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 28. THE pandemic of lousy TV comics has mutated into a new, scarier strain of anti-humour. Stand Up & Deliver is built on the crackpot notion that anyone can be a comedian, that two weeks of coaching will turn you into the next Kevin Bridges. Yeah, right. Naturally it started badly. Curtis Pritchard gave us two minutes of tumbleweed. Corrie’s Katie McGlynn was “talking s***”. Shaun Ryder – naturally funny offstage – lost it completely at the mic. Only Rev Richard Coles, ex of the Communards, showed promise. His first parishioners thought he’d be black, he said, because “you were in the Commodores”. Well at least it got a laugh.
When the two-bob professionals started mentoring, it got far worse. David Baddiel wanted the Rev to be “comedically meaningful” by which he meant to eff and blind. Judi Love complained about Curtis’s “lack of depth” – he’s only doing five minutes of jokes, Jude, not a one-man show at Monkey Barrel. And Jason Manford realised that polishing Shaun’s pub-funny wit was like trying to teach algebra to a garden gnome.
Nick Helm wanted Baroness Warsi to end her set with “I’ve been the Baroness, mother****ers”. Sayeeda declined. He took an instant dislike to her for being a Tory. Ah, but she’s a working-class Yorkshire Tory and when she started spontaneously ranting about old Etonians who “don’t believe in democracy any more”, Helm realised he might’ve struck comedy gold.
Stand-up can’t be taught in a fortnight, obviously. It’s a craft learned over years of trial and error. But C4’s amateurs were far less irritating than the lame humour served up regularly on TV shows like The Mash Report or Jonathan Ross’s woeful Comedy Club. Most modern TV stand-up isn’t about making us laugh, it’s about right-on middle-class bores airing their prejudices. We’ve gone from Les Dawson, Dave Allen and Billy Connolly to Nish Kumar, Sara Pascoe and Rachel Parris. Well done everyone.
FOR weeks Marcella has been the biggest threat to stability in Northern Ireland. Now there’s Goliath, a mysterious returning psychopath on Bloodlands. Goliath’s big mistake was to murder the wife of James Nesbitt’s world-weary DCI Tom Brannick. Nesbitt’s long granite face looks as lived in as Columbo’s mac. He’s a good man in a bad place with a superior officer who might as well be called Dodgy Bastard. He’s also worryingly naive, telling a stranger his daughter’s name and her uni course details in a lift. Goliath buried victims’ bodies “between a bothy and a tree” on a small island near Belfast. (You can see it coming up the Lagan on a bubble). But only a congenital idiot would dig graves in broad daylight. and a cop would never be allowed to investigate his wife’s killer. PS. A kidnapped IRA scumbag had “blurred vision”. Was it caused by too much Viagra as suggested or the show’s shaky camerawork?
ITV’S Unforgotten returned with the strange case of a decapitated Millwall hooligan. There’s a school of thought, prevalent among their London rivals, that a Millwall fan deprived of his loaf can still function perfectly well, much as a chicken runs around after it’s had its head cut off. But this poor geezer had been beheaded after death and then stored in a freezer for thirty years. The ultimate cold case. He was partially defrosted but still not as chilly as Sheila Hancock’s character Eileen. As is now traditional, the chief suspects are a bunch of ex-cops.
HOT on TV: Pelé (Netflix)... Bruno Vs Tyson (SkyDocs)... Nicola Walker, Unforgotten.
ROT on TV: Gordon Ramsay’s Bank Balance – part Buckaroo, mostly bugger off... Big Sky – small value... Finding Alice – flipping abysmal from start to finish.
YOU need nerve to win Gordon Ramsay’s Bank Balance, but not as much nerve as Ramsay who thinks he has the ability to host a game show. The format is a complete dog’s dinner; slow, dull and only slightly more complicated than UK tax laws. So we’re essentially watching to see if a puffed-up chef with the people skills of Vlad The Impaler can get through the shambles without swearing. Who the **** cares? Bickering siblings Tosin and Tobi were funnier than professional tosser Ramsay but the pair of them would have struggled on Tipping Point.
KAT Moon has been getting jiggy with Walford horn-dog Phil Mitchell. Blimey. You can see the appeal. He’s a charmless, clapped-out, alcoholic wreck and she’s got a gob on her the size of a Yeti’s girdle. There’s only one explanation for this unlikely coupling. The EastEnders writers must be using my patented Random Affair Generator. Which means the next pair of star-crossed lovers will almost certainly be... Big Mo and Peter Beale! Strap up Pete! She’s on top.
AFTER Dad’s Army, now the Muppets come with a woke warning. We’re told the show has “negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures”. Really? Granted, the Swedish chef spoke hurdy-gurdy gibberish and often fought his own ingredients but he still made a lot more sense than Jamie “Bosh!” Oliver. What kind of muppet gets peeved about harmless kids’ shows?
*GEMMA Collins told Mel Giedroyc she wears underwear once and then gives it away. Unusual, yes, but it keeps the Lebanese air-force in parachutes.
*COMIC Mark Simmons: “Sometimes my girlfriend scratches during sex. Last week she won a tenner.”
Small Joys of TV: The Beatles: 8 Days A Week (Sky Docs). Classic Minder (ITV4). Shaun Ryder and his frustrated mentor Jason Manford. Would I Lie To You – was Call My Bluff ever this funny?
Random Irritations: Flop drama Finding Alice setting itself up for a second unwanted series. The Ranganation’s lazy format, low laugh ratio & barrel-scraping guest comic bookings.
SEPARATED at birth: West Ham’s David Moyes and Darth Sidious? One a fearsome leader tasked with beating all opposition... the other is from Star Wars.
CLASSIC Clanger. Willie Carson, talking about how jockeys prepare for a big race, told Clare Balding: “They usually have four or five dreams a night about coming from different positions.”
Feb 21. DAD’S Army was introduced on BBC2 this week with the dreary words: “Now with discriminatory language that some may find offensive... ” You know what I find offensive? Idiotic BBC bosses who think one of our most revered mainstream sitcoms needs a snowflake alert. These PC berks are more destructive than Mary Whitehouse ever was. Everything they commission has to tick boxes, be approved by two dozen over-paid execs, impress focus groups and have every ounce of joy hammered out of it. No wonder scripted humour has withered on the vine. Looking at the schedules you wonder if they’ve given up sitcoms for Lent or for good.
Comedy writers ring me in despair over decent gags cut on the spurious grounds that they might offend some perpetually outraged right-on warrior. This has got to stop. Who cares what a tiny minority of extremist twerps think? The paying public love down-to-earth humour. The BBC should swerve their own comedy department and set up an action unit to build sitcoms aimed at majority audiences. Anyone “offended” by Capt Mainwaring is part of the problem. I’d recommission Comedy Playhouse for writers who aren’t part of TV’s Oxbridge elite.
Sketch shows need help too. The Fast Show was last century and ITV2’s Stand-Up Sketch Show is no substitute. So-so comics do routines that are partly acted out, but most of their meandering material falls well short of anything resembling a punchline. Elsewhere Romesh made me laugh out loud with his rant about Covid experts who “feel they need to make worse and worse predictions to stay relevant”. He used “go f*** yourself” as a punchline. Normally I’d disapprove. But when it comes to TV’s comedy police it’s the only message they’d understand.
*SITCOMS we could revive: Phoenix Nights, Gavin & Stacey, Jack Dee’s Lead Balloon, Early Doors, The Grimleys, Mind Your Language (just kidding).
THE venerable Mary Berry looked increasingly like Gary Oldman’s Dracula on Celebrity Best Home Cook. The show is Celeb MasterChef without Gregg’s foghorn gob unsettling wildlife for miles around, and with Mary on the balcony like Mussolini in drag. She was planning to use a dog whistle at one point. Manners prevent me from suggesting who’d have heard it. Perfectionist Ed Balls deserved to win, though I warmed to Tom Read Wilson and his “Percival palpitations”. He’s like a sitcom character made real. Tom and Rachel Johnson tackled Croquembouche. I worried about the unsavoury after-taste before realising I’d misheard it. Ah, croque... How about doing the next series in real time? With those ovens turning themselves off, the air what have been bluer than Gareth Thomas’ innuendos.
HOW much more dramatic cobblers can we buy into? We’ve already got Anna Friel stalking herself on Marcella, The Drowning sunk without trace. Now Netflix want us to swallow Behind Her Eyes – the soppiest series of the year. It started like a bog-standard adultery saga. Single mum Louise bumps into hunky Scottish shrink David on a night out. He kisses her and pulls away sharply; so either he has secrets or she needs mouthwash. Naturally, he’s her new (married) boss. We know David will slip Lou the claymore, his chilly, pilled-up missus will befriend her... and things will get bloody quicker than a just-for-drunks version of Dancing On Ice. This isn’t a lusty love triangle, though; something weirder is coming... Odds-on the show’s much-mooted “WTF ending” will leave us all chewing the carpet.
HOT on TV: Caterina Murino, Zen (Drama)... ZeroZeroZero (SkyAt) – a mob hit... Framing Britney Spears (SkyDocs)
ROT on TV: Ralf Little – a dearth of paradise... Devils – a pure bull market... Interior Design Masters – inferior, resign faster.
DEVILS is the tall tale of Italian trader Massimo who makes his bank £250m by “shorting” Greece. Everyone’s shorting here. It’s a City trading term, not slang for folk with a midget fetish. Massimo’s ex is a high-class junkie hooker, he’s stalked by a sexy anarchist reporter, his enemy is a snob who tops himself... It’s not the Wolf of Wall Street, more the Dwarfs of Canary Wharf. Oliver is so bright he diagnoses illness like a sniffer dog. Give the kid a spin-off show! But don’t bank on Devils getting less hammy.
*BRIAN Conley is joining EastEnders as a character called Cant – which was exactly my reaction. Will he be an Alfie Moon or a Vinnie Monks? Either way let’s hope the daft Cant gets the chance to hoist up Mick Carter and holler “It’s a puppet!”
*WHO asked people to “think about those robust knobs” last week? Was it a) Keith Brymer Jones talking to his amateur potters, b) Anna Richardson on Naked Attraction or c) Fiona Bruce discussing the Cabinet?
*TV Name of the week: Panorama assistant producer, Emma Supple! A proper flexible friend.
*RE Chef Gordon Ramsay’s new TV game-show, will he make a hash of it?
Small Joys of TV: The Simpsons’ The 7 Beer Itch. Joss Stone, The Masked Singer – silly sausage, stunning voice. Hornblower repeats. Chris Eubank and Michael Watson (Life Stories).
Random Irritations: John Oliver turning into a hectoring bore. Fiona Bruce’s trainers in the Question Time trailer – it’s not a Zoom call, luv, we can see your feet. Besides, normally it’s thousands of viewers who do a runner.
Feb 14. SOPHIE Hermann said her date “was literally talking out of his arse” on Celebs Go Dating. So either a) she literally doesn’t know what literally means, or b) he’s one hell of a ventriloquist. The Mansion is full of people you’ve barely heard of making twerps of themselves. Like Wayne Lineker, accurately described by Rob Beckett as “a teenage bag of testosterone trapped in a 58-year-old body”. The sleazy lech made a bee-line for Billie-Jean, 25, and flirted with her in front of classy Jodie Burling, his actual date. In the topsy-turvy world of “reality” TV, this kind of shoddy behaviour is rewarded with lashings of airtime. The age gap showed quickly. Wayne told baffled B-J “So tonight Matthew, I’m going to be yours.” Matthew Kelly left Stars In Their Eyes when she was eight.
*SOPHIE Lincoln announced: “I swallowed it straight away, should I do it again?” I think she was talking about wine-tasting. If not, Wayne will be straight round.
ANYONE else feel like they’ve died and gone to purgatory? Telly in Lockdown is like being stuck in a doctor’s waiting room with nothing to read except a few dog-eared copies of Simply Knitting. Cooking shows, reality dross and celebrity travelogues they can manage; must-see drama is beyond them. So here’s a suggestion. If mainstream TV bosses can’t create new classics, why not remake brilliant old ones? Shows like Sharpe – the stirring adventures of the 95th Rifles battling Bonaparte. Promoted on the battle-field by Wellington, granite-jawed Richard Sharpe led his “chosen men” to victory. Danger Man, which starred Patrick McGoohan as tough, principled secret service fixer John Drake. A spy with a conscience is just as relevant in today’s world as the turbulent sixties. And I, Claudius. Outrageously sexy in the 70s, the original seems slow and claustrophobic today. It’s ripe for revival. Just lose the dodgy syrups. Less well-known were 1990, a dystopian saga set in a bankrupt Britain under martial law where civil liberties go down the khazi... sound familiar? The Fear – a firm of young, sharp North London villains take on gangland’s old guard. And Sexton Blake, a Victorian detective who was as sharp as Sherlock but a lot more useful in a tear-up. Robin Hood, The Avengers, Hornblower and The Adventures of Sir Lancelot could also work. The proviso being, they would have to be true to the originals. So strong casts and proper directors, not smug Oxbridge twerps with a 2nd class degree in navel-gazing and a long list of fashionable boxes to tick. Make story-telling central and leave the virtue signalling at home. We’d save British telly and inspire a new generation of programme makers.
*REMAKES that worked: Dad’s Army, All Creatures. Ones that didn’t: Shane Richie’s Minder, Sky One’s The Prisoner, and BBC4’s entire classic sitcoms disaster.
YOU felt for the cops on Undercover Police: Hunting Paedophiles. It’s a soul-sapping job but it has to be done. Two things worried me. Why do the team managing Graham Marshall – the fat sweaty main offender – only meet him twice in six months? He’s clearly a danger. Monthly visits should be a must. And why do officers only pursue “high risk” paedos and not others who also target children? The answer is lack of funding. Yet they can afford cops to pester a bloke for smoking alone in his car or walkers for drinking tea... go figure.
HOT on TV: Line Of Duty repeats... Joe Root... Deliver Us (All4)... Andrea Riseborough, ZeroZeroZero (SkyAt).
ROT on TV: The Last Leg – where satire goes to die... The Vanishing at Cecil House – more padding than Pointless... Doctors – logic collapses like Rachel Johnson’s cake.
GEMMA Collins told Piers Morgan that an accident nearly left her “decapitated from the knees down”. Blimey, so her head isn’t up her arse after all. It’s easy to dislike her GC character, but hard not to warm to Gemma. As she said, her life hasn’t been a bed of roses. Just plenty of 600g tubs... Her “stardom” continues to baffle millions.
*GEMMA told Piers “No one can see my sex tape.” I don’t think you could ever unsee it.
SIX women performed as Henry VIII’s wives on Musicals – The Greatest Show. Later Michael Ball turned up. Chubby, bearded... he looked so much like Henry it’s a wonder Hans Holbein wasn’t sitting behind him with an easel.
*Extraordinary Escapes with Sandi Toksvig? I’d be keener on an extraordinary escape from her.
*IN the trailer for Celebrity Best Home Cook, Claudia gasps “I can’t watch!” In fairness, it’s a struggle for most of us.
*I’M not going to join the chorus of fake rage about the Golden Globes nominations. Emily In Paris is light frothy escapism, just right for these dreary times.
*A SHAME John Humphreys is leaving Mastermind. Was he pushed, or did he just have enough of the endless dumbing down?
*WHY bombard us with travel shows when we can’t travel? It’s like showing the starving footage of feasts.
Small Joys of TV: The twists on Marcella. Perry & Croft: Made In Britain. Ramy. Mason Mount’s goal against the Blades. Democrat Chuck Schumer telling the US Senate “Donald John Trump incited erection”.
Random Irritations: “Woke warnings” being slapped on classic comedies. Food being described as “to die for” – it really isn’t. Anyone who says “I won’t lie” – why, do you normally tell whoppers then?
Classic Clanger. Martin Brundle was talking about a driving manoeuvre at the European Formula 1 Grand Prix when he said: “Massa slithers right up inside his team mate.”
Feb 7. DO THE BBC have a death wish? With Netflix going from strength to strength, the Beeb’s big show of the week was, wait for it... Interior Design Masters! Yeah, that’ll keep the opposition at bay! Where are the big bold dramas, the must-see shows?
I told you about Bridgerton at Xmas. It’s now the most watched series in Netflix history with 80million viewers worldwide. It’s helped push the streaming service to 200million subscribers. It’s also sent online searches for four-poster beds and sales of corsets through the roof, and encouraged various filth-hounds to email me asking where the “dirty bits” are. (Episodes five and six). The only thing the BBC inspired us to Google last week was Myanmar. Ah, Burma! And yes of course Bridgerton is tosh, absolutely no use to anyone researching Regency England for a history A level. But the show has vim, joy, snobbery, romance and scandal; it’s escapism pure and simple. Crucially, unlike most BBC dramas, it makes you want to see the next episode. The Beeb’s best current offering, The Serpent, just makes me want to press fast-forward.
It’s a decent six-part saga pointlessly dragged out to eight episodes that jump about in time like a malfunctioning Tardis. Killer Sobhraj is said to have been charismatic, Tahir Rahmin plays him as plain creepy. Jenna Coleman’s Leclerc is gorgeous but gormless. Most Corporation drama output consists of lacklustre medical soaps and formulaic cop shows. True, Line Of Duty and Peaky Blinders are returning, but for their last outings. What have they got after that? Am I being too hard? In fairness this year the BBC did give us a real treat with Inside The Factory – a whole hour on yoghurt with Gregg Wallace. That isn’t “landmark work”, Tim Davie. It’s the TV equivalent of landfill.
*THEY had sex up a ladder on Bridgerton. Mercifully the window cleaner was on a break. “I burn for you,” Daphne told Sexy Simon. See, they had cystitis even then.
NEVER assume ET will be friendly. Resident Alien crash-landed in Colorado like Mork from Ork, the crucial difference being this extra-terrestrial wants to wipe out humanity. He slaughters local doctor Harry, assumes his identity and learns English by watching old episodes of Law & Order. (If only it’d been The Clangers... ) Harry’s hugely creepy. When the Sherriff ropes him in to do an autopsy, he says (and sniffs) all the wrong things and treats the corpse’s brain like Playdough. But when he gets smashed on whiskey and dad-dances people take to him, especially nurse Asta and barmaid D’Arcy. It’s darkly funny in parts. Harry wants to kill the small boy who sees the real him. And there is a sex scene coming. ET bone home?
AH the richness of foreign cultures. Gritty drama ZeroZeroZero has Italian mobsters, a Mexican narco gang and a dodgy US shipping company who ferry illicit marching powder between the two. Buyers, sellers and brokers. The Lynwoods are transporting £44million worth of toot – not to be sniffed at – hidden inside 5,000 tins of jalapeno peppers. Pray for just one wrong delivery to liven up MasterChef... In Italy, Don Damiano plots to kill his Mafia grandfather. In Monterrey, the Mexican army hunt the Leyra brothers who are aided by bent soldiers. And Edward Lynwood has just been gunned down... It’s ambitious, absorbing and completely believable.
HOT on TV: ZeroZeroZero (SkyAt)... Rob Beckett’s voice-over, Celebs Go Dating: The Mansion... Sara Martins... The Investigation finale.
ROT on TV: The Drowning – do not resuscitate... Finding Alice – slack... GMB – you know what that’s short for? God, Morgan’s Boring.
ON Celebrity Best Home Cook Tom Read Wilson said he was “going to put a big dollop of my own warmth” into his dish. Blimey. That’s not how you make semolina, mate. Tom speaks fluent innuendo. “I’m full of beans and buck today,” he said. Really? Who’s Buck? Poor Ferne forgot to turn the oven on to cook her apple crumble. She’s so hot I’m surprised she needed to.
*YOU gasp for breath when you’re drowning. But watching The Drowning left me gasping in disbelief. The plot got so potty I took an early bath.
*YOU know you’re getting old when a woman on Who Want To Be A Millionaire had to phone her dad to find out which band Joe Strummer was in... and even he wasn’t sure.
*COPS always eat doughnuts in Yank dramas. Our plod don’t. Wouldn’t you love to see a bored British cop in a squad car tucking into a freshly tasered pastie?
*SHUT-INS: Britain’s Fattest People? We’re all shut-in, we’ve never been fatter. Thanks for reminding us.
*IF you crossed Threesomes Are More Fun with This Farming Life would you get a menagerie a trois? I’m not convinced threesomes are more fun. What if the other two were the Macrons? Sacre urgh.
RIP Captain Sir Tom. Stoic, modest and positive, he was the best of British.
Small Joys of TV: The Plank (TPTV). Chris Rock, Tambourine (Netflix). Stormborn. Undercover Billionaire (Discovery). Boxing & The Mob. Phoebe Fox, The Great.
Random Irritations: The Chase producers eliminating super-bright players by sneaking in unusually tough questions. “Animal psychics” on This Morning. Interior Design Masterzzz.