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.
Feb 23. THANK the gods of pop for Lewis Capaldi! He might look like he shares a stylist with Boris Johnson, but the 23-year-old Glaswegian was a breath of fresh air at the Brits. Especially when he explained that his award-winning Someone You Love wasn’t about his ex, Love Island’s Paige Turley, but his late grandmother. “I hope to God ITV don’t contact her to take part in a reality TV dating show,” he quipped.
Not once did Lewis feel the need to bombard us with a trite political rant. The Brits are like EastEnders with music these days – drink, drugs, gun culture, dodgy propaganda... so it’s quite apt that Jack Whitehall went down like the soap’s Thames riverboat. I haven’t seen such a deer in the headlights expression since Bambi’s mum died. Jack, lumbered with a limp script, looked ill at ease and often seemed trapped in Lizzo’s gravitational field. He only warmed up when he worked the tables and teased Harry Styles. Yet for every funny moment there were awful half-hours. I don’t mind grime acts having axes to grind. I mind that they alienate millions. Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke made social commentary accessible, memorable and enduring. No disrespect to South London rapper Dave, but will they be reciting Black on the 2070 X Factor when Simon Cowell is just a Botoxed brain bobbing around in a tank of brine?
Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood still sounded sweet belting out 1971’s Stay With Me, even if Rod did forget the third verse. The Brits should have a heritage category based on ticket sales. Everyone from Squeeze to Jethro Tull via George Benson is still out there gigging. Rock gets a raw deal too. It’s been years since Maiden won anything. Meanwhile the audience for ITV’s pop awards has plummeted to an all-time low. Puzzling. What possible reason could there be for this politically one-sided puffed-up bore-in, riddled with whining acts and maudlin music, to be losing viewers?
CRAZY Carrie, the world’s least likely CIA agent, is back for the final series of spy thriller Homeland. The poor woman has always lacked every single quality needed for undercover work. She’s bi-polar, she gurns like Mr Bean and makes Nikki Graham seem stable. The Joker has a better poker face. Now, after seven months off her meds in a Russian gulag, even the CIA don’t trust her. Carrie can’t recall most of her time behind bars, she failed a lie-detector and has no idea how much she blabbed. And yet her mentor Saul (US National Security adviser) has sent her into Kabul on a vital mission. Can she cope? Do we care? Homeland was mesmerising once, with Brody and the mighty Quinn and Carrie reinterpreting CIA as Casual Intercourse Available. Great writing could save it. Meanwhile I’m opening a book on who she’ll bed first – the Russian wrong’un or the Taliban.
A TERRIBLE curse ran through The Pale Horse – Sarah Phelps’s script. What pretentious twaddle. The distant rumble in the far distance was just Agatha Christie spinning in her grave. At one point Mark Easterbrook was pulling lumps out of his hair – in common with a million frustrated viewers. Its sole saving grace was the dialogue, with sharp-suited creep Mark telling his wife “You’re so banal it’s almost a talent.”
HOT on TV: Saturday Night Take-away... Harriet Walker, The End... Georgina Campbell.
ROT on TV: Jon Snow making a very hard slog of Very Hard Questions... The Split – BBC drama’s gift to rhyming slang.
THE Split’s Hannah is carrying on with creepy Christie on the grounds that two wrongs make a right good seeing-to. Strangely this super-smart solicitor doesn’t know how to mute her phone and seems unaware that glass is see-through. She’s having doubts about their fling but husband Nathan, the world’s dullest barrister, knows something is up. If he’s suspicious now, just wait till he spots the beard rash on her thighs...
DEVASTATING news from EastEnders – only one of them died. Shame. With more inventive plotting – a lost Russian sub, a WW2 bomb, the wrath of Neptune – they could’ve wiped out the entire cast. If Dirty Den and Kaff of Kaff’s Caff can come back to life, why not the Kraken?
*THEY had an Indian take-away on Endeavour, but Morse preferred the spicy Italian that turned up at his front door – Violetta. Her husband Ludo should have his own name intimately tattooed. Every time Vi sauntered into the bedroom it’d spell Llandudno.
SMALL Joys of TV: Rod, Ronnie & Kenney at the Brits. Mandy Patinkin, Homeland. New Simpsons episodes. Intelligence. Narcos: Mexico (Netflix). The Good Omens finale and Miranda Richardson as Madame Tracy.
RANDOM irritations: The ending of Pale Horse – Sarah Phelps was flogging a dead one. Endeavour becoming a period soap. The heavy-handed background music on The Split. Naff reality shows feeding low self-esteem.
TELLY maths: Gregg Wallace + custard facial = Dr Bunsen Honeydew. Two of TV’s best-loved Muppets.
TV questions: how strong must Vanessa’s bladder be on Emmerdale? Will Tarby be taking Lynchy’s ashes on tour? Even now Kenny has more life in him than Des O’Connor has. Is it just me or does anyone else watch Sunday morning cooking shows and reach for a takeaway menu or head out for a pub roast?
*A TOP don wrote raunchy fiction about Cambridge students. This is crying out for a TV adaptation: The Slutty Professor.
Feb 16. DIVORCE, said Robin Williams, is like ripping a man’s genitals out through his wallet. Watching The Split is almost as painful. Every character in this middle class legal soap irritates, and not just because it ticks more boxes than an over-worked driving examiner. The action, such as it is, revolves around the Defoe family and their trendy law firm. Divorce specialist Hannah is getting revenge on her cheating husband Nathan by shagging creepy Dutch colleague Christie. An eye for an eye; a bonk for a bonk.
She proves her genius by, ahem, handling his briefs in her office... with the door wide open...
There’s her sour-faced mum, her sozzled sister Nina and newly-wed little sis Rose who miscarried. Dad Oscar presumably lost the will to live after reading the scripts. They couldn’t even behave like human beings when they scattered his ashes (“Can we hurry this up? I’ve got a very busy day.”) There’s also a pushy trainee who chats up Nathan in unintelligible Guardianeese. I’m sure people like this exist but their bland herd mentality and shallow lives should be satirised not celebrated.
If the Beeb had any guts or gumption they’d have a character like Boston Legal’s Denny Crane kicking against their tedious groupthink. They haven’t.
The Split has been called Britain’s answer to The Good Wife, but not by anyone who’s ever watched The Good Wife. Duff blokes abound. An Anglican bishop planned to divorce his wife for the hell of it, a serial love rat music producer was at it with everyone he met behind Donna Air’s back... Air plays a pop/TV star who he’d duped into signing an iffy prenuptial agreement. To prove they’re high flyers he says things like: “Don’t forget, we’ve got dinner with Amazon tonight…” Yeah, Jeff Bezos is flying in specially. He wouldn’t show dross like this on Am-Prime.
MORSE pulled ravishing brunette Violetta at the opera in Vienna on Endeavour, going swiftly from legato to leg-over. For all possible “magic flute” jokes see Jimmy Carr. Good work, except the opening song was The Devil’s Wife, and Violetta is married to Ludo, Morse’s new and loaded Italian pal... uh-oh. Back home, there was a towpath murder and poor Fred Thursday, at a low ebb, bought a pair of canaries. “Where will we keep them?” asked his wife. “Up my arse like David Nixon,” he snapped. Elsewhere, a barmaid had premonitions. A flasher displayed the “last turkey in the shop”. And weirder yet, although it was January 1970, flowers were in full bloom. The killer was a woman-hating scientist who seemed at least a generation out of date. TV’s war on the past continues.
THE Pale Horse fell at the first fence. It’s another case of the BBC “improving” an Agatha Christie mystery by changing it beyond recognition. Antiques dealer Mark Easterbrook is a married love rat whose name is found on a list hidden in a dead woman’s shoe. Everyone else on it is dead or doomed. The action moves to Much Deeping, a Surrey village made of Cotswold stone, where locals enjoy pagan fairs – think The Masked Singer meets The Wicker Man. There are three cold-eyed witches too, possibly on loan from Loose Women. It’s more Wheatley than Christie. In the book, Mark isn’t married, or a love rat, his name isn’t on the list, the witches are frauds, and there was a detective novelist... but the Beeb have axed her.
HOT on TV: Tyson Fury: The Gypsy King... Stephanie Leonidas, Endeavour... Adria Arjona, Good Omens... The Cave (Nat Geo).
ROT on TV: The Pale Horse – a load of old pony... Kevin McCloud’s Rough Guide To The Future... sci-fi “comedy” Avenue 5 – in space no-one can hear you laugh.
PEOPLE sneezing and coughing on trains without covering their faces, people putting their feet up on the seats... people who don’t know how to queue... tail-gating nutcases... TV needs a new Victor Meldrew to reflect public dismay at falling standards – an articulate grump like the great Tony Hancock. Why isn’t Hancock’s Half-Hour on Britbox? Every wretched comedy exec and wannabe writer should be forced to watch it to see how it’s done. Although we’ll never better “Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?”
*THE Pale Horse was dubbed “Agatha Christie goes paranormal”. I’d prefer to see Vera go paralytic. We’d get her out of her hat and coat then.
*IF nature abhors a vacuum, how do you explain Alex Jones?
*AH, Valentine’s night on EastEnders and the Square resounded to those three magic words: “Linda’s pissed again... ”
*PARASITE proved a non-English speaking film could win an Oscar, so there’s hope yet for Rab C Nesbitt – The Movie.
*THEY ate fried spider and roasted centipedes on Rough Guide To The Future. Monty Python’s crunchy frog and stormy-petrel-on-a-stick must surely be next.
SMALL Joys of TV: Mervyn, 78, on Hunted. Star Trek: Discovery. Get Some In (TPTV). Rufus Sewell’s petrol-blue Aston Martin Lagona, The Pale Horse. Python on Netflix. Seinfeld on All-4 (start from season two though).
RANDOM irritations: The Oscars without a host. Renée Zellwegger’s yawn-inducing speech. Joaquin Phoenix banging on – again. Bluffers pretending they’ve seen Parasite. John Barrowman – turn it in.
SEPARATED at birth: Michael Palin’s tramp and Petrovski the bargeman on Endeavour? One a scruffy looking weirdo in an absurd but enjoyable programme... the other was in Monty Python.
CLASSIC CLANGER: Harry Carpenter on the Boat Race: “Ah, isn’t that nice? The wife of the Cambridge president is kissing the cox of the Oxford crew.”
Feb 9. THE movie industry is the most exciting, inspiring and successful entertainment business in history. So why are the BAFTAs so toe-curlingly dull? How can something so thrilling spawn this annual soul-sapping endurance test? The night was so woke, I fell asleep. And look at the results. The Irishman didn’t do at all well. But then Graham’s gags were pretty weak. I felt for Norton lumbered with a toothless script, having to perform to an ungenerous bunch of sour-faced millionaires. At least Rebel Wilson shook them up with some filth, likening BAFTA’s “gifting wallet” to a precious part of her anatomy. If only her films were that funny.
Prince William hit out at Bafta’s lack of diversity, thereby winning the coveted Lily Allen award for self-awareness. Po-faced Joaquin Phoenix banged on about all-white shortlists. Hey! Awards should be about merit, not quotas and virtue-signalling. That said, BAFTA did snub some seriously hefty talent, though. Eddie Murphy’s Dolomite Is My Name, the funniest film of 2019, didn’t get a mention. Nor did Cynthia Erivo (Harriet), Daniel Kaluuya (Queen & Slim), Lupita Nyong’o (Us) or the electrifying Aretha Franklin doc Amazing Grace. But BAFTA weren’t sending a message that “people of colour aren’t welcome here”, as Phoenix claimed. The message was: “Our clueless members don’t watch enough movies.”
Of course 1917 deserved its gongs, despite its logically flawed narrative. But BAFTA should embrace more British talent, irrespective of race. Instead they have turned themselves into a dry run for the Oscars. Their real problem isn’t unconscious racism; it’s old-fashioned snobbery, as it’s always been. What does BAFTA stand for? Banal and flaming tedious, actually. Still nice dresses, eh?
*DID you see Jodie Turner-Smith on stage? After watching her sex scenes on Jett it made a change to see her standing up...
*BAFTA served stars a vegan meal in the name of “carbon neutrality” – half of them had flown there!
THE Body In The Pool at Michael Barrymore’s Essex home was Stuart Lubbock, 31, a butcher who had been drugged and sexually assaulted with extreme violence. Neighbours heard his screams an hour before the police were called. Essex cops believe Stuart was raped and murdered, possibly with a pool thermometer which went missing. Barrymore fled the scene, and no one involved in that dreadful night has ever told the truth about what happened. It is not “bullying” as the fallen star claims for C4 to re-examine the case. It’s outrage powered by compassion. It’s vital for Stuart’s family to know the truth. His father Terry, broken but still fighting, was the soul of this documentary.
EARTH calling Doctor Who: what planet are your writers on? This series has been an absolute disgrace. It’s poor sci-fi, issue-driven at the expense of story-telling, boringly earth-centred, obsessed with box-ticking and totally disjointed. That black female Doc (Max from Holby) came and went, unexplained & since unmentioned. We saw the ruins of Galifrey once, then nothing. It’s probably all tied in with the Timeless Child and/or the lone Cyberman, but the lack of coherence, thrills and decent villains would make an Ice Warrior combust.
HOT on TV: Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name (Netflix)... The Heist (Sky1)... Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Deuce.
ROT on TV: Gwyneth Paltrow’s The Goop Lab – fanny peculiar... Easy Ways To Live Well – lazy ways to make telly...
IF there’s a whiff of sulphur in the air today it’s because this is my 666th column for the Daily Star Sunday – the very number Ardal O’Halan once claimed was tattooed on my skull. After 33years Bushell On The Box is Fleet Street’s longest running column. Thanks to everyone who reads it, and to those delicate flowers I’ve upset – tough luck, I’m not done yet. Here’s to the next 33years!
THE Top Ten shows in TV Hell: 1) The Jeremy Kyle Show 2) Touch The Truck 3) Naked Attraction 4) Mel & Sue’s Generation Game 5) TOWIE Live 6) Nikki Grahame’s tantrums (on a loop-tape). 7) EastEnders 8) Warren 9) The Masked Singer 10) Gemma Collins: Diva Forever.
A LOVELY moment on Corrie’s 10,000th episode with Rita in the Rovers hearing echoes of wonderful old characters, although I dread to think what Annie Walker and Ena Sharples would make of today’s shenanigans. Dennis Tanner’s urn got smashed – a poor end for one of the soap’s original cast, unless of course he isn’t really dead...
*TRICIA Armstrong star Tracy Brabin made the news. Don’t mix the two of them up. One turned her hand to a disreputable profession; the other sold sexual favours to Mike Baldwin. One shocked the Commons with an off-the-shoulder number, the other’s activities were more off-the-wrist.
*PHILIP Schofield is gay. What a shock, said no-one. Poor Gordon the Gopher. Let’s hope they broke it gently.
*JEREMY Clarkson reckons modern celebs are over-emotional and should “get a grip”. Yeah. Is that after you’ve punched someone Jezza? And is the grip around the neck?
SMALL Joys of TV: Inside No 9. Rebel Wilson, the Baftas. The Kansas City Chiefs – the greatest comeback since Lazarus. Six Nations rugby. Josh Adams. Lewis Capaldi. This Life repeats (BBC4). Hi-De-Hi (Drama).
RANDOM irritations: Two ruddy hours of The Greatest Dancer. TV’s grim Brexit Day coverage. Horrible Histories revealing the BBC’s undisguised contempt for Britain, and by extension the people who fund it.
TV Maths: Claudia Sulewski + Noel Edmonds’ gunge = Billie Eilish
TV questions: was Cirque du Soleil’s Bafta “tribute to Judy Garland” a reference to the way much-married Judy was thrown from man to man and made to turn somersaults by the industry? What nicknames might Dr Who’s gay astronaut have faced from particularly juvenile aliens? Luke Bi-Walker, Flash Hardon, A*** Vader...
Feb 2. THE National Television Awards are to the Baftas what Jessie Wallace is to Linda Carter – drunker, coarser, louder and infinitely more tragic. The voting is crazy, the categories are nuts. How can Googlebox be lumped in with Ambulance? Why is Strictly a talent show and not a challenge show... or a dating one? And how does David Walliams keep scooping “Best TV Judge” when he hasn’t got a critical bone in his body? Every year is Groundhog Day. See Ant & Dec pick up their 97th consecutive trophy! Watch Phil Schofield act surprised when This Morning triumphs... despite begging for votes for months on end.
Your enjoyment this year depended on how much of Walliams you can take. Audiences aren’t likely to be won back by David whipping off his strides and sitting on Dec, or his cringe-worthy double act with David Schwimmer. “I used to be a comedian,” quipped Walliams but, as his awkward delivery and poor gags proved, not a stand-up. Although in fairness as a comic he makes a cracking swimmer. I thought he was an “I” specialist. That head’s so big you could see it from space.
Of course it’s hard to quarrel about some of the winners. Peaky Blinders deserved their gong, although I dread to think what damage Tommy Shelby would do with it. It looks like a masochist’s sex-toy. But what’s the point of it all? ITV invented the NTAs because they didn’t think snobby old Bafta held popular TV in much regard, but these days even Towie and Love Island win Baftas while the orgy of televised backslapping grows ever longer and larger, a tidal wave of buttock-numbing tedium. It’s mostly about marketing and entitlement, with more media interest in the posh frocks than the event itself. But the truth is we only need one TV award show, with winners decided on merit not familiarity, and hosted by Ricky Gervais – to let the luvvies have it.
YES! Larry David, the greatest misery guts since Victor Meldrew, is back with a new series of Curb Your Enthusiasm. When he’s not snapping selfie sticks, Larry is shoving his beak into other people’s business (and coffees), starting feuds with coffee shop boss Mocha Joe, and bedding his ex-wife Cheryl. The “old bald f**k” also had a #MeToo moment with a waitress, accidentally fondling her breast Basil Fawlty style in pursuit of pigs in blankets... His agent Jeff’s unsettling resemblance to Harvey Weinstein didn’t help. As in Seinfeld, which Larry David co-created, the small unrelated incidents come together and combust in inspired and hilarious ways. I’ll never look at talcum powder the same way again. Episode one also gave us Larry’s “the big goodbye” trick, and the use of a pro-Trump baseball cap to repeal hopeless trendies. Glorious stuff. And he’s right about “Happy New Year” too.
THE fine acting in The Trial Of Christine Keeler was undermined by its tunnel-vision feminist agenda and the unnecessary flashbacks. The BBC were so keen on bashing “the patriarchy” that we got no idea of what John Profumo was really like from their sly and seedy caricature. Not only was the guy was a war hero, he atoned for his mistake for decades. We won’t know the full story of the Profumo scandal until 2046 of course, but we do know that good-time girl Keeler changed her account of it several times. Rumours abound to this day. It’s been claimed that a senior Royal frequented Ward’s passion pad, and that Profumo was an Italian fascist spy (unlikely given how he spent the rest of his life). Osteopath/pimp Stephen Ward was stitched up, but was he a KGB double agent? We do know that a bigger scandal, involving Transport minister Ernest Maple and a brass, was covered up. Tory PM Harold Macmillan’s famous slogan was “You’ve never had it so good”. His ministers never had it so often.
HOT on TV: Curb Your Enthusiasm (SkyCom) and Cheryl Hines... The Windermere Children... Bill Maher.
ROT on TV: Terry Christian – one Christian who’d make you root for the lions... Grantchester – duller than matins... Crazy Delicious – half right.
MARY Beard reckons art masterpieces like Titian’s Venus are “soft porn for the elite”. Blimey. And you thought Readers’ Wives were rough. I guess it explains why they sell tissues at the National Gallery though. Cheers Mary, but I’d thank you to keep your Botticelli to yourself. And please don’t show us your Whistler.
R.I.P. Nicholas Parsons, a genuine gentleman. Older readers may remember him as Arthur Haynes’s posh opponent in the early 60s. Haynes’s tramp character always called him “Nickel-Arse”, a TV memory that’s stayed with me from childhood, along with Charlie Drake as The Worker, the Hartnell era of Doctor Who and Ena and Elsie rowing on the Coronation Street cobbles back when the soap had heart and felt real.
*JIMMY Carr introducing Big Narstie on Roast Battle: “Big Narstie is here, which will come as a surprise to Big Narstie – he’s higher than his own cholesterol.”
*C4 are making a documentary on tantric sex. It’s not coming soon.
*THE Voice finds great singers but can’t create stars. They should keep the judges but, for the final, add four savvy agents competing to represent promising acts like Lois Moody and Cat Cavelli and break ’em big.
*AVENUE 5 is nothing like Avenue Q. One has absurd foam-headed characters spouting cobblers... the other’s a stage show.
SMALL Joys of TV: Tommy Trinder, Sunday Night At The London Palladium (TPTV) – different class. Life On Mars (Drama). Cracker (BritBox). Carnivale (Sky). Night On Earth (Netflix). Good Omens. Clive James’ Postcards series (BBC4).
RANDOM irritations: Roast Battle fielding witless nonentities and non-comics like Jamie Laing (though in fairness he was sharper than fellow old Etonian Ivo Graham). The Mallorca Files – a load of old Balearics.
SEPARATED at birth: Young Jocky Wilson and Jack Black? One made an unexpected appearance on Top Of The Pops... the other hit the bulls-eye with School Of Rock.