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 27. THE Big Yin may have given up stand-up and retired to the Florida Keys, but he’s still the funniest man on telly. Or anywhere else. Billy Connolly Does mixes old clips with new anecdotes, all sautéed in mischief and joy. Connolly recalled a night on the razz with The Who drummerKeith Moon who told him, “I’ve given up drinking, I’m only having brandy suppositories.” And a hotel where a salesman, boring on about B-roads, was rewarded by Billy’s roadie Kenneth shoving a big bowl of trifle down the front of his strides. “Justice carried out a la road,” he chuckled. Then there was the time Gerry Rafferty – “a nutter” – used the speakers on their SNP-supporting promoter’s car roof to warn the citizens of Gourock that a truck carrying poisonous snakes had over-turned. The Baker Street star advised the public to assemble at the town hall. It was 3am – and they did. Irresponsible? Yes. Wicked? Maybe. Funny? Beyond doubt.
Clips of Billy’s drunk walking routine were hilarious. Now teetotal, Connolly admitted alcohol doesn’t make you clever – “I found that out when I was in a phone box in London and I couldn’t get out.” We got confessions – punching hecklers, punching paparazzi – vintage footage, and homespun wisdom. Billy was always fearless, original and near-the-knuckle. All reasons why he’d be cancelled in this strange age where humourless berks censor our greatest comedies and slap warnings on Dad’s Army. They see offence where none exists. There were even complaints about Ant and Dec’s drag act, and not because it stank and drag has been done to death either. These people are to entertainment what Putin is to peace-keeping, trampling over popular opinion and destroying everything in their path. Laughter can’t be regulated. As Billy says, “Life can be funny, if you give it half a chance.”
CHARLIE Brooker’s Cat Burglar is a laugh-out-loud love letter to the classic cartoons of yesteryear. Robber cat Rowdy cops it in a variety of bloodless ways as he tries to sneak past security pup Peanut. BOOM! He’s blown up. KRAK! He’s decapitated. BOOT! He meets Kurt Zouma (or did I dream that?) It’s more Tom & Jerry than BoJack Horseman, but there’s a twist. Quiz questions pop up throughout. At first you think they’re for people too ADHD to just enjoy the well-crafted Looney Tunes chaos. But answer correctly and Rowdy wins, and the next time you play/watch the interactive show you get different outcomes.
THE Big Freeze: Winter ’63 reminded us of a time Britain got so cold the flashers wore thermal y-fronts. It was minus 22C at its worst – that’s ten degrees below Anne Robinson – and we had eleven weeks of it. It was great for us kids with homemade toboggans, but tougher for anyone who wanted to get to work. While a young John Craven skated on the frozen Thames, farmers used pneumatic drills to dig up carrots. Pete Waterman said his bed iced up! Bruce Forsyth’s wig migrated south (probably). It was so cold even Greta Thunberg would’ve prayed for global warming.
HOT on TV: Billy Connolly Does (Gold)... Vikings: Valhalla (Netflix)... Dublin gang drama Kin (AmPrime).
ROT on TV: Louis Theroux rapping – the Notorious D.I.V. ... Frayed – frayed not... Mega Mansion Hunters – like the houses, they need decking.
GRAY seemed dead on EastEnders this week. Condition satisfactory. But no. The storyline drags on like Covid. They’ve put all their eggs in one bastard.
*WHY does Phil keep saying “I ain’t no grass”? We know he’s made anonymous calls to the cops ratting out rivals. Has he got dementia, or have the writers?
*REJECTED Enders storylines #1: Original Chelsea to fight new Chelsea for the role. Fight to take place in a fountain, in slow-mo.
THE Marvellous Mrs Maisel was set to support soul star Shy Baldwin on his European tour. Jewish housewife-turned-comic Midge won over Shy’s hometown black fans at the Harlem Apollo, telling them, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost” And joking about black and Jewish food – “same heart attack, different afterlife.” But gags about closeted Shy backfired, and she was left stranded on the airport tarmac. Now she’s thinking about doing stand-up in a strip joint. If the gags don’t work, she could still make money.
*KATIE Price told Lorraine she suffered from “PSTD”. PSTD? I used to drink that much too. Katie had PSTD, her exes have PTSD. Like everyone who meets her.
*BRADLEY Walsh fell into freezing ice-cold Norwegian water on Breaking Dad. “I’ve got three Adam’s Apples now,” he quipped. “Everything’s shot up there!”
*TUESDAY is National Pig Day. Patron Saint Gregg Wallace?
*ON YouTube I stumbled across The Phil Silvers Show which is still funnier than anything on BBC3. I also found Vicki Michelle in The Virgin Witch... enjoyable for completely different reasons.
Small Joys of TV: General Sir Mike Jackson with that voice like scorched gravel, Rise Of The Nazis. Cat Burglar (Netflix). Bruce Springsteen: A Secret History.
Random irritations: TV’s ghoulish obsession with rehashing the Moors Murders. ‘Satirist’ John Oliver siding with politicians to attack Canadian truck protests.
*IF you have S&M sex in a Seattle hospital would that be 50 Shades of Grey’s Anatomy?
SEPARATED at birth: Lisa Theaker, Celebrity Hunted, and Paul Weller? One was Going Underground, the other nabs minor celebs as they go to ground...
Feb 20. JAW-dropping scenes on EastEnders as Jean Slater stripped in the launderette for steamy sex with Harvey. She’d dreamt of it, she said, “ever since I saw that film” (Godzilla Vs Kong). Jean is lot like those launderette machines – easy to load, generally in a spin and frequently out of order. But wouldn’t you rather take your chances with Storm Eunice? Or settle for a hand rinse? Walford’s older women freely indulge their sexual urges, but never older men – poor Grandad Jim was portrayed as a perve for wanting sex with his wife on their wedding night.
True, the soap can be educational. Chantelle’s sad demise taught us never to stack knives blade up in the dishwasher. But it’s lost all sense of reality. Characters swap jobs, businesses and sexuality as casually as Akeem on The Apprentice changes his mind. The death rate trumps Midsomer. Nobody goes to football or boxing matches. Or church. Nobody shops in near-by Westfield. No wonder Nancy wanted to be sterilised.
Walford has become a weird hotbed of wokeness and wrong’uns – umpteen killers and con artists, not a single honest self-made man... And certainly no jihadists. That kind of criminality is swept under the carpet. Middle-class writers preach their right-on sermons because they’re too wet to realise drama should reflect what is, not what they think “should be”. All hope for the soap now lies with serial killer Gray. If he bumps off the current cast, they’d have to start again. Maybe with Cockney writers. Imagine! Relatable families, strong blokes, earthy humour... maybe even a St George’s Day knees-up.
*THOSE Valentine’s Day texts in full. Jean: “I’m off me meds, so hump me Harvey, and I’ll forget your son’s a Nazi.” Harvey: “You’re round the twist, you’ve got no money, and when we had sex, I was thinking of Honey.’ (More likely: “Roses are red, don’t they smell nice? You’ll get yours tomorrow, when they’re half-price.”)
CAN we stop remaking old shows? Sky ruined Minder, the Beeb crucified classic sitcoms and Nick Love stripped The Sweeney of all reality. Now we’ve got Starstruck which is Stars In Their Eyes times three – that’s why the judges are Wet Wet Wet. And Bel-Air which makes a joyless mess of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air: same set-up, same characters, zero laughs. The cast are fine, especially Jabari Banks in the Will Smith role and Londoner Jimmy Akingbola as Geoffrey (now “house manager” rather than butler). But why reinvent a sitcom as gritty drama? It’s like restaging Fools & Horses with Del-Boy banged up for tax evasion, Uncle Albert with dementia and Rodney on smack. Don’t put it past them. Stop it and create something new. You’re paid enough.
JUST the presence of DI Saunders on 80s crime comedy The Curse made Sidney fold like a concertina – allowing “The Filth” to collar Crazy Clive and Joey Boy just before they topped the rest of the gang members. Sidney was the “brains” behind their unexpected £30mill gold bullion theft. Mick torched their Bedford van in the sticks. “This thing is gonna go up like a dragon’s arsehole,” he said, and it did. But the berk hadn’t thought how he and Phil the Pocket would get home afterwards... Some parts misfire. Sidney’s shutter button scene was feeble, and Alberto is so wet you want to slap him. But the good, with echoes of Fargo, outweighs the bad. How will these muppets ever shift 7000 gold bars?
HOT on TV: Marcus Smith... Geoff Bell, The Curse... Jeen-Yuhs (Netflix)... Ben Wilshaw, This Is Going To Hurt.
ROT on TV: Danny Dyer, The Wall – he drives me up it... BBC3 – as shallow as a birdbath in a heatwave... Bel-Air – fresh out of laughs.
SOPHIE’S driverless vehicle on The Apprentice looked like a “pimpmobile”, with a built-in karaoke machine. Shame Lord Sugar didn’t sing her out, “Go on now, go, walk out the door... ” This business challenge show has become the Generation Game for Yuppies. For the cuddly toy, see Sugar – the dead spit of Nookie Bear. Building apps, creating alcohol-free plonk... what’s that got to do with your ability to sell?
LOVING the grim gallows humour in This Is Going To Hurt. When an awkward patient grumbles, “Nobody cares if I die”, junior doc Kay replies, “Oh, I don’t know, the lion and the wardrobe would probably miss you.” His scale of pain is zero to ten, “where zero is no pain at all and ten is sawing your own leg off while listening to Michael Buble.”
*DEVIL’S Advocate, on fake lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano showed that with enough chutzpah you can con anyone. Which also explains the careers of Vernon Kay and Piers Morgan.
*IT’S sad that Gemma Collins self-harms. That’s surely a job for volunteers... is the sort of joke Jimmy Carr would crack. I wouldn’t dream of it.
*HMM. Extraordinary Escapes with Sandi Toksvig? An extraordinary escape from Sandi Toksvig might work better.
*PEOPLE say day-time TV is dull, but Dickinson’s Real Deal recently promised: ‘In Middlesbrough, Stewart digs deep into his pocket for an ink stand.’ Beat that, Netflix!
*THE armourer on The Mandalorian is Emily Swallow. A name full of promise.
Small Joys of TV: Rachel Brosnahan as AmPrime’s The Marvellous Mrs Maisel. Devil’s Advocate (SkyAt). Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind. Sofia Essaidi, The Promise (BBC4).
Random irritations: The Millionairess & Me – who the hell cares? Inventing Anna (Netflix) – the con’s on us. Jessie, on the BBC’s Starstruck. Louis Theroux – one trick pony.
Classic Clanger. John Torode, talking about a pastry on Celeb MasterChef, told Les Dennis: “It’s beautiful and thick, but your tart is very, very inconsistent.” And he wasn’t even with Amanda at the time.
Feb 13. THE Curse pays homage to the golden years of the Cockney crime caper. It’s set in a grotty part of early 80s East London known as “the Bermuda Triangle” because what goes in is never seen again. Like Joey Boy’s freshly purloined lorryload of salmon. Blokes are either hoods or wannabes and everything’s as rough as a roofer’s glove. The greasy spoon makes Sid’s Café in Del-Boy’s Peckham look classy. Owner Albert struggles with simple orders like “double bubble, double egg and beans”. Luckily for him, he’s married to tough, capable Tash, the show’s narrator. Unluckily, her dopy brother Sid has a new job as a security guard and cooks up a plan to relieve the “Aladdin’s Cave” of a warehouse of £50K.
Honest/wimpy Albert’s against it, but ambitious Tash thinks it’s their route out of poverty. Sid’s gang include Albert’s cousin, Mick – a Billy Liar who claims to have sparred with George Foreman and is described variously as “as soppy as a Sunday” and “the ugly ape”. And plastic gangster Phil Pockett, a “Sexton” (fake) who dresses like an Arthur Daley tribute act. Asking these deluded twerps to pull off a heist is like asking Kurt Zouma to run a cattery. So Phil brings in local villains Crazy Clive Cornell and Joey Boy. But the warehouse is bare and the job looks like a washout until Albert spots 7,000 gold bars. (Somehow the 68tons of bullion don’t crash straight through the bottom of their Bedford van.) The show could do with being more Ealing Comedy and less Guy Ritchie. It’s not Minder or Only Fools and the whole caper is clearly doomed to go down like Del-Boy’s chandelier. But if like me you’re won over by period detail – Bullseye, Breville sandwich makers, horse brasses, and smoking in pubs – it looks worth sticking with.
THIS Is Going To Hurt makes Call The Midwife look like Carry On Matron. Medics in Obstetrics & Gynaecology (“brats and twats”) can work 97-hour weeks. After one long shift, knackered Adam Kay conks out in his car, waking up just in time to start again. The dark comedy-drama is based on Kay’s career as a junior doctor – it all happened. The job is messy, high pressure and sometimes tragic, so this could’ve been as maudlin as an Adele ballad. Instead, the script balances heartache with black humour. Sarcasm becomes a survival skill. “Hurry please,” Kay tells a trainee. “The anaesthetist is retiring next week.” We see Kay wheeling a woman having a breach birth along on a trolley “wearing her like Kermit the frog”. NHS frontline staff are worth celebrating. Bureaucracy and bad management less so.
NO Return is such a bad advert for Turkey it could’ve been sponsored by the Greek Tourist Board. A family’s holiday is ruined when son Noah is nicked for sexually assaulting another boy. Mum Kathy – a rare TV outing for Sheridan Smith, cough – goes into overdrive. Noah, 16, might be guilty, the cops are corrupt, and lawyer brief Rico suggests a bribe. Now here’s a character. Rico assures them that, at 16, he was “trying to stick it in any hole available”. Sample Rico update: “Noah has been transferred to state prison. He will be in youth facility. We hope no killers or madmen.”
HOT on TV: The Curse and Camille Coduri... Alan Ritchson, Reacher (AmPrime)... Sam Fender... Erin Doherty, Chloe.
ROT on TV: Mega-Mansion Deals – two-bob (or near offer)... Boobs – balls... Unforgiveable – just unbearable.
WHAT about those Welsh tours on The Apprentice? Propofol has put less people to sleep than Nick’s sight-seeing commentary. But at least Kathryn knew how to sell, telling clearly unimpressed punters, “Shane Richie has been on this zipwire!” Yeah? Hope they reinforced it. Shane’s also worn out a few zips, but that’s the X-rated tour.
*DICK Hobbs on Secrets Of The Krays said that if the twins had been starting out today they’d be on celebrity TV shows. They wouldn’t. They’d head straight to Dragons’ Den where Ron would produce a .9mm luger and offer ’em a chance to invest directly into their pockets... starting with the cash on their tables.
*BIG Brother is like Whack-a-Mole. You think you’ve got shot of it and up pops another one. The Aussie celebrity version served up Megan Markle’s brother Tom who told us Megs is “very selfish, self-centred and shallow”. He’s holding back, then.
*The BRITS – pop’s gift to rhyming slang – is bloated, dreary, and gutless. No wonder viewing figures are dropping like Anne-Marie.
*ED Stafford presented 60 Days With The Gypsies. Next time, book Jimmy Carr. More eventful.
Small Joys of TV: Downhill snowboard racing (Winter Olympics). Magpie Murders (BritBox). The glorious blues on the Reacher soundtrack. Mo Gilligan – oi, oi!
Random irritations: Dim Celeb Mastermind contestants. Joke censors. Dragons’ Den valuations. Uneven acting on Stay Close. Question Of Sport’s interview segment.
TV questions: What’s more irritating, Robert Peston’s voice or his hairstyle? Why was Doctor Who dressed like a tampon at The Brits? How long before you can buy an MP on a shopping channel?
SEPARATED at birth: Eamonn Holmes and this cardinal. One brings joy and meaning to a chaotic world, the other is a cardinal.
Feb 6. THE TV image of the week was a talking penis – and for once it wasn’t a politician. To play Motley Crue star Tommy Lee on Pam & Tommy, Sebastian Stan sports an impressive prosthetic plonker. Not only does it talk to him, puppeteers make it move about like a snake charmer’s python. That’s right, “It’s a puppet!” Imagine the havoc Rod Hull would have wreaked with that. Hey, Parky, interview this! Lily James is magic as Baywatch bombshell Pamela Anderson, her charms augmented by a fake forehead, dentures and a chest plate that’s DD-delightful. We see her in an LA club telling friends she’ll never date another bad-boy moments before drummer Lee swaggers up and licks her face. Cue a four-day courtship, a beach wedding, ecstasy tabs and plenty of, um, banging.
The cartoonish saga takes a while to get going. The opener is like Sue Gray’s report, most of the vital stuff is missing. Tommy unleashes the beast in episode two. But despite his imposing appendage, the biggest dick is always Lee. This is Disney, and he’s Dumbo. The series tells the story from the point of view of Rand Gauthier – the chippie who Tommy sacked. The obnoxious rocker got builders in to do up his palatial gaffe and then knocked ’em for $20K. In revenge, Rand nicked his safe, which as well as cash, guns and jewellery, housed the newlyweds’ private sex tape. The ex-porn extra then flogged it to his contacts in the industry and the rest is scandalous history. But there’s no attempt to tell the story from the couple’s point of view. The real-life Pam, who was blameless, ended up publicly humiliated. Light-hearted or not, Disney+ have doubled down and shafted her all over again – against her will.
JACK Reacher is a big man, but not much bigger than a Downing Street removal van. Unlike most blokes in TV fiction, he’s strong, moral and unblemished by self-doubt or mental turmoil. Ex-US miliary cop Reacher is an avenging angel who drifts from state to state out-fighting, and out-smarting, bad guys. Hence his nickname, Sherlock Homeless. Hollywood cast Tom Cruise as Jack, which is as potty as casting Gemma Collins as Twiggy. Cruise is 5ft 7, the character is 6ft 5. In Reacher, he’s played by Alan Ritchson, an actor who, at 6ft 2, is closer to the right height and looks the part. True he seems to cross the line between self-assured and cocky, and his build is more gym-bunny than street-fighting hardman, but it’s great to see Jack finally punching his weight on screen.
ONE Show viewers voted for their most-loved BBC TV shows. Unsurprisingly, Fools & Horses came top. Nine more sitcoms made the Top 20, none of them recent. The lesson, which the Beeb will completely ignore, is that they need to replace their yoof-obsessed, graduate-run, right-on comedy department with people who love and respect mainstream humour. Proper sitcoms would reverse the Corporation’s fortunes, rescue Xmas TV, and offer much-needed relief from the endless hell of failing soaps and biased news.
JENNA Garvey in The Teacher is a proper party animal. She drinks like it’s Wine O’Clock in Westminster, and hangs out at Lazarus, a nightclub full of ex-pupils. Garvey wakes up in a stranger’s bed, throws up behind bushes and then rolls into work at a Bradford secondary school wearing yesterday’s knickers. Her skirts are short enough to tantalise a priest, let alone the testosterone-charged teens in year eleven. She’s painted as such a skank that it was obvious Jenna didn’t actually shag her pupil Kyle, 15, in the Lazarus khazi. Although she did emerge flushed. (Sorry). She’d been set up by the real nonce. The potboiler got sillier as it went on but the plot was as twisted as her adult persecutor.
*THE thing about having sex with teachers is they make you do it again and again until you get it right... Still, it beats homework.
HOT on TV: Reacher (AmPrime)... The Responder... The Tourist... Sheridan Smith, The Teacher.
ROT on TV: BBC3 – a colossal waste of our money... Lazy Susan – lazier writing... Great Cookbook Challenge – as thrilling as cold semolina.
WHY doesn’t Trigger Point have a laugh track? It’s hilarious. Faced with a timebomb packed with nails, Lana whipped off her helmet and protective goggles. D’oh! It was all about as likely as seeing Lynne Truss on an EasyJet flight, or Davina not flashing her drawers.
*THE hunters couldn’t find any celebs on Celebrity Hunters. Nor could the bookers.
*WHY won’t EastEnders bosses re-hire cocaine-damaged Danniella Westbrook to play Sam Mitchell? She never forgot her lines...
*ON The Responder, drunk Father Liam confessed, “I meet young men and give them money to w*** me off.” Quipped cop Chris, “Everyone needs a hobby.”
*SCENES I’d like to see: a Tipping Point contestant kicking the side of the machine when the counter is teetering on the edge – like everybody does in amusement arcades.
Small Joys of TV: Six Nations Live. Jonny Wallop. Janet Jackson (Sky) – Motown Memory Lane. Trigger Happy TV (Netflix). Josh Finan as Marco on The Responder.
Random irritations: News reporters pronouncing Kiev as “Klyv” – why? We don’t call Paris “Paree”. Endless TV cooking. Farcical bleeding-heart politics on EastEnders.
SEPARATED at birth. Bernie Wilson, The Responder, and Alexei Sayle? One an aggressive Scouser getting dark laughs in tough times, the other’s Alexei Sayle.
CLASSIC Clanger: The BBC reporter was talking about Alastair Cook’s last cricket match when he said: “Do you think there’ll be a tear in his eye when the finger goes up?”