted genius.
LET’S hear it for the hardest-working person on the Royal Variety Show – the poor sod who had to dub on the laughter. The night was about as funny as a Walford Christmas. Host Miranda hit the screen at 7.34, about five minutes before my boot did. Her lame opening re-write of Irving Berlin’s There’s No Business Like Showbusiness was toe-curling. It didn’t even scan. ITV’s comedy bookings were predictably meagre. Tom Allen has some camp appeal but lacks the material to build on it. The Benidorm skit was a nice idea sabotaged by old gags and lazy writing. Jason Manford was dubbed a comedy star a few years ago, after the national lowering of standards. He’s likeable enough but his witless Yank-bashing was just puerile. No wonder Royal ratings are diving like Daley.
There were good acts of course, but way too much music. Paloma Faith performing dismally in a giant cobweb made you pray for the arrival of an over-sized tarantula. Speciality acts were few – one mentalist, two circuses... The Ethiopian tumblers felt fresh but aren’t you bored with Cirque du Soleil? Yes their performances are stunning but it’s all so po-faced and pretentious. I’d rather see Zippo’s Circus.
*IDIOT commentators claim Miranda “smashed the glass ceiling” to be the Royal’s first female host. Angela Rippon hosted in 1980, followed by Cilla (twice) in the 90s and Emma Forbes and Cat Deeley in the Noughties. Maybe a mentalist wiped their memories.
OH you Peaky beauties! Peaky Blinders ended in fine, borderline demented style with Brummie gangster Tommy seeing off the Mafia, gunning down Alfie Solomons and becoming a Labour MP. Yes, you read that right. After years of violence, drugs, double-dealing, boozing and enjoying more hot flesh than Damian Green’s computer, Tom decided he was perfectly qualified for Parliament. Well, he’d fit right in at Westminster’s Sports & Social Club. Imagine that, a ruthless, amoral, self-interested hood in government... insert your own Martin McGuinness joke here. Writer Stephen Knight appeared to kill off cocaine-fuelled headcase Arthur at one point, only to mercifully resurrect him. Here’s hoping Alfie returns in 2019 too.
HOT on TV: The League of Gentlemen... the Peaky Blinders finale... Alison King, Corrie... Tom Davis.
ROT on TV: Len Goodman’s Partners In Rhyme Xmas Special – all duff, no plums... Honey G – a tired and tiresome joke ITV won’t allow to die... The Orville – to banality and beyond!
TV subtitles update. We’ve recently seen “democratic” translated as “dim aquatic”, First Dates hopeful Veronica renamed “Barometer”. And a competitor on The Chase apparently introduce himself as “I’m Huge” (it was Hugh). BBC News’s Pestminster coverage claimed “It’s been quite a free-bra atmosphere” – the reporter had said “febrile”. Beeb subtitles also asserted that Jeremy Corbyn had congratulated Prince “Harry and Hezbollah” on the royal wedding. He’d actually said Harry and his brother, although you wouldn’t put it past him.
*BIG Eileen was “lucid and making sense” on Corrie, which suggests she should be whacked around the head more often. The poor woman was hospitalised after Anna clobbered her with a bolt-cutter by mistake. I do hope you’ll join me in praying that there is no permanent damage to the bolt-cutter.
*DID you see Sinkholes: Sucked To Death on Channel 5? I hear the Glory-holes edition is even scarier.
*JUST as well Jo Brand’s Cats & Kittens At Christmas wasn’t up against Paul O’Grady’s For The Love Of Dogs At Xmas. They’d have had to call in the Super Vet to sort out the carnage. And what a relief Brand’s show wasn’t recipe based.
*PLEASE note, Judi Dench: My Passion For Trees is not to be confused with Katie Price: My Lifetime of Wood.
SMALL joys of TV: Jon Richardson’s dishwasher routine. Les Dawson: In His Own Words. Max trying to garrotte Ian with fairy lights on EastEnders... Al Murray’s dancers (especially the woman in red). BBC4’s Two Ronnies night. It’s A Wonderful Life (Xmas Gold). Father Brown. The Foreigner (Netflix). Happy Holidays with Bing & Frank.
RANDOM irritations: Joe winning Strictly. Sugar’s “two winners” Apprentice cop-out. Corrie’s increasingly feeble plots. Anthony Joshua not even making the Top 3 on Sports Personality of the Year. Crooked House’s crackpot ending. Jo Brand’s dreary drone.
SEPARATED at birth: Arnie Schwarzenegger and Bobby George? One says “I’ll be back”, the other says “Ow me back.” One says “I’ll be back”, the other says “Fine as long as you don’t bring Miriam... ”
DEC 17. LINDA Plant dismissed James’s business plan as “Fantasyland!” on The Apprentice. “Lord Sugar doesn’t want pipe dreams and pie-in-the-sky bullsh*t!” she added. Well, he had enough of that at Spurs.
James was the only bloke left at the interview stage, the episode where flakes and fantasists are exposed and egos ripped apart by Sugar’s corporate rottweilers. He turned out to be as slippery as a snake in a sink full of sump oil. Sacked from his last job for double-dealing, James had falsely claimed his recruitment company was recognised by APSCo, the top trade body for the industry. Plant – who looks like the boardroom Joan Rivers and is nearly as savage – told him being fired put “a shadow over your trustworthiness”. Claude Littner said his figures “scream ludicrous”. And yet he’s one of this year’s two finalists – up against Sarah whose business involves repackaging sweets in a beaker with a ribbon on top. She claimed it was “unique”, but Mike Soutar produced two rival companies’ confectionary packs which were identical. “I don’t think they’re the same,” she protested feebly. “The bow on the top adds to the value... ”
Sarah has been in business since 2009 and her website didn’t work. No wonder Claude told her: “Well we have found out about you... and you failed that test.” If these are Britain’s brightest budding entrepreneurs then gawd help us. They’re not, of course, Michaela was clearly the most enterprising candidate, but Sugar never takes chances. Young Joanna was easily dispatched – “You don’t know how much you don’t know,” Claude told her. Umm, aren’t apprentices supposed to be trained? “Exceptionally aggressive” florist Elizabeth had been kept on just for the laughs. “Lord Sugar gave me a cheeky smile the last time he sent me back to this house,” she said. “And I’m going to give that cheeky smile back to him and say, let’s take this a little bit further!” There’s an image! Talk about You’re Sired! In fairness. Liz had a terrific work ethic and can-do attitude but, Claude observed, she was “so overbearingly bossy it’s been a trauma to watch you.” So a Loose Woman in the making, maybe, but no Apprentice winner. Sugar’s show is strictly about survival of the dullest.
BALLGOWNS for dogs, a £250K gold-plated bike, customised Monopoly sets that go for half a mill... The World’s Most Expensive Presents was like an hour long advert for Class War. It’s up to the wealthy how they spend their wedge of course. Some of them might even have earned it. But when close on 40,000 old people are likely to die from hypothermia this Winter, there’s something truly obscene about this kind of conspicuous consumption. More than 4,000 are sleeping rough – many of them ex-Forces, around 100,000 kids are likely to spend Xmas in sheltered accommodation... and you’re spending £24K on a personalised colouring book? That’s pretty hard to live with. Anyone with that kind of dosh burning holes in their over-priced pockets might consider quietly donating a few grand to Age UK, Crisis or Care After Combat. But I suspect the idle super-rich are more likely to take a Marie Antoinette approach. Not so much let them eat cake, more “Homeless? Let ’em feel the business end of my gold-plated vibrator.”
ITV’s Bancroft was so heavily influenced by Line Of Duty it could have been called Line Of Xerox. Tough DCI Elizabeth Bancroft had a dodgy past as a vicious murderer and stopped at nothing (killing her old boss, destroying DNA evidence) to keep her secret. Cop crime, corruption, cover-ups... Duty did all this better. Sarah Parish and her scary new choppers just about made Bonkers Bancroft believable but everything else was cheesier than Cheddar Gorge. Faye Marsay played Katherine Stevens, the rookie detective assigned by Ade Edmondson to the cold case investigation. She was the cutest telly tec since Anna Lee but Bancroft shot her and left her in a coma. Gulp. Even ITV weren’t Anna Lee retentive.
HOT on TV: Charlie Murphy, Peaky Blinders... Michaela Wain, The Apprentice... Blue Planet II.
ROT on TV: The Orville – sucks like Klingon quicksand... Sinead’s unlikely Corrie love triangle – ITV’s turkey came early... Bancroft – barking.
KEITH Chegwin was a lovely, funny upbeat man and a brilliant broadcaster, but he was addicted to playing pranks. We once did a TV show together called I’m Famous & Frightened, and shared a room in a “haunted” castle. Not a good move. The scariest thing that weekend was the film Cheggers took – and thoughtfully posted on Facebook – of me, fortified by several buckets of red wine, snoring my head off. R.I.P. mate.
*SETH MacFarland’s The Orville boldly goes where Captain Kirk went way better before. I’m not sure if it’s Star Trek: The Next Degeneration or The Worst Regurgitation. Either way, it doesn’t work as comedy or drama. Keith Harris’s Orville had more chance of flying.
*IS Peppa Pig really to blame for unrealistic expectations of GP services? Or does the fault lay more with Suranne Jones? Ever since Doctor Foster I’ve expected my GP to shag patients, down plonk like a thirsty Pogue and indulge in a little light breaking & entry.
*ON The Chase, Brad asked which field Louis CK was famous in. The answer was comedy. I could’ve sworn it was indecent exposure.
*RED cabbage, devilled eggs and sticky toffee pudding as Xmas essentials, Nigella? Bah humbug. All we need is a game bird, well-greased and expertly stuffed, done thoroughly for several hours. And then get on with the turkey.
SMALL joys of TV: Tom Hardy as Alfie Solomons on Peaky Blinders. Plucky, positive, permanently smiling Toff winning I’m A Celeb. Katya Jones’s gravity defying dance moves on last weekend’s Strictly. Jimmy Carr. Bob Mortimer. Roy Orbison: Love Hurts (BBC4).
RANDOM irritations: “Celebrity” specials with contestants no-one recognises. TV double standards when it comes to “sexism” (see lusting boilers on Loose Women, The Apprentice etc). The Crown bizarrely blaming 16-year-old Prince Philip for his sister’s air-plane death.
TV questions: Why doesn’t Supergirl get super-PMT? When will Long Lost Family investigate the sad case of Corrie’s Andy McDonald? What is it about Googlebox’s Pete McGarry that reminds me of Buster Gonad from the Viz comics? And when the likes of Rick Stein pour fan worship on Ernesto “Che” Guevara do they ever pause to consider how many innocent people he executed?
*FATHER & Secret Son – Judge Rinder and Jamie from Made In Chelsea?
*WHY give snowfall in centimetres? It confuses half the country and ruins potential goofs. I’ll never forget the time Ulrika told a stunned nation “I had a good eight inches last night.”
Dec 10. Miriam Margoyles put the wind up everyone on The Real Marigold On Tour. Britain’s roving ambassador for flatulence terrorised an unsuspecting China. Her “jam-tarts” and bowel obsession hung over the show like foul-smelling smog. No wonder so many of the Chinese folk in her proximity wore facemasks. No-one will ever say the elderly actress is a breath of fresh air. Or a shrinking violet... as ever, everything was about Miriam. It’s quite a skill to upstage Rosemary Shrager and Wayne Sleep. But Margoyles managed it – she commandeered the best bed, shouted loudest and moaned constantly. Bobby George seemed shy and retiring in her company, although he was understandably keen to emphasise they weren’t a couple. “No way babes, no way.” And yet just when you thought the selfish old trout has a heart of granite, she teared up meeting a panda. “I didn’t expect it to just be there,” she sobbed. No, not in a Panda Base.
She was noticeably less well-disposed to children. It’s pandas good, kids bad for Miriam, who’s like an overgrown, over-fed child herself.
Our celebrity explorers were in Chengdu to find out what it’s like to grow old in China. This was a genuine eye-opener. The Chinese retire at fifty, but live rich lives singing, dancing, exercising and learning. China has thousands of educational institutions for the over-50s. And okay they also have shocking pollution and zero democracy, but they do get some things right. Chinese culture respects the elderly, and effortlessly mixes the traditional with the modern. Chengdu has a state-of-the-art tube system, bullet trains and an incredible 400 metre swimming pool with its own beach and Mediterranean-style village in a giant shopping centre. Naturally Miriam hated it. “This is a f***ing nightmare,” she moaned. “This isn’t a pool, it’s a disaster. I hate this pool.” Aside from Theresa May’s “negotiating” skills, nothing last week made me more ashamed to be English.
They complained about the food – “too bloody authentic” – and the tea, and thought the best way to communicate was to holler “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?” at locals, who largely did. It certainly didn’t help translating “four” into Spanish. What was the logic? Any foreign lingo will do? This week, Cuba. What could possibly go wrong?
HOW do we know we’re not living in The Matrix, a geezer in a pub asked me this week? Well I’m pretty sure that if we were the TV would be a whole lot better. Have you seen the Xmas schedules? Cakes, sequins, soaps, midwives, two hours of Victoria, Mel & ruddy Sue... This year’s line-up feels like it was jotted down on the back of a feminine hygiene product by a couple of bored Loose Women during an ad break. Where are the jokes and where are the blokes? Granted we get a man in a dress on BBC1 at 10pm, but every channel has turned its back on the very things that made festive telly special – family comedy shows and brilliant sitcom specials. Sadly Del-Boy and Rodney now seem as distant as Morecambe & Wise. We don’t make big-hearted, genuinely funny “feck”-free shows anymore. Mainstream comedy has all but vanished from prime time, and we feel its loss. Especially at Xmas which should be a time of joy. Even Corrie is more about sad tidings than glad ones these days.
SKY Q makes me feel like I’m already living in TV’s future. I can record six shows simultaneously while watching a seventh, pause a show on screen and carry on watching it on an iPad... it’s superb. And telly will keep getting better. Coming soon: Personalised TV – where viewers vote on how drama plots develop. Holographic TV – early risers will wake up to a life-sized Carol Kirkwood doing the weather at the end of their bed in 3D, bringing new meaning to a ridge of high pressure. (Good Morning Britain’s Suzanna Reid would be just as welcome, although a full-sized Piers is definitely more Bad Morning Britain.) Then Virtual Reality TV will place us bang in the middle of the action on Game Of Thrones. You’d spend the series flinching from thrusting weapons, of one kind or another.
HOT on TV: Tom Hardy, Peaky Blinders... Susie Essman, Curb Your Enthusiasm (SkyAt)... The Grand Tour (AmPrime)... Matt Smith, The Crown (Netflix).
ROT on TV: Miriam Margoyles – rude, selfish, unlikable; can we have her in the jungle next year please?... Kirstie’s Handmade Xmas – a load of old baubles.
IF Live At The Apollo is meant to launch fresh talent, why subject us to comics like Nish Kumar who we see more than enough of already? And if it’s just a vehicle for great stand-ups then why not bring in older turns from the club circuit such as Martin Beaumont or Brian Higgins? Or even, god forbid, terrific old school comedians like Keith O’Keefe? There’s never room for Jethro. Comics get on if they have the right agent and/or the “correct” BBC approved views. But what gives our state broadcaster, paid for by all of us, the right to police who we can laugh at?
*THE X Factor final surprised no-one. Rak-Su beat Grace, although both will have hits. The big loser was ITV. The series was a ratings disaster, devoid of eccentrics and talking points. While BBC1’s big guns – Blue Planet, Strictly – always deliver, ITV’s bankers are fading. The network needs fresh blood, fast.
*FRANKIE Gaff told her Made In Chelsea mates: “I had all of these strong men planned for my big entrance.” Blimey. Remind me to weight train.
*PENGUINS faced the world’s “biggest wall of blubber” on Planet Earth II – elephant seals. The second biggest? Gemma Collins.
*US superheroes took on alien super-villains in a series of Sky One shows last week. The bad guys were from Earth-X – where the Nazis won the war. Image their top TV shows: Coronation Strasse, London’s Burnt, Birds Of A Fuhrer, Strictly Komm Goose-stepping...
*A FRIEND asked his wife why she watches Bake Off as she can’t cook. She replied: “Well you watched Masters Of Sex, didn’t you.”
SMALL joys of TV: Sea lions corralling tuna fish on Blue Planet II. Curb Your Enthusiasm’s curvaceous signer for the deaf. Michael McIntyre’s send-to-all segment. The Dancing On Ice trailer. Diane Morgan, Motherland. Gil Scott Heron clips on Gregory Porter’s Popular Music.
RANDOM irritations: Sinead’s unlikely love triangle on Corrie. Kez Very-dull Dugdale calling jungle buddy Stanley Johnson “white, old, male & stale” when he was ten times smarter and more bearable than her. Theresa May’s roll-over and surrender approach to negotiations.
*SEPARATED at birth: Karren Brady & Steven Seagal? One as tough as old boots, hard-faced with uncompromising views... the other is a Hollywood legend.
TV Maths. Far Right nut-job Jayda Fransen + pies + hair dye = Peter Kay’s Geraldine.
Dec 3. Shappi was kicked out of I’m A Celebrity first, a surprise to many viewers who’d forgotten she was there. Nice enough woman but like many modern alleged comedians, Shaps was about as funny as famine. Dec says the campmates “stink of campfire and BO”, but they still don’t reek as badly as the bookings. Joy-vacuum Keziah is the biggest waste of space since Hole In The Wall. While Jamie makes a rice & beans diet seem exciting. Big-headed Iain Lee is allegedly afraid of heights, which is okay as he’s never likely to hit any. Radio phone-in host Lee suffers from depression, we’re told. So why book him? Why not book someone properly famous instead?
The once-great show is in danger of going off like a vomit fruit smoothie abandoned in a billabong. Ant and Dec’s big news on Wednesday was that Kiosk Keith was back after a one-day illness. Whoopee-doo! No wonder viewing figures last week dipped to 7.4million – three million down on last year’s average. Things picked up when Amir and Iain scoffed the strawberries and cream they’d won in the Dingo Dollars challenge, telling their campmates they’d lost. When Lee confessed Dennis was fuming like a diesel truck, yet next morning the row just fizzled out. Amir was the instigator (although he was happy to blame Iain) but did ITV put them up to it? We know the producers tell the celebs what to talk about because most of them are duller than Howards End. The exceptions are self-styled “jungle Barbie” Toff and Stanley who are effortlessly likeable, even if old man Stan is the worst shot since Peter Devine. Does he have a secret though? According to the ITV subtitles Vanessa shouted “Man Hot Cock” at him – not bad for a 77year-old. Sadly there will be no Katie and Peter-style romance this series. Instead it’ll be remembered for booting out Jack in a storm of snowflake-fuelled angst. Big Brother-style secret missions won’t save it. It’s getting to the stage where I’m rooting for the cockroaches.
*GEMMA Collins wants back in. Let’s face it, she could do with the jungle diet. The woman’s expanding like the bill for Brexit.
THE Sex Robots Are Coming was creepier than a 1970s edition of Top Of The Pops. I felt for poor sad-eyed Tine when husband James described his sex-doll April as “the perfect girl”. Mercifully she missed him saying he wouldn’t know who to choose between her and it... Prototype robot Harmony certainly put Philip Schofield’s Luvabella – “the hi-tech doll that responds to touch” – to shame. But the C4 show raised more questions than it answered. For instance, will sex-bots lay back and puff on an e-fag afterwards? And will pranksters be able to programme them with hurtful banter, like “Is it in?”, “Is that a rash?” and “I’ve had better.” Perhaps we’ll be able to order celebrity versions. I’m thinking primarily of a Nigella-Bot repeating innocent phrases from her show, such as “Just right for drippage” and “I give it a squelch in my hands briefly and then roll it into a sausage shape.” Well, it’d work for me.
*FACT! Harmony was sent from the future to terminate John O’Connor with her fiendish mechanical lady-parts.
THE Punisher is about vengeance and the brutal retribution. Frank Castle deals in death sentences for scumbags. Castle (Jon Bernthal) is an ex-Marine who turns vigilante after his family are murdered. Like Death Wish’s Paul Kersey, he’s a good man made savage avenger by fate’s fickle finger. Although slow in places, The Punisher is merciless when it gets going. Fearless Frank takes on robbers, the Mob and bent government agents, breaking necks and drowning wrong’uns in wet concrete. Corrupt cops cross him at their peril. He makes “an eye for an eye” seem like sopping wet liberalism. Around him are Dinah Madine from Homeland Security, Curtis from a veterans support group and Micro, a hacker who starts stalking him. Haunted by memories of his lost loved ones, our brooding hero takes his frustrations out at work demolishing walls with a sledgehammer... until he’s forced into direct action. You might question his morality, but Castle exists in a black and white world where the guilty can’t be allowed to get away with hurting the innocent. He’s a Dirtier Harry. An anti-hero you can root for.
HOT on TV: Jon Bernthal, The Punisher (Netflix)... Nadiya, Strictly... The Marvellous Mrs Maisel (AmPrime)... Claire Foy, The Crown (Netflix).
ROT on TV: Kez Dugdull, I’m A Celebrity – she’s a nonentity, get her out of there... A Baker’s Life – half-baked... Wallis: The Queen That Never Was – a good tale nobbled by ham-dram reconstructions.
OLD Val sized up Paul’s offering on Paul Hollywood: A Baker’s Life and sniffed “It’s small... I thought it might have been bigger.” Let’s hope she meant his roulade. Sadly the show didn’t properly reflect Paul’s life. He admitted “baking is not my only passion”, but there was nothing on his fling with Marcela, that kiss with Candice, or barmaid Summer... The randy master-baker just banged on about racing cars.
*MTV are bringing back the original cast of Jersey Shore. Conan O’Brian quipped: “Can you believe it? Every single cast member was available.”
*GREAT news about Harry and Meghan’s wedding. That’s another series of The Crown guaranteed, then.
*CARMEL on EastEnders said sex with her was better than a fish-finger sandwich. Yes, the drooling and slobbering, the messy vinegar spurt, the lingering smell of herring... but sometimes you just prefer a butty. Sadly for her, Max preferred played Sild With A Kiss with Fi. In other fish-related news, Ben discovered Things Could Only Get Batter and the Carters were stuck between a rock salmon and a hard plaice.
SMALL joys of TV: Arthur Shelby! Lost In Space re-runs (Horror). Bushra’s “toe-curling” pitch, The Apprentice. The octopus v shark on Blue Planet II. Lee Mack, Would I Lie To You. Arena: Ken Dodd. Snowfall. Beard-loving Nicola on The Chase – remind me not to shave.
RANDOM irritations: The BBC’s Sara Pascoe overkill. The Drama channel skipping nine series of The Bill. Over-powering orchestral scores on documentaries and dramas. Yet another rotten villains plot on DeadEnders. Anyone under 40 who writes an autobiography.
*SEPARATED at birth: sex-robot Harmony and Amanda from Motherhood – one a beautiful air-head who’d leave a man feeling slightly disgusted with himself... and so is the other one.
TV Maths. Todd Carty minus comb = Kevin Eldon.
A PUNTER was talking about a glass bowl on Dickinson’s Real Deal when she told dealer Alison Chapman: “I can’t imagine blowing something that size!” Send me any goofs you hear. £35 for any I print.