BUSHELL ON THE BOX
FEB 24. THERE are times you can watch TV all night and never leave the scene of a crime. Increasingly gruesome ones at that. This month we’ve had two severed heads on primetime BBC alone. The latest was on Baptiste, a spin-off from The Missing which not too surprisingly is darker than Holly Willoughby’s roots. Twists come faster than a sixties dance night in this creepy Amsterdam based thriller, complete with a cellar full of kidnapped girls and a bijou transsexual brothel. Frazzled French cop Julien Baptiste has been coaxed out of retirement to help worried Edward Stratton find his missing “niece” Natalie. Stratton is played by Tom Hollander who definitely isn’t in Rev mode. His character is an obvious sleaze-ball, junkie hooker Natalie is not his niece and the decapitated head was last seen in his kitchen attracting flies. It had been removed with a chainsaw by a chap claiming to be a meter reader. (Moral? Always read your own meter).
The dirty deed was done to the feel-good sound of Let Your Love Flow by the Bellamy Brothers – Tarantino would approve. The killer was Constantin, a violent Romanian gangster who writes off Baptiste as a “geriatric”. Fans of The Missing know he’s much more than that. Julien may be old and world-weary, he may have a comedy limp, but he’s also wise, warm and tenacious. Prone to gloom too. “I’m not the man I was,” he tells Marta, the Dutch police chief (also his old flame.) Local villain Dragomir isn’t the man he was either, having fashionably transitioned to Kim.
On Shetland, home of the previous decapitated loaf, a woman was hacked to death in her kitchen while one son was butchered in his sleep and another pegged it in his car. A great plot can justify carnage but too much TV gore feels contrived. Take away the shock factor and what’s left? I miss the great ITV action adventures of yore – The Persuaders!, The Champions, Danger Man, Department S, The Prisoner, The Protectors... Few current shows can hold a candle to The Avengers. Why can’t we do escapism anymore? Enough soaps ITV, find us a new Emma Peel.
KNIGHT Fight got off to a disappointing start with the words “Don’t try this at home”. Killjoys. It took me half an hour to get out of the armour. The show is brilliantly bonkers. Big burly Yanks get kitted up and bash the granny out of one another with blunt weapons. It’s like Mixed Martial Arts with the added inconvenience of being trapped in baking hot tin-can with restricted mobility and limited vision. But contenders go at it with such gusto that you’re drawn in. Sadly there is no consideration of chivalry or knightly crusades and they don’t climb on sturdy steeds and whip out their lances. But the History Channel do assure me that no one has died. Yet.
NICE to see Mary the Punk back for Dr Legg’s funeral on EastEnders, although I’m surprised that when they started reminiscing about the good old days nobody mentioned the time when Fat Pat talked Mary into going on the game, or when she was stripping for a living. Lofty returned too. Once gormless and unemployable, he now owns 15 pubs (moral: to get ahead, leave Walford). Credibility was strained even further when he slipped Martin a £20K cheque for Michelle and her daughter Vicki, fathered by Dirty Den... the same Michelle who jilted him at the altar and aborted his own child. Happy days.
*WHAT happened to Ali Osman and Sue? She was sectioned wasn’t she? So she’s probably one of the writers.
*SIX characters Enders should resurrect: Tanya “Thunder Thighs” Branning, Psycho Sean Slater, slippery Paul Truman, Vanessa “bubbly in the fridge” Gold, Claudette Hubbard, bad-boy Buster Briggs.
HOT on TV: Emma Appleton, Traitors... Eric Bana, Dirty John (Netflix)... Knight Fight (History)... Tom Hollander, Baptiste.
ROT on TV: Jeremy Vine – the Wrong Stuff... 100 Vaginas – fanny peculiar... Rhona’s farcical hay bale disaster, Emmerdale.
Hot NOT on TV: Brian Conley, 9 To 5 The Musical.
ON Traitors, American spies recruited posh girl Fiona “Feef” Symonds, a bored English civil servant, to find out whether post-War Whitehall has been “infiltrated by Communists”. Feef has big puppy eyes and the morals of a mongrel. She’s sleeping with a married Yank and seems to have a thing for MP Hugh Fenton, newly elected in the 1945 Labour landslide. He turned down her invitation to join her swimming topless, but then Hugh’s wet enough already. For a firebrand socialist he’s no Nye Bevan. He’s not even half the orator Michael Foot was. And Feef doesn’t seem like a woman who’d settle for less than half a Foot.
*THE Brits are still pop’s great gift to rhyming slang but at least Jack Whitehall cut through the blandness. “Give that man a knighthood,” he said of Ed Sheeran. “Preferably Sir Philip Green’s.”
*UK clown numbers dropped by over 50 in the last year. Strewth, that’s almost two car-loads. Is it any wonder? The only clowns we see on TV are scary maniacs – Silent Witness, American Horror Story, It, Question Time...
*ROMESH Ranganathan had a show called Just Another Immigrant. That’s wrong. Romesh, real name Jonathan, was born in Crawley, so technically the show was Just Another Box Ticked.
SMALL joys of TV: The moving story of Tony Foulds and the memorial to ten dead WWII US airmen in Sheffield, BBC Breakfast. Incredible stunts on Curfew. The Jeremy Kyle fantasy scene on Cold Feet. Leo, University Challenge. Tchéky Karyo, Baptiste.
RANDOM irritations: Escape At Dannemora dragging a good story out too long. Historical dramas that play fast and loose with facts. Traitors is largely cobblers, experts agree the Yanks didn’t spy on Atlee’s 1945 Labour government. Soviet agents did.
SEPARATED at birth: Labour defector Mike Gapes MP and James Grout? Both opposed dangerous lunatics, but only one of them was Chief Superintendent Strange in Inspector Morse.
TV Questions. Does Ian Beale’s fling with Jean give new meaning to the phrase pulling a sickie? Gay Soper: name or proclivity? Would The Great British Sewing Bee have more appeal if it added an X Factor segment, to find Britain’s best Singer? Sorry.
FEB 17. DO you ever feel the people in charge aren’t fit for purpose? Not just our political leaders – that’s a given – but across the board? The BBC in particular seems institutionally inept. On Sunday we watched Joanna Lumley’s toe-curling jokes at the British Academy Film Awards die more deaths than Netflix’s Russian Doll. If BAFTA and BBC bigwigs thought her clumsy script was witty, how can we trust their verdict on movies? Eurovision: You Decide was equally dismal, riddled with production errors. The director completely missed a good Bucks Fizz dress-rip gag and the credits spelt Rylan as “Ryan”. Did no one in the over-manned production team spot it? Did anyone check? Does anyone care?
Across the board standards are dropping like Hs in a Danny Dyer documentary. Laziness hangs over commissioning like a lowland fog. The Real Marigold flogs a dead horse; MasterChef cooks it. ITV are just as bad. They’re planning an “all-celebrity” version of X Factor presumably to answer the question: how can we make a dying show worse? Why do we need more than one TV singing show anyway? It’s not like they’re producing stars anymore. And why are they so long? New Faces managed on hour-long episodes, Op Knocks with 50minutes. And look at the talent they found: Les Dawson, Jim Davidson, Lenny Henry, Victoria Wood, Frank Carson... All a damn sight funnier than Seann Walsh’s lame cheese board routine, or Josh Widdecombe’s mediocre musings on marmalade.
Waiting for a break-out British sitcom hit is as frustrating as waiting for conclusive proof on Ancient Aliens. It’s been nine years since Gavin & Stacey and The Inbetweeners ended, and five since The Thick Of It. Thank comedy heaven for C4’s filthy, funny, utterly relatable Catastrophe which sadly ended this week. The Yanks still knock out smart, successful long-running sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory, The Good Place and Modern Family. Why can’t we? Possibly because BBC Comedy is staffed with over-paid, right-on bores merrily commissioning third-rate dross from their old uni buddies. They need to take their heads out of their collective backsides, stop telling us what we can’t laugh at and commission something worth watching.
*WHAT do the BAFTAs stand for? Simple: Blonde Actress Fails To Amuse Stars. In tribute to the lost, after each of Joanna’s jokes there was a moment’s silence.
POOR Morse is having a tough time on Endeavour – demoted back to uniform and forced to wear Ian Beale’s old moustache as a mark of shame. He’s not alone. Chief Super Not-So Bright has been side-lined into traffic, making road safety films for kids on a pelican crossing with a live pelican on a leash. And Fred Thursday is looking glummer than Mark “We’re all doomed” Carney. No wonder with a boss like DCI Ronnie Box. Box, a swaggering “fist with a warrant card”, is a walking embodiment of old-school police malpractice – planting evidence, roughing up suspects and offering to spank Joan. We’re in 1969, with Led Zep on the soundtrack, more drugs than the average Glasto yurt and schoolgirls going missing. One died in a traffic accident, another was abducted by a paedo and photographed for “hobbyists”. Some of the dialogue is suspect. “You’re not a man’s man, you’re a man’s arse”, Fred told the perv. Eh? I worry about Fred, roughing up suspects for Box though. Hope he’s not on the turn.
*THE episode’s small joy: a police poster celebrating the retirement of Inspector C. Dexter. Author Colin Dexter created Morse.
WOULD Famous & Fighting Crime work better if they booked actors known for playing TV cops as special constables? I’d imagine lowlife scumbags would soil their pants if stopped in their tracks by Idris “Loofah” Elba or Gene Hunt star Phil Glenister. While the likely male response to Jane Tennison in hot pursuit would be a plaintive cry of “Cuff me now!” (Although if you saw Don Beech you’d be more likely to bung him “a drink”). As it was we had Penny Lancaster bursting into tears during training when the instructor shouted at her. Penny – a fair cop – showed her guts pursuing a junkie who threatened to stab her with a dirty needle... which is more than can be said for Marcus Brigstocke. His own criminal record started with speeding and peaked with his performance in Barnum. The real star was Aga Strykier, a genuine special constable, who patiently calmed down a furious lush with good-natured humour.
*PENNY has had years of dealings with rowdy drunks and druggies... on husband Rod Stewart’s tour bus.
HOT on TV: Jonny May and the England rugby squad... Under The Wire... Rick & Morty (E4)... Edward James Olmos, Mayans MC.
ROT on TV: Marcus Brigstocke, Famous & Fighting Crime – not much cop... Joanna Lumley, Baftas – had viewers squirming like Doctor Octopus... The Sex Clinic – poxy... MasterChef – over-egged.
ITV are to stop making sitcoms. Will anyone notice? Their best, Rising Damp, ended 40years ago. Other fondly remembered hits include After Henry, George & Mildred, Brass, On The Buses, Man About The House and Please Sir. None were this century.
*DID you see that show where they found a severed head in a bag and a severed arm with the fingerprints burnt off? Help me out, was that Shetland or MasterChef? I got confused.
*THE BBC plan to make sure that one in 12 people we see on screen is gay. They're cutting back, then...
*I WOULD have reviewed the Great British Sewing Bee, but I lost the thread.
*MIRIAM Margoyles in Russia? Since when did Putin need to import gas?
*A TYPICAL week on EastEnders, then – a freshly exhumed corpse and a random afternoon hen party... There would have been more killings this year but it’s been too icy to dig the shallow graves.
SMALL joys of TV: America In Colour (Smithsonian). Line Of Duty re-runs (True Ent). The Catastrophe finale. Paxman’s advanced gurning displays. Roger Allam, Endeavour. Mark Bonnar in Shetland. The Rise Of James Brown (SkyArts). Greyzone. Andrew Neil’s spot-on defence of Winston Churchill.
RANDOM irritations: awards ceremony luvvies and their boring speeches – listen you planks if you can’t string a few of your own words together hire someone who can! Trailers for the second episode of two-parters that give too much away.
SEPARATED at birth: DCI Ronnie Box on Endeavour and Vince Prince? One an old-fashioned, deeply irritating figure of fun... the other was played by Russ Abbot.
FEB 10. JUST six weeks into 2019 and we already have a prime contender for the year’s biggest waste of time and money. Icons was as confused as a chameleon in Michael Portillo’s wardrobe and as ill-conceived as the average EastEnders plot. It was pointless, random, shamelessly biased, frequently wrong-headed and more ham-fisted than light-fingered butcher at a Billingsgate. BBC Two took eight hours to tell us the greatest figure of the 20th century was Alan Turing, a bloke 90% of the public couldn’t pick out of a police line-up. The series wanted to be taken seriously but sabotaged itself at every turn. It aspired to be democratic but was terrified we might vote the “wrong” way, so it micro-managed categories and rigged results.
Missing from the final were such genuine 20th Century giants as Neil Armstrong, The Queen, Tim Berners-Lee, Lawrence of Arabia, Churchill, Che Guevara and Elvis. Lord Reith was not in the running either. Just as well. The BBC’s founding father wanted to “inform, educate and entertain” not preach, patronise and pigeon-hole.
The live final was especially grim, hosted by Nick Robinson and Claudia Winkleman, renowned for her penetrating insights into Ugg boots and lip gloss. Experts included Dermot O’Dreary, over-wrought fox-hugger Chris Packham and a bored Lily Cole. It felt like a BGT live show organised by the National Union of Teachers. The whole dumbed-down exercise was logically flawed. How can a boxer compete with a scientist anyway? David Bowie was last century’s greatest entertainer, apparently. Why? Wonderful though he was, Bowie sold far fewer records than the Beatles, Jacko, AC/DC, Queen, Led Zep, Elton John (etc). He wasn’t as influential as Chuck Berry or as magnificent as Marvin Gaye. Ah but Bowie “showed the world it was okay to be different”. Hmm. And Johnny Rotten didn’t?
The Beeb put the boot into Churchill early. Yet Bowie’s coked-up 1970s flirtation with fascism left eyebrows un-raised. You waited for someone to challenge Picasso for his “sexism” and chicanery, or a mention of Mandela United FC to even crop up in passing. But no, the project was under-scored throughout by the festering sore of fashionable groupthink. The critical boot only went in with “rightwing” contenders. Len Goodman’s Partners In Rhyme was bad but Icons saw its money-wasting awfulness and raised the bar. And yet still 2,300 people a day stop paying the licence fee. Baffling.
* ICONS was more about PR than logic. If the vote had been held in 2000, Princess Di would have been in there. In 3000, who knows? Peregrinus worked out the principles of magnetism in the 13th century and who do we remember? Genghis Khan.
JEREMY Paxman went way too far in Paxman: On The Queen’s Children. What gave him the right to track down ‘Andy’ – Coleen Nolan’s saccharine love song to Prince Andrew – and inflict it on us? Viewers are still traumatised. That aside, there was much to enjoy here. Not least Paxo reaching new heights of eyebrow-raising disdain. He met Charles’s old Cambridge uni buddy Brod Munro-Wilson for indiscrete gossip. Brod and Chas had once discussed old newspaper speculation about potential European brides for the Prince. While Brodders thought Caroline of Monaco was half-decent, an unimpressed Charles surveyed the field and joked “Brod, shall I go gay?” It’s easier for a prince to find a bride now of course; all he has to do these days is channel-hop. Charles had “a jolly good time” playing the field – talk about exercising the Royal prerogative. Princess Anne was partial to some royal variety too. She “wasn’t a stuffy old thing,” Brod revealed. Oddly we learned that Trinity College master, Rab Butler, had carefully chosen all of Charles’ friends. And yet still Brodders got through...
DON McCullin is a terrific photographer and a genuinely likeable old codger unhampered by cynicism. But Looking For England didn’t look hard enough. Don found token toffs (Glyndebourne opera buffs, fox hunters), some street people (crack-heads, a couple of friendly old Rastas), and elderly holidaymakers in rain-lashed Eastbourne. But there was nothing modern or forward-looking here. No pop-up businesses, festivals or YouTubers. No football crowds, poets or indie bands. And very little sign of people working for a living. Watching a brass band parp away as raindrops dripped down faces had a certain comic, sub-Python charm. But it seemed odd to hear Don claim the English are uniquely eccentric when he also watched hundreds of bare-chested Bradford men of south Asian heritage beating themselves in the streets. “In the future this will be the norm,” he said. Let’s hope not. My chest couldn’t take it.
HOT on TV: Jon Bernthal, Punisher (Netflix)... Sally Carmen, Corrie... Das Boot (SkyAt)... Hospital.
ROT on TV: Pure – puerile... Icons live final – even more cringe-worthy than TOWIE live... Small Fortune – little point... Magnum P.I. (Sky One) – Magnum P.I.S.S.
HOT NOT on TV: Gisela Galeassi in Tango. Now there’s your greatest dancer.
THE “icon” disease spreads like a virus. Let’s be clear: Elvis, Bruce Lee and Tommy Cooper were icons. John Barrowman isn’t one, no matter how many times he says otherwise. The Mastermind chair, Doctor Who’s Tardis and Pamela Anderson’s red Baywatch bikini were iconic. Kim Woodburn is not. (The correct term for her is “deranged old cleaner with anger management issues”.)
*WHAT The Killer Did Next is grimly fascinating but is it concealing another crime? Presenter Philip Glenister stands unnaturally rigid, barely moving as he recites the script deadpan. He seems awkward, almost mechanical. It’s almost as if the real Phil has been kidnapped and replaced by an android... gulp. (If not the director needs to direct him back into Gene Hunt mode pronto.)
*IN Pure, teenage Marnie pictures everyone around her naked and rutting like stags. A terrible affliction, yes, but it’d brighten up Brexit debates no end. At least then we’d see who was being shafted.
*EUROVISION: You Decide. Okay. Netflix it is.
*PLEASE note Das Boot is not to be confused with Shirley Carter. She’s Das Old Boot.
*HOW about a Naked & Afraid ‘celebrity’ special? Naked & Terrifying – What Gemma Did Next.
*VANITY Fair didn’t flop because it was poor drama, ITV. It flopped because of unlucky scheduling – it was up against the hit of the year. Show it again over the long, dull summer; audiences will come.
SMALL joys of TV: Tim Roth & Genevieve O’Reilly heroically battling the bonkers script on Tin Star. Chris Noth, Catastrophe. Jenny’s “Get out!” melt-down on Corrie. Moving On. Reruns of Galapagos: Islands Of Change. Two Doors Down – quality cringe comedy.
RANDOM irritations: Mel’s constipated face-pulling on DeadEnders. Paloma Faith’s “lickle girl” voice. The unthinking cult of public shaming. “Satirist” Adam Hills’ child-like faith in the EU. The BBC talking about scrapping free licence for oldies when it wastes millions.
TV Maths. Johnny Cash + Brad Pitt = Benicio Del Toro, Escape At Dannemora.
FEB 3. WHO expected the first row on Shipwrecked to be about mermaids? Loopy Liv reckons they exist, insisting her fishy theory can’t be disproved as our oceans are largely uncharted. “That is so dumb!” said posh girl Big T. “Does she want knocking out?” Liv responded pleasantly, adding: “I will knock you out, you little dog.” That sound in the background was reality TV gold getting struck. Or more accurately fools’ gold. Like all “reality” shows, this throws together the vain, shallow, dim and deluded and waits for the nitwits to kick off.
Shipwrecked is set on two rival islets in the crystal clear waters of the South Pacific’s Aitutaki Lagoon. “I-too-tacky” could also be Liv’s motto. Ripota and Moturakau have been renamed Tiger and Shark Island (because let’s face it, no bloke would want to be known as a Tiddler Islander.) But the shadow of a bigger island has fallen over the show: Love Island. This isn’t about survival any more, it’s more about pretty people flirting, fighting and, um, filling their pants. On Tuesday, Liv broke wind and then told the others “Guys I’ve actually s*** myself.” Bless her, she’s only 19.
A little later, the Wythenshawe charmer went swimming in the same soiled costume. A mermaid is half-woman, half-fish of course. Liv is all-gob and no class.
Rival Big T is “a part-time wig-maker from Chelsea who went to boarding school in Ascot” and was probably playing up to the cameras when she asked if there were staff to serve drinks. Other berks include Hollie, “a social media influencer”, model Harry who must be having a stressful time separated from his mirror, and Emma, a feminist graduate with a degree in camel toe. The only half-normal person appears to practical can-do Tom, a #MeTarzan man in a #MeToo world. They’ve split into two camps and must win over latecomers like Daisy, whose luxury item was a vibrator – maybe she’s planning to buzz any fish they catch to death. It’s Tom versus Harry (for Dick see Harry). His islanders are a dismal bunch. We’ve seen Duck Dynasty, this is more Lame Duck Dynasty. But at least the women are safer on Tiger Island than they would be on Tiger Woods.
DRAMA on Britain’s Top 100 Dogs Live as Staffordshire bull terriers topped the table. Staffies? That’s proper barking. What next? Doberman Pinschers? Labradors must be gutted. My own lab Ozzy showed his pain by breaking wind silently and dribbling a bit. Just like normal. ITV missed a trick here. An Ant & Dec dachshund would have walked it. Granted they don’t exist, but I’m not convinced all of the featured pooches did either. Some smacked of CGI, others were obscure and I’m pretty sure one of them was a Malayan tapir. Had you heard of Hungarian Viszlas, Salukis, Bolton Barm Retrievers, Borzois, Jerry Springer Spaniels or the Barking Bercow? (Okay I made some up, but which ones?) Millions of dog-lovers will have lapped up all 150minutes of course, even though ITV did exactly the same meaningless marathon list show a year ago.
*ITV have sold Britain’s Top 100 Dogs Live to Korea where the title will be extended to include “... But Not For Long”.
*JANUARY 2020 and ITV’s 5-hour Top 200 Dogs show is won by the American pit bull. One delighted owner Ron Knutt hugs Cuddles calling him “a lovely boy”. Interviewer: “Didn’t he bite off your mum’s leg?” Ron: “Yeah, but he meant nothing by it. He’s ever so playful... ”
WEEK two of Danny Dyer’s Right Royal Family had more padding than Pointless. Only the gruesome true stories saved it. Edward II’s gay flings so infuriated wife Isabella that she raised an army, captured his lover Hugh Despenser and had his bits cut off in public – so he wasn’t a huge dispenser any more. Edward himself was rewarded with a red hot iron right up his “fundament” via a trumpet (could have been worse, mate, Sonia Fowler could have been playing it). EastEnder Dyer squeezed into a suit of armour for some play-acting. It was feeble. But wait until Knight Fight starts on the History Channel. That’s proper brutal.
*DANNY is descended from William the Conqueror, Louis IX of France and the first Duke Of Normandy. In other words he’s a bleedin’ Norman, coming over ’ere and pinching our Anglo-Saxon expletives. Gertcha.
HOT on TV: Patricia Arquette, Escape At Dannemora... Rachel Riley... The Last Survivors... Djokovic thrashing Nadal.
ROT on TV: Alan Yentob, Imagine – a third-rate Melvyn Bragg with none of his warmth or depth... Icons – one big con from start to finish... The Stand-Up Sketch Show – sit down and rethink it.
DID you see Aussie newsreader Samantha Heathwood in this unfortunate outfit? James Corden quipped “Some people wear their heart on their sleeve... ”
ON Sunday Channel 5 devoted two whole hours to Britain’s Favourite Sweet, the sequel to the ground-breaking, Bafta-worthy Britain’s Favourite Biscuit. On Monday, Channel 4 had How To Lose Weight Well. Lesson One – don’t watch C5 on Sunday nights.
*IS Corrie’s pregnant teen Amy having cravings yet, maybe for sausage rolls and ice cream or, say, a more original storyline?
*I CAUGHT Good Morning Britain in the week and I swear at one point Susanna Reid was blinking “Help Me” in Morse code.
*I DIDN’T see Gemma Collin’s fall on Dancing On Ice but I heard it. I was in Scotland at the time... nowhere near a telly. I do hope the ice wasn’t damaged.
SMALL joys of TV: Rumpole Of The Bailey repeats (TrueEnt). Mayans M.C. Erin Kellyman, Les Mis. Fulham’s comeback against Brighton. The Punisher’s episode 5 gym fight. Vintage weekday films, like Shenandoah. BBC4’s Tiger Island. Buddy Holly: Rave On.
RANDOM irritations: naff football stories on EastEnders (where no-one ever watches West Ham). Any damn fool who thinks they can make a better future by rewriting the past. The words “Coming soon, a new series of MasterChef” – what, already? Why? Give us a break.
*BRITAIN’S Brightest Family? Britain's Dullest Quiz.
*IMAGINE: Jo Brand? I’d really rather not.
SEPARATED at birth: Fiona Bruce and Noel Fielding? One desperately playing it for laughs... and so’s the other one.