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 18. WELL at least dear old Dot Cotton got a decent send-off. The chain-smoking busybody – superbly played by the late June Brown – was one of soap’s greatest creations. Dot was a complex mix of charity, hypochondria, and indignation; part Kenneth Williams – “ooh I say!” – and part Albert Steptoe. Her double act with Gretchen Franklin’s Eth was pure comedy gold. Half-forgotten faces at her funeral included Lofty, Mary the Punk and posh Colin Russell (wot, no Mr Papadopolous?). In a lovely touch, three of June’s children were among the mourners. Dot was funny and tragic, with an accent and attitudes from a lost world. Or at least a “lorst” London. On paper, her life was scarier than Big Mo’s OnlyFans page. Her husband dumped her, her junkie son tried to kill her, many times, and then attempted to use his daughter Dotty to fleece her...
Dot was conceived as a self-righteous bigot with old-fashioned Old Testament views, but June, a devout Christian, made her more rounded. And the more loved she became, the more EastEnders writers watered down her prejudices. Dot still spoke her mind but no longer unsettled the wet and woolly. June found this frustrating. At her best, the Bible-bashing first lady of the launderette was never afraid to judge or interfere, “I ain’t one to pry... ”
In 2008 she was Bafta-nominated for her incredible one-hander (very different from a Roxy Mitchell one-hander). The monologue she recorded for hospitalised Jim was mesmerising, although it seemed unlikely that a woman with Dot’s strong Christian duty would refuse to care for her stroke-afflicted hubby. Odds on she’s looking down on us now, fag in one hand, Good Book in the other, turning her nose up at Walford’s latest follies.
*BARRY, Colin’s ex, is bald, Cockney and geezer-ish. He’s the gay son Phil Mitchell should’ve had.
*WHY no Little Willie? Is he in panto again?
WITH every other worker in Britain striking, TV’s Strike is working overtime. The glum gumshoe and his sleuthing oppo, Holliday Grainger’s Robin, are investigating the unexplained 1974 disappearance of Clerkenwell doctor Margot, a case not so much cold as sub-Arctic. She was assumed to be the victim of a cross-dressing serial killer, but her daughter isn’t so sure. It’s based on a Robert Galbraith novel by JK Rowling that’s as thick as Hagrid’s beard. The rambling investigation includes sleazy 70s gangsters and a snuff video more unsettling than anything you’d find on Hunter Biden’s laptop. Meanwhile Strike’s aunt is dying, Robin’s got divorced, and astrological mumbo-jumbo is clogging up the mix. Unsolved puzzles include why Strike wears that over-coat on sunny days. But the real questions are will our one-legged hero finally get his get his log over with Robin? And would that make her a Happy Holliday?
MOUNT Etna was threatening to erupt on The White Lotus but the real heat was elsewhere. Poor Tanya shot her way off Quentin’s yacht, only to fall to her death. She was squinting at Quentin like he was the bottom line of an optician’s eye-chart. Ethan nearly drowned love-rat Cameron, probably shagged his missus, Dishy Daphne, and finally got jiggy with Harper, saving their marriage. Wet Albie – a victim of his family’s “Achilles cock” – was suckered by lucky Lucia (whose evil pimp was a play-acting pal), but exchanged numbers with jobless Portia. The series started as slow as pahoehoe lava flow but ended on a thrilling high, full of unpredictable surprises. Roll on season three.
HOT on TV: The White Lotus finale (SkyAt)... Lionel Messi... Julia Koschitz, Souls (SkyAt).
ROT on TV: Vienna Blood – anaemic... ref Sampaio missing fouls on Kane & Saka...Ginge & Whinge’s Netflix binge.
*STRIKE update: no trains, no post, no nurses, and, judging by the Xmas schedules, TV comedy writers have been out all year...
*IF everyone working in telly downed tools, would the army be brought in to man the airwaves? A few sergeant-majors might make Question Time worth watching. “Answer the question, you ’orrible little worm!” They could also revive ENSA. Russ Abbot, Jasper Carrott, Mick Miller, Lee Evans – get fell in! It wouldn’t half cheer up yuletide telly.
*7 army-themed comedies: Get Some In! The Phil Silvers Show. Hogan’s Heroes. It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. Operation Petticoat. The Army Game. Yanks Go Home.
*WHEN Netflix’s lucrative Royal shows catch up with real time, will the writers be tempted to push ahead into possible futures? They’d hardly be more far-fetched than Harry & Meghan.
*GORDON, Gino & Fred: Unseen Bits? No thanks. The seen bits were bad enough.
*THE size of Dick Strawbridge now. He’s less Escape To The Chateau, more Escape Of The Fatto.
WALFORD mysteries: why do funerals and weddings take places miles away from the East End? How did they afford Dot’s cortege, it’s £2grand just for the drayhorses. Does Dotty have Geordie blood, who else wears a micro-skirt in this weather?
SMALL joys of TV: Jane Fonda in the otherwise diabolical Barbarella. Michael Gambon, Maigret (ITVX). Chris Kamara “once a Boro lad always a Boro lad”.
RANDOM Irritations: Plugs for shops/hotels disguised as docs. Football commentators telling us what we can see ourselves. Portia’s Gen Zzzz dress sense (White Lotus).
SEPARATED at birth: Simon Cowell and Jim Dale? One a frightening comic grotesque. The other was in Carry On Screaming.
*ITVX is ITV’s new online ITV platform. For ITVXL see Alison Hammond.
Classic Clanger. Iolo Williams, talking about waterbirds: “Shag number one has pooed all over shag number two.”
Dec 11. DEATH by extreme violence is part of Sicily’s rich cultural heritage, but who will croak on The White Lotus? Cocky big-head Cameron gets my vote. The randy flasher has wound up more people than Meghan and Harry. Not least rich geek Ethan, the “pal” he’s tormented since college, who is convinced it was Cam who put a smile on wife Harper’s resting bitch face – an event rarer than spontaneous combustion. Normally you’d need de-icer.
Cam still hasn’t paid local brass Lucia for her erotic services, either. No idea why her angry pimp/accomplice hasn’t taught her to get weighed out upfront... When she bedded wet Albie, she didn’t even mention she was on the game. Albie’s dad, her ex-client Dom, will hit the roof when he clocks how much she’s charged to his room. Let’s hope grandad Bert survives. The randy old goat proves there’s still a sting in a dying bee. They’re trying to trace relatives who don’t want to be traced. Elsewhere, loadsamoney Tanya is getting hoodwinked by gay hustler Quentin. He set her up with an Italian stallion and half a ton of Charlie. It’ll make a lively blackmail reel. Or could Quentin be in cahoots with Tanya’s husband Greg who benefits if her infidelity voids their prenup... ?
Poor Tan. Not only is she gullible, self-centred and dim, she also dresses like a bog roll doily. Everything she wears is a crime against fashion. Quentin’s “nephew” Jack-the-Lad kept Tanya’s PA Portia away from the sting. The hard-partying Essex boy is as suspect as Simon Coyle’s new face. Anyone could die here, except the hookers. Mike White’s crafty script is designed to keep us guessing to the end. Damn him.
*THEO James says Cam’s casually flashed whopper was prosthetic. Thank God! It looked like Phil Mitchell in a rollneck jumper.
TOM the deluded magician conjured up unintended laughs on The Traitors by bragging that he could pinpoint traitors by “reading” people. Yeah. He read ’em about as well as a partially-sighted dyslexic reads Chaucer down a mineshaft. Tom’s greatest trick was making his own chance of winning disappear. Everyone he accused was innocent except for Alyssa who got away with it until Thursday when Wilf betrayed her, proving he’s the biggest traitor by far. Amanda is completely under the radar. Contestants commit to their suspicions whole-heartedly. Theo talked about “my evidence” (the latest idiotic riff on “my truth”) when he had no evidence whatsoever. Just a hunch like everyone else. The thought that these people can still sit on juries is slightly disturbing.
*AS well as cash, any chance the winner(s) can be sent on to a White Lotus resort hotel?
WHAT was the alternative name for Harry & Meghan? We Would Lie To You, perhaps? Everything about this show stinks – the puffed-up self-pity, the grand talk of “sacrifice”, the tinkling pianos. You’d think they’d escaped from HMP Wakefield rather than swapped one life of luxury (with duties) for another entirely self-serving one. Even the footage they use is dishonest. Only Yanks and fools in thrall to victim culture are taken in by these rich royal whingers.
HOT on TV: Jessica Chastain, George & Tammy (Paramount+)... Mia Threapleton, I Am Ruth... Aubrey Plaza.
ROT on TV: Harry & Meghan (Netflix) – less propaganda, more proper gormless... Live At The Moth Club – moth balls.
BBC4’s Comedy Playhouse doc reminded us that popular sitcoms series don’t always play safe. Risk-taking Playhouse gleefully rocked the boat in the 60s. Steptoe & Son, about father and son rag-and-bone men trapped in a love-hate relationship, was as tragic as it was funny. Till Death Us Do Part centred on Alf Garnett an East End bigot raging against the world and rowing with his family. Alf was on telly for three decades. Created by working-class writers, the best dealt in flawed but recognisable characters who millions adored. Other shows that reflected everyday lives, like The Likely Lads, Auf Wiedersehen Pet, The Royle Family, and Only Fools were smash hits too. There’s a lesson here that today’s TV bosses don’t get. They need to swerve their closed shop of privileged writers, tear up the PC rulebook, and let us laugh at the world as it is again.
*GINO’S Cooking Up Love? Nope. What he’s cooked up is a king-size turkey with a side order of cheese.
*HAVE you see the TV schedules for the 25th? It’s like the ghost of Christmas Crap.
*NOT sure where Cara Delevingne’s Planet Sex is, but I’m betting quite a few rockets have splashed down on it.
*RE: Jamie’s Easy Xmas? Try my easier one – go to someone else’s house...
*LETDOWN of the week: Blowing LA. Just hairdressers.
SMALL joys of TV: Morocco sacking Spain. Rampant Ramos. Spike Milligan: Unseen Archive (SkyArts) Trawlermen: Hunting The Catch. Sykes Xmas special.
RANDOM Irritations: Grown men weeping on The Traitors – it’s a game-show, grow up! Challenges using sheep – have they learned nothing from Flock Stars?
SEPARATED at birth: Gianno Infanto and The Hood? One a despicable comic villain with a dubious agenda, the other was in Thunderbirds.
7 Things you don’t get on EastEnders now: Nail bars. Poker. McKlunky’s. Functioning contraceptives. Walford Town FC. Snooker. Reality...
Dec 4. ARE you enjoying The Traitors? The show, I mean, not the clots “governing” the country. The BBC snapped up this Dutch format in a desperate bid to kick-start a new reality hit. There’s not a geezer in it over fifty, and half the contestants buzz around like toddlers on jelly snakes. But it works! The series is awash with suspicion, self-interest and mind-games – all the things that make reality-TV addictive. Twenty-two bods were sent to Ardoss Castle in the magnificent Highlands – much of the opening episode felt like an advert for the Scottish Tourist Board. Two were elbowed immediately. Then Claudia Winkleman, in full Cruella mode, picked three “traitors” to bump off “the faithful” in a bid to win (“up to”) £120K of prize money that’s built up over bizarre challenges like setting giant wicker rabbits ablaze. Talk about hot cross bunnies...
Each night players vote to banish one person they think is a Judas. But there’s no Columbo investigating here. It’s more like The Apprentice boardroom with less logic. Nicky, who was entirely innocent, went out by an almost unanimous vote. Then the traitors “murdered” (by letter) guiltless ex-cop Claire whose leadership qualities rattled them. Only the smartest, most deceptive player(s) will win. I like Welsh Amanda who, as an estate agent, is well-versed in the dark arts. Any chance the traitors can take a knife to Claudia’s fringe anytime soon? The ultimate betrayal.
*CAMP spa therapist John was in Taggart, Meryl was on Blankety Blank, Madelyn played Rita in EastEnders, and as for Claudia, wasn’t she Cousin It in the Addams Family?
*THE castle reminded Aisha of Bridgerton. It has a library with a stepladder. Fans of the sexy period drama know what that means... stairway to heaven!
*ALEX and magician Tom are a couple pretending not to be. That’s why she’s flirting with Matt. Is that gameshow strategy, role-play romance or a future letter to Forum?
*SHE’S one of the two contestants who call themselves actresses, so why do the BBC insist on dubbing them “actors”?
*THEO talked about “my evidence” (the latest riff on “my truth”). He had none. Just a hunch like everyone else...
TWO sci-fi comedies this week, both duds. We Are Not Alone – advanced-but-dim alien invaders conquer the world and colonise Clitheroe – was too long, wishy-washy and repetitive. Hit-and-miss Avenue 5 has better gags, like “burn or starve, it’s nice to have options”. And “That’s an eclectic outfit, are you trying to flummox predators?” It’s set on a galactic cruiser which is lost in space, much like the plot... Red Dwarf was funnier than both. The Orville is more imaginative and more likely to appeal to sci-fi fans.
*WITH Nasa planning a lunar base, we’re just years away from seeing minor celebrities on a moon-based reality show. Imagine! Crack teams of “influencers”, wannabes, soap rejects and unfunny Oxbridge comics could be lost forever to solar radiation, while technical glitches could mean their genuine struggle for survival would go unseen. Oh dear. What a pity. Never mind.
TANYA saw Quentin being pleasured by his straight “nephew” Jack on The White Lotus. Talk about rolling your own. The smartly-written series is simmering deliciously towards boiling point, with the aftermath of Cam and Ethan’s molly-and-hookers party now threatening Ethan’s marriage. Pot-less Cam still owes Lucia for party night services. She’s Dom’s brass but she’s dating his wet son, Albie. It all seems very Westminster. Someone dies soon, but who? This has more contenders than The Traitors.
HOT on TV: Marcus Rashford... Gangs Of London finale... Slow Horses (Apple).
ROT on TV: We Are Not Alone – turd crock from the sun... Trailblazer – less Gordon, Gino & Fred, more gormless, wino & zzzzed.
WHAT ITV’s jungle stars should do next: Boy George, with his Diddyman hats – Who Wants To Be A Milliner. Matt Hancock? Grand Resigns. Jungle queen Jill Scott? Anything she fancies... If Southgate’s tactics tank tonight, why not England manager?
*MATT’S path to TV glory began with that infamous clinch with Gina. Talk about money for old grope...
*ITV should axe the pathetically weepy “letters from home” segments. Celebs are on a well-paid jaunt for a few days, not trapped on the Western Front under non-stop shell-fire.
*JIMMY Carr’s I Literally Just Told You had a gay pastor, a trans “influencer” and a Muslim woman train driver. If his bookers are playing diversity bingo, they should call house.
EastEnders missed a trick too. No Albania Flag Day knees-up in the Vic? Racist bastards!
*THEY had vegan tiffins on Two Doors Down, “no wheat, no gluten, no sugar... ”. “No ****ing use to me,” sniffed Christine.
SMALL joys of TV: Milly Alcock, Upright. Corinne Bailey Rae live (SkyArts). The White Lotus. Tokyo Vice. The Singing Detective (BBC4). Rare Jimi Hendrix footage
RANDOM Irritations: Half the players on The Traitors. Half-hearted celeb camping holidays. England persisting with the British national anthem – where’s our one?
SEPARATED at birth: Matt Hancock and Worf? One a Klingon, the other best-known for clinging on to his girlfriend’s buttocks.
7 funny TV aliens: Mork from Ork. Kling & Kang. “Uncle Martin” (My Favourite Martian). Dick Solomon (Third Rock). Q (Star Trek:TNG). General Staal (Dr Who)
TWO burglars got community service after they were hospitalised by Adam White, whose home they robbed (24 Hours In Police Custody). Adam got 22 months. He should’ve got a medal. More proof our country is fucked.
Classic clanger. Pat Cash was talking about tennis courts when he said: “Getting some brown patchers there – right where the players are serving and following through.”