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.
Dec 26. MODERN Christmas TV "specials" are more of a job for the Fraud Squad than critics. Yesterday's offerings were poorer than Bob Cratchit. BBC1's Xmas Day schedules were a carbon copy of last year's dismal offerings with the same glaring hole at their heart - there was no new comedy in primetime whatsoever. Older viewers have been spoilt. We had the Trotters to look forward to, or up until 2012 The Royle Family. Two years ago, Gavin & Stacey topped the Yuletide viewing charts with 11.6million on the day, soaring to 17.1million on catch-up, making the sweet-hearted sitcom the most-watched scripted show of the decade. Nessa proposing to Smithy left us on tenterhooks. What happened next? We're still waiting to find out! Oh, but lucky us, we got festive specials of The Wheel and Blankety Blank instead. Bradley Walsh and Michael McIntyre are our most successful comedy entertainers, but only their accountants would describe these formats as must-see.
BBC1's first new sitcom of Xmas Day was Mrs Brown's Boys at 10.20pm. There are many reasons to love Brendan O'Carroll, but his blue panto humour isn't exactly family viewing. And how sloshed would you need to be to enjoy gags like, "An elephant has Big Ears" "That's cos Noddy wouldn't pay the ransom". That's not money for old rope, it's money for old Christmas cracker jokes. What a feckin' insult. Still, we did get the chance to watch genuine BBC comedy classics like Porridge on BritBox on subscription. Yes, pay more to watch something you already paid for. Thanks.
Some of us were lucky enough to have grown up even longer ago, when giants like Eric and Ernie and The Two Ronnies ruled the festival roost. We don't make them like that anymore. But could we? If the BBC had any sense, which I doubt, they'd commission a maverick trouble-shooter to save mainstream comedy - and bring back audiences. Job one: make Xmas entertainment genuinely special again. Make sure there's a new Gavin & Stacey at the heart of Xmas Day 2022. Launch a modern equivalent of Comedy Playhouse to find and build new popular sitcoms. Create mainstream sketch shows. And give McIntyre and Walsh family-friendly festive specials that aim to equal the joy, and laughter and timeless warmth of our yesterday's comic heroes. It's better to try and fail than just give up. That odd smell hanging around on Xmas afternoon wasn't the uneaten sprouts - it was the stench of "Will this do?" hanging over lacklustre schedules.
ALAN Carr was on top form hosting the Royal Variety Show. "You're a lot posher than my usual audience," he said after a death-defying (cough) aerial entry. "When I flew over your heads, I saw a couple of you instinctively going for your shotguns." His parents were in. "I'm not saying mum's cooking is bad," Carr quipped, "but if you finish everything on your plate, you get a star for camp." Alan also mocked himself, saying he had "the voice of an 85year-old woman", and that he couldn't do "Movember" - "Me growing a moustache with these teeth? it'd be like putting a thatched roof on Stonehenge." Laugh? I almost forgave him for desecrating Bullseye. Sadly, none of the other comics had any decent gags. Josh Widdecombe delivered dull drivel about babies and driving tests, while Judi Love's best line was a variation of a long familiar American Smooth/waxing joke. Short bursts of Tom O'Connor and Jackie Mason in the obituary reel were funnier. ITV still think "variety" means umpteen singers and two West End musicals mixed with two-bob comics. The only exceptions were Turkish acrobats, the Messoudi brothers, and Canada's arty Cirque du Soleil. You waited in vain for magicians, jugglers, vents or mentalists. But some comfort could be had in the audience shots revealing bored, unimpressed and sometimes angry faces in direct contradiction of the cranked-up laughter we were hearing.
*BILL Bailey is great but did he really need to drop the f-bomb on a family variety show? Old school producer/director David Bell must've been spinning in his tin.
*WAS the Messoudi Brothers' Dad separated at birth from Wayne Lineker?
POSH papers called the landlord on The Girl Before "enigmatic", but he seemed downright creepy to me. Edward was an architect who'd designed an "ultra-minimalist" house and had strict rules for his tenants. No pets, children, books, carpets... who'd live in a house like this? It'd stump Loyd Grossman. My guess would be a former lifer looking to replicate his old cell.
The charmless box-house was as cheery as Hitler's bunker. It had death-trap stairs and was easier to break into than the Woolpack. Yet oddly it appealed to newly-separated Emma and grieving mum Jane. Both looked a tad like control freak Ed's dead missus - his taste in women certainly trumped his architectural designs - and he bedded both. It took a while to work out Emma had died and Jane was her replacement. The alleged thriller was hard-going - painfully slow, over-loaded with jumping timelines, useless men and clunking dialogue.
HOT on TV: Elaine C. Smith, Two Doors Down... Pavarotti... Jimmy Carr: His Dark Material (Netflix)... Would I Lie To You?... Jessica Plummer and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, The One Before... incredible Rose Ayling-Ellis.
ROT on TV: Liberty At Xmas - diabolical... Britain's Favourite Party Songs - the seventh circle of hell... We Wish You A Mandy Xmas - jingle balls.
THE most-watched show on TV yesterday was Call The Midwife. The 60s-set nuns-and-mums drama is reliably predictable. Mother and child in peril - tick. Heartstrings pulled - tick. Pregnant junkie moll of the East End's wettest gangster... wait, where did that come from? Dominoes were also vigorously slapped and Lucille and Cyril overcame minor setbacks to enjoy their winter wedding. There wasn't a dry glass in my house. Small joys? Fred Buckle's splitting strides and Mildred's foghorn voice.
*LIKE The Larkins, Call The Midwife means well but deliberately distorts our past. In the BBC's version of the 1960s, not even devout nuns oppose abortion; while ITV kids us that a remote 50s Kent village was an oasis of diversity. Still that's easier to believe than 30year-old Sabrina Barlett as teenage Mariette. She can't hold a candle to Catherine Zeta-Jones, so jaw-droppingly memorable in 1991, either.
EVEN the great John Cooper Clarke couldn't save We Wish You A Mandy Christmas. Diane Morgan's Mandy, with that face like a lop-sided trifle, is a one-trick pony who sucks the joy out of everything. "If turkey was nice, we'd have it all year round," she sneered, before turning more reasonably on Emmerdale. There was one nice sight gag when Clarke's ghost of Xmas Yet To Come showed Mandy her own funeral. She'd died in a steamroller accident - cut to a shot of a flattened coffin.
*JULIA Donaldson has revealed that the original version of her Superworm story began, "Superworm is long and pink, Superworm can grow and shrink." Can't for the life of me think why she had to change that.
*TOP Xmas revelation? Ed Sheeran claiming that Elton John wanted to call their festive No 1: "Pull my Xmas cracker, you'll get more than a bang."
Small Joys of Xmas TV: All Creatures Great & Small Special. Eric & Ernie: Behind The Scenes - the ghosts of Xmas comedy past. Carols From King's. Ghosts. The Mezzotint. Lee Mack's rat-a-tat gag rate. 1938's The Adventures Of Robin Hood - whoosh, thud!
Random Xmas irritations: Zoom pantomimes. Half-baked spoofs of A Christmas Carol. The usual Walford misery-fest. Festive "specials" of shows that aren't remotely special to begin with - sewing, baking, cooking... the same old tat with tinsel.
SEPARATED at birth: Jeffrey Fairbrother and Dominic Raab? One a comic fish out of water who struggles to connect with everyday people, the other was in Hi-De-Hi.
Dec 19. TV NEEDS more singing talent shows like Boris needs byelections, but we got Walk The Line anyway. The Simon Cowell format is basically karaoke plus gambling – two evils for the price of one. Oddly, it missed the key element that made The X Factor a smash, Cowell’s blunt honesty. (See also Mickey Most and Tony Hatch on New Faces). Instead, celeb judges blew smoke up contestants’ arses. “Our job is to be honest,” lied Alesha, who, in fairness, was the most critical, but only after she’d left the studio.
It was saddled with all the usual tricks. There were sob stories, irritating pauses – a soul-sapping 60-second countdown for the reigning champ to decide whether to take the money or “walk the line” to the next episode. And a few contestants who had already had a shot at fame.
Walk The Line’s fundamental flaw was immediately obvious – Sunday’s winner needed to beat 20 more contenders to win the £500K prize; Wednesday’s winner only had to out-sing eight. Early favourite Ella Rothwell was a nice woman whose self-penned ditties owed a debt to the Adele school of misery, but lacked killer melodies. She was trumped on Wednesday by likeable south Londoner Nadiah Adu-Gyamfi (aka Moko who’s already sung on a Top 5 hit). Inevitable drag act Queenz promised to “sing like Whitney and dance like Britney”. Which was true, they could’ve come straight from the Queen Vic... “We might have seen all you’ve got,” Alesha told them. That’s tight drawers for you. Nadiah won – deservedly. The woman can hold a note longer than Scrooge. But second place Scarlet Thomas has star quality, and pitch perfect vocals. Host Maya Jama also impressed, although you suspect most blokes would be happy just watching her eat a banana in slo-mo.
*I HAVE to say Alesha says “I have to say” way too often.
*MORE Johnny Cash themed spin-offs: Forty Shades Of Green – karaoke plus sea sickness. A Boy Named Sue – karaoke with solo drag acts. Ring Of Fire – karaoke plus vindaloos (and I cleaned that up).
TV bosses have set the bar for comedy way too low. I mean limbo low. Our screens are full of people who identify as comedians but couldn’t raise a laugh in the London Zoo hyenas’ enclosure. There’s the traditional box-ticking guest on Have I Got News For You who says nothing remotely funny... the unknowns who turn up on Live At The Apollo with acts geared to getting small grins in easily-pleased comedy clubs... They’d never play to 3000 under their own steam; genuine belly-laughs are beyond them. How must far-better older club turns like Martin Beaumont and Brian Higgins feel? Let alone the old-school comics blacklisted for thoughtcrime. The great Cornish comedian Jethro released a DVD called Bullocks To The EU and never got another TV booking. RIP, Geoff.
HOW many more plugs posing as documentaries – as opposed to butt-plugs – do Lovehoney need? We’ve had Frisky Business, The Joy Of Sex Toys, and now Naughty & Nice with an array of “wands and rabbits” that the late Paul Daniels never handled, and the lovely Debbie McGee probably never needed. Tester Jamie said one vibrator “sounded like a tractor”. Blimey. Can we ever watch Our Yorkshire Farm with the same sense of ease again?
HOT on TV: new Gomorrah (SkyAt)... Succession finale... The Grand Tour (AmPrime)... I Literally Just Told You.
ROT on TV: Strictly Real Full Monty – what’s more padded, the show or the thongs?... Fern Brady – does for laughs what Mr Big’s death did for Peloton shares.
THE Cockfields Xmas Special was a comedy of embarrassments, mostly provided by Gregor Fisher’s Ray. Yes, Simon’s stepfather has turned Scottish and nobody noticed. Ray is sulky, controlling and generally as endearing as a series of Fly-tipping With Rab C. Nesbitt would be. But the last scenes in a pub, with booze flowing, old friends, bonhomie and songs – felt like an oasis of festive joy. What we’d give for that, eh?
THEY reached the cigar moment on Impeachment, as Monica Lewinsky spilled the beans about Bill Clinton’s personal, um, Cuban missile crisis. The President allegedly persuaded his intern to pleasure herself with his half-chewed cigar – there’s a new one for Lovehoney. It’s unclear if he later inhaled.
*WHAT’S narrower, Bill Clinton’s definition of sex or BoJo’s definition of a party?
*DANNY Miller won I’m A Celeb. “I’m just so proud of myself,” he said, despite having done little more than weep and fall in platonic love with David Ginola. Don’t ruin the format with another Welsh wash-out, ITV.
*A MOVING moment on The Grand Tour as Clarkson dropped a Citroen 2CV from a chopper, blaming it for “everything that’s gone wrong in the world” from vegans and cyclists to “people who talk about my truth”.
Storm Corrie is set to “snow-bomb” Scotland. And if that sounds bad, wait for the endless hell of Storm Walford...
Small Joys of TV: Iron Biby, World’s Strongest Man. Comedy Playhouse: Where It All Began. Lead Belly: The Man Who Invented Rock ’n’ Roll. Darby (Walk The Line).
Random irritations: BBC & ITV completely ignoring Jethro’s death. MasterChef overkill – the TV equivalent of Japanese knotweed. You Don’t Know Me’s cop-out ending.
TV questions: Is Maya Jama Spanish for mostly jammy? What would a Turner Prize-fighter look like? Were the National Comedy Awards postponed because of Omicron, as claimed, or was it just that C4 couldn’t find enough half-decent winners?
TV Maths. Terry Scott + wig + leopard skin = Kat Moon (inspired by Comedy Playhouse clips).
Classic clanger. Efan Ekoku was talking about Burnley goalie Nick Pope’s clean sheet when he goofed: “This guy’s pretty special between the sheets.”
Dec 12. IF YOU were Beth and Eric Baird you’d move. But then we’d miss all the joys of Two Doors Down. The earthy Scottish sitcom stands out in the schedules like bagpipes in a mariachi band. It’s funny, believable, and it packs in scenes embarrassing enough to make Larry David’s toes curl up like a plate of vegan sandwiches at a butchers’ stag do. The Bairds’ hospitality is regularly abused by their nuisance neighbours in suburban Glasgow. Like blunt-talking Christine, who opened with “Are you solid?”, before relating way too much information about her iffy guts – and blaming Beth’s innocent ham and tiger bread sandwich. Beth was celebrating son Ian’s two-year anniversary with boyfriend Gordon by cooking them a curry. “In your kitchen?” asked Christine. “What are they getting for their pudding, two Imodium and a cork?”
Ian had been in a fight with three blokes in a taxi queue after defending women from their sub-Keith Lemon abuse. Gordon, who is wetter than a burst water main, admitted he hadn’t backed Ian up, and had never thrown a punch in his life. “Too scared to defend your partner?” gasped Colin who’d invited himself and fearsome wife Cath round. Cath and Christine conjured up fantasy fight scenes – “I’d have taken my shoe off and used the heel” – while Colin advocated “the good old Glasgow kiss”.
The gate-crashers were understandably horrified by Beth’s food – a mild cauliflower and chickpea curry – and Gordon’s non-alcoholic beer. “What’s the f***ing point of that?” The lack of naan bread pushed Colin over the edge. He organised a take-away and advised Ian to dump “the wuss.” By the end Gordon had thrown his first punch. It’s well-cast, well-crafted, with recognisable characters, and it makes you laugh out loud. Like sitcoms used to.
IT’S that time of year, when a jolly fat man promises much and never delivers... but enough about Boris. Succession’s Logan Roy is rarely jolly, but the grizzled media mogul went ballistic when he received a dick-pic from his idiot son Roman. He’d meant it for Gerri, their interim CEO, who was “a million years old” according to Logan (who’s 20years older and shagging his much younger PA). The Roys were in Tuscany for the wedding of his ex-wife, “Scary Poppins” who admitted she should’ve had dogs instead of children. She said Logan: “never saw anything he loved that he didn’t wanna kick just to see if it comes back.” No wonder their kids are screwed up. The highlight was Logan reducing rebel son Kendall to a suicidal wreck. The underlying message is – filthy rich hypocrites will throw anyone under a bus to hang on to power. But we knew that from Allegra Stratton.
CAR salesman Hero – charged with murdering a drug dealer – sacked his brief on You Don’t Know Me and addressed the jury directly. Samuel Adewunmi was superb as the eloquent pleader, recalling his love for beautiful bookworm Kyra and how he’d rescued her from a Camden drug gang. He’d looked bang to rights but started to win jurors over. Is Hero telling the truth? Partly, I’d bet. But I didn’t buy the gang making Kyra work as a £100-a-ride hooker under a railway bridge. With her looks, she’d easily make “two bags” (£2K) a night as a high-class brass. Roger Jean Nsengiyumva excels as dealer Jamil.
HOT on TV: Samuel Adewunmi, You Don’t Know Me... Ant & Dec – just about keeping ITV’s non-jungle bungle watchable... Two Doors Down... Money Heist finale (Netflix).
ROT on TV: Doctor Who – for Flux’s sake make it stop... And Just Like That – tediously woke, no jokes and Big croaked.
WASN’T And Just Like That a let-down? No Tommy Cooper clips at all... There is no Samantha in this Sex & The City spin-off either. Mr Big died after a vigorous session on an exercise bike – didn’t that used to be Sam’s nickname? It’s not as snappy as the original, nor as crappy as the films. Carrie, however, remains as irritating as piles.
*GREG Wallace says he’ll start drinking at 6.30am on Xmas Day. He’s seen the TV schedules too, then...
*PAY close attention to the Queen’s speech this year. Odds are it’ll be Bradley Walsh in drag – he’s on everything else.
*UNLIKE Fargo, Landscapers is a real murder re-played as a slow, arty black comedy. It’s stylishly made, but morally suspect.
*TV News Advent Calendar update: Most doors are closed due to supply chain issues, but there’s always a party in No 10.
*DR Who merch warning: please note, the John Barrowman Sonic Screwdriver is definitely not for kids.
Small Joys of TV: Dec’s “Evening Prime Minister, for now”. Small Faces clips (SkyArts). Hawkeye (Disney+). Dettori (Sky Docs). John dropping Johannes, Strictly.
Random irritations: The I’m A Celeb berks blubbing like babies. Hideous buildings on Grand Design. Craig Revel-Horrid getting booed for telling the truth.
TV questions: does Claudia Winkleman’s husband get fringe benefits? If Giovanni Pernice fell victim to the Strictly curse, would he bring new meaning to cocking a deaf’un? How many Instagram filters would it take to make Nadiya’s Fast Food dishes look edible?
SEPARATED at birth: Alan Moore and Henry English? One wrote From Hell, the other is living it on bleak drama American Rust.
Dec 5. HOW dumb do ITV think we are? On I’m A Nonentity, a trembling Naughty Boy overcome his fears as he faced a bombardment of “critters”. The moody music producer squirmed, moaned and whimpered as harmless snakes, crabs, cockroaches and mealworms covered his extremities. But when every short bombardment was over, Naughty stopped squirming, moaning and whimpering... even though the creepy-crawlies were still all over him! So why didn’t Ant and Dec take the Mick? I suspect they were keeping the “pathetic moaner” (© Richard Madeley) sweet in the hope he’ll have a proper cooking related melt-down soon. Anything to liven it up...
This is the dullest-ever series of this great format, so thank you Storm Arwen for forcing it off-air for three blissful nights. Storm Simon blew up a gust of his own – but that’s a bean diet for you. Steve McDonald star Gregson enthusiastically “cleaned his pipes” in front of fellow “Lord”, Adam Woodyatt. It was the worst stink he’d had under his nose since he got the scripts for Ian Beale’s tramp phase. Naughty Boy reckoned the storm was female. This led to bizarre chants of “Bow down to the vagina”, which may explain why Simon tried to smuggle in Vaseline. The biggest shock was Frankie Bridge revealing, “I got used Tottenham, okay now.” What? Not another #MeToo scandal? Mercifully it was just the ITV subtitles playing up. She’d actually said, “I got used to the hammocks”. Phew, Stand down, Plod. Later Frankie revealed she’d once given husband Wayne “a cast of my arse”. Ant quipped “We’ve cast a few arses over the years”. And there we were back at Naughty Boy.
*WHAT about those puffed-up “Lords” with their undeserved privileges looking down their noses at others? And the ones in the castle were nearly as bad...
IF Sajid Javid ever mated with a hobbit, their love child would look very much like the baby elf on Elves. It has big eyes, big ears and a head like a hairy coconut. Bless. So cute. Elves are lovely, aren’t they? Jolly souls, Santa’s little helpers... Not these ones. Unluckily for the Svane family holidaying on a remote Danish island, these wee folk are an Elf and Safety nightmare. Trouble starts when Dad, Mads, ignores instructions to follow the coastal road to their holiday home. Instead, he drives through the forest and hits something. Later dimwit daughter Josefine follows a trail of tar-like blood, finds the tot and hides it in their barn. The Elves aren’t happy. And the local farmer’s usual sacrifice – a cow tethered in a clearing – isn’t enough to placate them. Fifty minutes into this Netflix fantasy horror, they’d eaten a second raw cow and decapitated a local. Gulp. And you thought Welsh castles looked grim...
EVERYONE on American Rust is having a worst time than you are. In fact, there are people watching this in Albert Square and sneering “look at these losers”. It’s that gloomy. But, unlike DeadEnders, it feels so real. We’re in rundown Buell, in the heart of the Pennsylvanian rust belt, where the sky is always grey. Local police chief Del is hooked on hillbilly heroin and bang in love with divorced Grace, whose troubled son Billy just killed someone. Del had pulled strings to keep him out of clink six months before, but when he’d turned up with a cheap bottle of celebration bubbly, he found Grace entertaining her deadbeat ex. Now he’s covering up for him again. Billy’s lost love the lovely Lee left town to marry someone minted, and her suicidal gay brother Isaac robs their sick dad. It’s slow, but it sucks you in like quicksand. Dirtiest joke so far: “Who’d have thought the Finger Lakes could bring so much pleasure?”
HOT on TV: Maura Tierney, American Rust (SkyAt)... I Believe In Miracles (Netflix)... Yellowjackets.
ROT on TV: Giles Coren – as much use as a dissolving condom... Amol Rajan... The Tournament – tourn it in... David O’Doherty – on yer bike.
COMEDIANS came to the fore on Impeachment as Linda Tripp’s family watched her cruelly portrayed on Saturday Night Live by John Goodman in drag. Tripp betrayed Monica Lewinsky by secretly taping her. But the real villain is Bill Clinton who coaxed the 22year-old into oral sex. I don’t know that for sure, by the way, it’s just word of mouth.
*INTRO of the week, Bradley Walsh saying Shaun Wallace has “a face like Bagpuss being fished out of the canal”.
*ED Balls discovered a sex-pest ancestor – a proper cock and Balls story. He looked happier being Tasered.
*SARAH Cox Between The Covers? What a let-down. It’s just a show about books.
*AMANDA Owen’s Winter Walks proved you don’t need the Met Office to spot a cold front... Why not try Amanda Holden’s Winter Wan... ds. Now that’s magic.
Small Joys of TV: Wheel Of Time fight scenes. The Office repeats. Billy Connolly: In His Own Words. Thin Lizzy Night. Kendall’s cringe-ridden 40th, Succession.
Random irritations: The BBC1 Christmas schedule – talk about “This’ll do”. Get McIntyre to host a proper festive special instead of another spin of the poxy Wheel.
TV questions: what’s brighter, Matt Lucas or Gloss Lucas? Do Life & Rhymes poets have someone come round to read their metre? Who will go bust first, Gray Atkins or your energy supplier?
SEPARATED at birth: Silco and comedian Russell Kane. One is ruthless in pursuit of success... the other’s a cartoon character... One is in Arcane the other is literally R. Kane...
Classic Clanger. Terri, teaching dancing moves on Four In A Bed, told Kevin: “See if you can swivel on your balls.” Ouch.