BUSHELL ON THE BOX
JAN 27. Polish your crystal balls, folks, and join me on a journey into the future. It’s 2029, Brexit still hasn’t happened, a 107-year-old Prince Philip has replaced Clarkson on The Grand Tour. And ITV have finally changed the name of the NTAs to Groundhog Night to acknowledge the show’s central flaw – the same people win every ruddy year... Last week Ant & Dec scooped best TV Presenter despite Ant not being on any telly except the news in 2018. Who came second, Michael Barrymore? Jim Bowen? This Morning won for the 97th time by virtue of Phil and Holly begging for votes every weekday. Jeremy Kyle can’t do that, his fans are too busy shagging their sisters, in-laws or household pets to go online.
Strictly was best talent show for the fourth year running. (What winds Simon Cowell up more, I wonder – that, or Walliams constantly winning Best Judge despite having no critical faculties whatsoever?) Four time winner Paul O’Grady loves dogs. Great, so do I. But I also loved O’Grady when he made his living from comedy. Laughter, remember that? I bet Danny Devito wishes he did. The Hollywood legend came on to huge cheers. Then he hit us with his joke: “The O2... imagine how big the O1 must be.” Cue tumbleweed. Flustered, Danny waffled on about Arsenal to growing boos. It was tragic. If writer Ivor Baddiel penned that lame line, Devito would’ve been forgiven for showing him the business end of an NTA gong.
The night’s funniest moment was Boycey’s reaction to Car Share winning Top Comedy for the third time. It used to be called Peter Kay’s Car Share but they changed the name when they realised Peter was never going to show up... These awards were created to celebrate the great popular telly Bafta snobs ignored. But these days Bafta are so desperate to throw off their snooty reputation they’ll hand out gongs to anyone – Casualty, First Dates, Cruising with Jane McDonald. Even TOWIE. Which means all the NTAs are really good for is persuading scantily dressed starlets to shiver on the red carpet.
*ANT was off screen for a year and still won a gong. Hey GC, imagine how popular you’d be if you cleared off for a decade or five.
WILL Danny Dyer’s royal ties bleed into Albert Square? Imagine Prince Philip dropping his latest crocked jam- jar off at the Arches and Meghan and Kate kicking off down the allotments. Mick Carter could stick “By Royal Disappointment” on the front of the Vic, or rub a magic beer bottle until a Eugenie pops out to grant his wishes. Linda might get a few funny looks if she asks Karen to give her regal muff a good service, mind. Dyer’s Right Royal Family sees the wide-boy actor in full Carter mode taking “a pipe” at palaces and castles – that’s actual castles, not rhyming slang. We learned his ancestors were more Wolf Hall than Walford on Who Do You Think You Are, and the Beeb are wringing that out like a Queen Vic bar towel (even though millions of us share the same lineage). The result was part Joey Essex, part Philomena Cunk. “Why ain’t I plotting up there tonguing up a princess?” Dan asked. Please tell me he’s sending himself up. London opinion on the cartoon Cockney is divided. Some see King Dan as a diamond geezer who deserves his filthy lucre; others think he’s just a crown and anchor.
NO wonder Les Miserables needed songs. The show is so grim Hayley Slater could watch it to cheer herself up. Peephole aside, the closest we get to a hint of sexual chemistry is Javert the cop’s weird obsession with Valjean. What’s his problem? Yes Valjean stole a loaf of bread and a farthing off of a kid years ago. But the ex-jailbird is clearly reformed and a force for good. Yet Javert can’t let him be... it’s almost as disconcerting as George Alagiah’s new beard.
HOT on TV: Emma Mackey, Sex Education (Netflix)... The Paras... BROS: After The Screaming Stops.
ROT on TV: Gemma Collins as Marilyn, Dancing On Ice – some like it not... Danny Dyer’s Right Royal Family – pony and trap... Tidying Up with Marie Kondo (Netflix).
IT Ain’t Half Hot Mum was written by Dad’s Army’s Croft & Perry and ran for five hit series. Yet the BBC won’t screen a single one of the show’s 56 episodes in honour of the late Windsor Davies in case it “offends” anyone. What they mean is in case it offends some po-faced PC bore. We’ve suffered decades of joke censorship and over-promotion of chronic right-on comics and all it has achieved is the death of primetime comedy. Give Windsor his tribute you Muppets. Let battery sergeant-major Tudor roar once more.
THINGS we should invent: 1) a new button on our remotes to silence over-blown and patronising TV background music. 2) A torch that only shines on things worth seeing. 3) A transporter. Come on boffins, Captain Kirk had one 53 years ago.
*GEMMA Collins fell out with Jason Gardiner. Whose side should we be on? Tough question. It’s like having to choose between cholera and the bubonic plague.
*SEX Education teaches us a lot. Mostly that not all Netflix shows are worth watching.
*TRUE Detective is set in Arkansas, pronounced Ah-Can-Saw, but the cast mumble so much we’re left shouting at the screen “Ah Can’t Hear!” Why do actors think indecipherable dialogue makes them Brando?
SMALL joys of TV: Lucy Worsley’s rib-tickling pronunciation of any word with an R in it, especially “brute”. The ladies toilet fight on Punisher. Old Rachel footage on Cold Feet. Star Trek: Discovery. The Curse of Oak Island (History).
RANDOM NTA irritations: Informer wasn’t a drama contender, Girlfriends was. Killing Eve got zilch. Ambulance being in the same category as Bake Off. That ugly award – it looks like a masochist’s dildo. The life-sapping length of it all.
TV Maths. Owen Jones + Purdey’s hair = Rainbow’s Geoffrey Hayes.
FATHER & Secret Son: Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69 and Rory Stewart? One sang Borstal Breakout, the other is minister for prisons.
TV questions: Is Ivor Baddiel a name or Theresa May’s Brexit slogan? Is Lucy Worsley aware she has trouble with her Rs? Is Marie Kondo what Keith Lemon would call “bang tidy”?
JAN 20. THE only sex education we ever got as kids was a grim warning to stay away from the school lollipop man. How times change. If Sex Education can be believed, our secondary schools are throbbing with sexual dysfunction these days. And there isn’t a single problem that can’t be solved by a 16-year-old virgin misfit. Well I say “our” secondary schools but the Netflix comedy drama exists in a bizarre alternate universe where modern British kids dress like pupils at a 1980s US high school. They’re also unusually keen to discuss their bedroom hang-ups with straight-laced Otis – a “weird kid who looks like a Victorian ghost”.
His randy, sex guru mum Jean – a deadpan Gillian Anderson – embarrasses Otis on a daily basis. The boy is so traumatised by her rampant love-life and phallic art he can’t even jack his own beanstalk. Yet he seems to have absorbed all of her dubious wisdom and become the font of all carnal knowledge. Enter Adam, the headmaster’s son, who is hung like an Andalusian donkey but can’t reach his vinegar. As a result of Otis’ lousy advice, Adam exposes himself in the school canteen and gets dumped for being a flasher... This public humiliation apparently counts as a success and inspires Maeve, the super-smart rebel (and in old money, the school bike), to persuade Otis to give therapy sessions and cut her in on the profits.
Otis’ best mate is gay Eric who is bullied for having once got aroused in public during a band’s live performance. Adam calls him “tromboner”. Unfair! He actually blows a French horn... as indeed, given the opportunity, would Maeve. The series is filmed in south Wales but is set in a kind of woke fantasy town where “non-judgemental”, anything-goes C4-style views are the norm. Porky’s it ain’t. The music is last century, the look is pure old school Yank – varsity jackets and lockers in the corridor – but the problems could have been filched from today’s paper. Future episodes tackle STDs, revenge porn and abortion. Everyone at Moordale High is either “thinking about shagging, about to shag, or actually shagging”. That was the only bit I believed.
SOME Roast Battle comedians are lamer than our government and the official opposition combined, but when the bookings work the show can be brutal. Tom Allen described pasty-faced Glaswegian Larry Dean as “what the dead baby from Trainspotting looks like now”. He also claimed Larry “looked like he learned to be gay in prison; shower sex in D wing is to him what finishing school was to Princess Grace of Monaco.” Dean hit back: “Tom is a paedophile’s worst nightmare – a baby dressed as a lawyer.” “You’re both gay men,” quipped host Jimmy Carr. “But at least Tom has the decency to let people know from 400 paces.” Joel Dommett masterfully claimed that Katharine Ryan’s boyfriend Alex Edelman looks like “an ugly version of all of the Beatles”. Judges Ryan and Jonathan Ross are often just as sharp. It’s worth watching just for Brennan Reece’s unprintable Chewbacca gag.
JEN and Pete were at it in the front seat of their car on Cold Feet until the cops turned up. “That’s not the handbrake but don’t stop tugging it,” he told her, I’d imagine. Even the nodding dog on the back shelf was nodding sideways. Adam was more embarrassing. Now in full-blown midlife crisis, he’s dying his hair – those jet-black eyebrows wouldn’t look out of place on a killer clown – and lusting after a coffee shop barista who was actually dating his son. (On TV older women with toy-boys are vibrant and liberated while men attracted to younger women are always deluded and sad.) Cold Feet has a warm heart, clouded occasionally by unexpected darkness. At times the laughs feel too forced – the heavy-handed “conte” jokes felt more like Mrs Brown does Benidorm. Jen and Pete still work well though. She has a lump worry now, but enough about Pete.
HAVING sex in a car is one thing, but sex in a car driven by the Duke of Edinburgh – that’s really risky.
*WHAT advice would Otis from Sex Education give car rompers? Always check the mirror before you manoeuvre... It’s safer to hand-crank... At all costs never say: “You push and I’ll ram it into second”.
*ADAM never really got over poor Rachel. He should move to Walford, the dead there rise more often than they do in Sunnydale.
HOT on TV: Adrianne Palicki, The Orville (Fox)... new Punisher (Netflix)... Jimmy Carr, Roast Battles UK (ComCen).
ROT on TV: Bird Box – bird-brained... the Gillette ad... Celebrity Coach Trip – they’re not celebs, not entertaining and should’ve been left stranded in Espania with a raging bull.
*WHEN Jeff Bezos fell for TV presenter Lauren Sanchez do you think he got a message from Amazon saying “You might also enjoy Susannah Reid and Christine Lampard”?
*POSSIBLE names for the new EastEnders gay bar: the Queen Albert, the Dirtier Den, Bottoms Up, Minute Meat Mart, Wellard’s, Sonia’s Strumpets, Albert’s Dare...
*PATRICIA Arquette is unrecognisable as Joyce “Tilly” Mitchell on Escape At Dannemora. She’s like the front door of Wormwood Scrubs – entered by prisoners on a daily basis. Tilly’s in charge of the sewing machines, which is apt as she’s constantly bobbin’ on top of Matt and Sweat. Everything in this slow-burn prison break drama actually happened.
*SAS Who Dares Wins makes Ninja Warriors look like Tipping Point. But the show isn’t about gym bunnies sweating like Trump at a spelling bee. It reminds us Special Forces recruits have to be self-reliant, brave, mentally tough and reliable – as that off-duty SAS sergeant in Nairobi just demonstrated. Fit and strong alone won’t cut it.
*ARDAL O’Hanlan complains about having to film Death In Paradise in a 22-week block. The hell these poor, hard-working thesps go through. Imagine being paid fortunes to spend nearly six months with all that sun and sea, missing out on the endless Brexit bulls****, with free flights, free chow and a ready supply of alcohol. Millions must feel his pain.
*DO The Right Thing With Eamonn & Ruth? If only we could. Anyone got a dungeon?
*THE best way to enjoy Bird Box? Blindfolded... and listening to the audio-book.
SMALL joys of TV: Old-time Ska on the Death In Paradise soundtrack and Shyko Amos as Ruby Paterson. Kristen Bell, The Good Place. American History’s Biggest Fibs and baton-twirling Lucy Worsley. The Grand Tour. Schitt Creek. True Detective back on form.
JAN 13. ICONS successfully shafted my New Year’s resolution to stop shouting at the telly. What a travesty! Why is David Bowie pop’s only contender? Was he really more significant than Elvis or Aretha Franklin? Imagine McCartney or Elton John watching this at home thinking, “How much more have I got to do?” In typical patronising, we-know-best style, the Beeb want us to pick the greatest icon of the 20th century, but we can only vote for people they chose. Like Gertrude Bell. She certainly achieved tremendous things but how many people could pick her out of a police line-up? Ditto Roosevelt. The 1930s US President was a great man; and a reminder that the American dream once meant more than just trampling over the other guy... but what would his picture score on Pointless? It’s Che Guevara’s image that lives on, not FDR’s.
Tanni Grey-Thompson was a magnificent athlete, winning eleven golds in her paralympic career, but is she really a bigger sporting contender than George Best, Ronnie O’Sullivan or Jimmy Wilde?
You can understand the BBC wanting to keep mass murderers like Mao, Adolf and Uncle Joe at bay, but it’s perverse to blank Sinatra, Dylan and the Queen. Groucho, John Wayne, Johnny Cash and Otis are all AWOL, along with Jagger, Bogart, Louis Armstrong, Attlee, Dali, Hendrix, Freddie Mercury, Jesse Owen and Ronald Reagan. Reducing the series to box-ticking exercise ensured it reflects BBC-approved values, i.e. the views of what Clarkson called “seven people in Islington” (terribly unfair on the 37 who live in Hampstead). And they really didn’t want Churchill to win, hitting the great bulldog with digs about the Bengal famine (caused by Japan occupying Burma in 1943... when there just might have been a few other things going on) and allegations of racism. By today’s standards Winnie had some dodgy views, but so did most people decades ago – H.G. Wells supported eugenics, Castro persecuted gays, T.S. Eliot was a raving anti-Semite... Besides, Gallipoli was Winston’s real Achilles heel; that and the failed Norway campaign. Niall Ferguson would’ve put Churchill’s case better than Sir Trevor McDonald, himself a broadcasting colossus compared to Dermot O’Dreary... Questions kept occurring. If this was about British icons, where was Tommy Cooper? If it’s global, where’s Pavarotti? Why does it have to be a half-baked contest anyway? Why not just celebrate the greats?
WHAT a start to the year! We’ve had more new TV shows than there are bloody atrocities in Luther. And the funniest by a country mile was... Silent Witness! In one laugh-out-loud scene, a cop was dispatched to confront a potential murderer who was using a public phone (younger readers, ask your Nan). The phone box was completely empty, but she still opened the door and looked inside. Who did she think the killer-caller was, Ant-Man? Then she glanced up the street and radioed in: “Area searched. No trace.” With brains like that she’ll be Met Commissioner by Christmas. The barking mad BBC drama is the gift that keeps us giggling. British forensics experts call killers “perps” and solve crimes that baffle Plod. The scripts come with a right-on subtext. It’s like ishoo bingo: transphobia, tick, evil Tory cuts, tick, dodgy squaddie... HOUSE!
HAS poor Rita been pranked on Corrie? On Wednesday she had an advert in the Kabin window for a “French polisher” – unsavoury slang for the sort of service Hilda Ogden never supplied, not even on honeymoon. By ’eck, if the next ad says “beautiful butterfly needs mounting” we’ll know for sure that a red light district is operating within easy reach of Rosamund Street.
HOT on TV: Martin Clunes, Manhunt... SAS: Who Dares Wins... Hunted... When Heroes Fly, Netflix... The Paras: Men Of War.
ROT on TV: Nish Kumar, Question Time – Death In Paradise has more depth... Icons – more chronic than iconic... Cleaning Up – turning off.
BREXIT: The Uncivil War was weird, messy and unsatisfying, a bit like adding lentils to a jam butty. Benedict Cabbage-patch was mesmerising as geeky free-thinking Leave campaign co-ordinator Dominic Cummings, even if his accent went around the houses like a plastered postman. But his performance was sabotaged by the nitwittery of other Leave politicians who were all written as cartoon grotesques. The “impartial” Channel 4 drama had Aaron Banks played by the bloke best known as cranky Corrie villain Jez Quigley. No bias there, then. In contrast, Remain main man Craig Oliver (Rory Kinnear) was calm, reasonable and articulate – a portrayal no doubt completely uninfluenced by show adviser Craig Oliver. Brexit? Botched it.
*STUART Halfway’s a staunch Remainer – there’s no getting rid of that prat.
ITV have chosen to ignore my advice to liven up Dancing On Ice with a few strategically placed paraffin heaters. A shame. Great ice-skating can be magical. Unfortunately most of their skaters fall shorter than Jane Danson’s skirt. Gemma Collins has the easy grace of a P&O ferry. The only “triple axel” the GC knows is the truck that transports her to and from the rink.
*I LOVE Cathy on Two Doors Down but if she were your neighbour in a Glasgow suburb wouldn’t you be tempted to move to Arbroath or possibly rural Nebraska just to get the hell away from her?
*ALFIE on EastEnders ain’t a bad bloke. He’s just fallen in with the wrong crowd – his family.
*WILL Amazon boss Jeff Bezos’ divorce be a mini-series? Imagine the divorce papers being delivered by one of his drivers... arriving late, in an over-sized box, and tossed under next door’s hedge...
SMALL joys of TV: Ragnar v Rollo on Vikings, 5Spike. Mark Little duncing on ice. Catastrophe. Doon Mackichen, Two Doors Down. Neal Brennan, Netflix. Adeel Akhtar, Les Mis. Jameela Jamil, The Good Place. The Orville, Fox. Father Brown. On Drums... Stewart Copeland!
RANDOM irritations:. Clearly staged “random audience chats” on entertainment shows. Grating padding on The Greatest Dancer. The BBC imposing “Common Era” on us (still no common sense). Most Haunted – it is to honest inquiry what Wayne Rooney is to sobriety.
TV Maths. Alan Carr + chips = Gavin Spokes, Brexit: The Uncivil War.
TV questions: shouldn’t Oti Mabuse be spelt OTT? Will Gemma Collins’ skating partner go from a triple lutz to a double hernia? Do ITV know Cleaning Up is nicked wholesale from the Boulting Brothers film Ladies Who Do? If not, wanna buy my entirely original story Passport To Paddington about a resilient London district that declares UDI from the rest of Britain?
JAN 6 2019. Luther is brilliant. Granted it’s far-fetched, gory and totally bonkers – the modern equivalent of a Victorian Penny Dreadful. But it grips like EastEnders’ Ray Kelly on his wedding day. The mean streets Idris Elba walks as DCI John Luther get meaner by the series. This time around a psychopathic serial killer found a use for roofing nails that has so far eluded the good people of DIY SOS. He also ripped out his victims’ eyeballs, although I hear they may still have bright futures ahead of them as WBC boxing judges.
The killer wore a mask studded with LED lights which made him look like a reject from Vic & Bob’s Novelty Island. There was nothing funny about his death toll, though. His brutal assault upstairs on a Number 15 to Aldgate will keep the lower decks of London buses pilchard-packed for weeks to come. The LED lights apparently confuse CCTV; the plot occasionally confused me. There was more misdirection here than at a Derren Brown stage show. In a nutshell: Luther was kidnapped and beaten up by his gangster archenemy George Cornelius because, unknown to John, his demented occasional lover Alice Walker had kidnapped Geo’s boy. Alice wasn’t dead! She just swerved the last series as she was off having an affair in The Affair. She was selling stolen diamonds when George double-crossed her. So she kidnapped (and later killed) his son.
You felt for newbie DS Halliday plunged into this lunacy. “Is this normal?” she asked. Only for Luther. Elba plays him as a swaggering avenging angel in an ill-fitting overcoat. The bad guys were sadistic surgeon Jeremy and Vivien, his frosty psychiatrist missus played by Hermione “Cold Feet” Norris. She watched him deliberately slice into a woman on the operating table and told him “You were aroused sexually, I could see it.” It’s those gowns, they don’t do up properly; I blame NHS cuts. The gruesome twosome sacrificed her patient – a creep who got off on turning his private parts into a pin cushion – but couldn’t fend off the righteous hand of justice. It ended with Halliday dead, Alice apparently dead (again) and Luther in cuffs. Writer Neil Cross wanted to make this the darkest and scariest series to date. Well guess what? His wish came true. The sick bastard.
*TV’s Top 5 toughest cops who aren’t John Luther: 1) Regan & Carter, The Sweeney 2) Vic Mackey, The Shield 3) Andy Sipowicz, NYPD Blue 4) Gene Hunt, Life On Mars 5) Norm Buntz, Hill Street Blues.
WE had a Dalek streaker on Doctor Who – a Dalek out of his shell. It looked like the ugliest squid you ever saw... or as Gregg Wallace called it, dinner. The naked nuisance latched on to archaeologist Lin at a dig and took over her mind, much like the alien slugs in Heinlein’s Puppet Masters. It was briefly terrifying. But Chris Chibnall’s script got bogged down in soapy subplots with the Doc lecturing Ryan’s dad about parental responsibility. (Has Chibbers forgotten the Doc’s own daughter Jenny? She clearly has.) The Dalek built itself a new pepper-pot in a junkyard in minutes, as conveniently as the Doc whipped up her magic wand from scratch, and set off to contact his fleet... Daleks were exterminated years ago. But until Chibnall can create a decent modern nemesis he’ll have to go back to Who’s old enemies. If only they could dig up the old writers... This series has been an odd mix of CBBC-level stories, precious little sci-fi and way too much virtue signalling (Enid Right-on?). Jodie Whittaker started well but her character has no depth and too many so-so companions. Like the series which lingered too long in Sheffield, Yasmin’s a waste of space. Save the Doctor, ditch the Chib.
CRACKING comedy documentaries saved holiday TV. From Peter Sellers to Billy Connolly, it was a joyful reminder of how much effort great talents put into their performances. Turns like Doddy and Buster Keaton didn’t just stroll up and think “this’ll do” like today’s third-rate Royal Variety stand-ups. They were devoted to their craft, honing it to perfection. If vintage footage of comic greats was a poignant reminder of what we’ve lost, ITV’s “celebration” of the London Studios made you suspect they never knew what they had. The show was mostly devoted to Lorraine, This Morning, GMB and Loose Women – an insult to the giants who graced LWT’s stages over 46 years. Then Bassey, Dame Edna, Freddie Starr, Mel Brooks. Now, Piers Morgan. Why not revive An Audience With for the best modern entertainers?
HOT on TV: Idris Elba, Luther... Escape At Dannemora (SkyAt)... Lily Collins, Les Miserables... Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (Netflix).
ROT on TV: Delicious – indigestible... Insert Name Here – insert point first... The Greatest Dancer – murder on the dance floor... Britain’s Favourite Chocolate Bar – give us a break.
TV questions: is Luther pronounced “loo-fah” because many women would like to find a good use for him in a warm bath? Does Lucy Worsley think BBC stands for Big Box of Costumes? Why aren’t there any female Daleks? Who do they in-sem-in-ate? If they have no one to polish their plungers it’d explain why they’re so ruddy angry. And what happened to the Ood? Are they all dood?
*I WON’T make a song and dance about Les Miserables... and neither have the Beeb. The big shock isn’t how much music is AWOL from the telly but how much of the story is missing from the musical.
*CARLA Connor in leathers playing snooker on Corrie... Clear the table? You’d climb Ben Nevis for a view like that. Peter Barlow was delighted. He was looking at an easy pink.
*JANE McDonald was on TV five times on New Year’s Eve. Who does she think she is, Bradley Walsh?
*THEY’RE opening a gay bar on EastEnders. So at least when Grant Mitchell next comes back his butch black leather look will finally fit in.
SMALL joys of TV: BROS: After The Screaming Stops. Mel going cross-eyed like a silent movie star as Ray strangled her on EastEnders. Incredible Buster Keaton footage (Sky Arts). Patrick Malahide in Luther, although he’ll always be Charlie Chisholm to me.
RANDOM irritations: Obscure nonentities touted as “celebrities” in the festive barrage of dumbed-down celeb specials. Millions of us turn into Nikki Grahame shrieking “Who is she/he?” at the screen. Celeb Mastermind is the worst offender as most are neither.
*FIVE shows that should be on the History Channel: Britain Had Talent. London’s Burnt. I Was A Celebrity, Leave Me Be. Strictly Came Dancing. Who Did You Think You Were?
*THE Truth About Vegans? They’re whiney, sanctimonious, proselytising bastards.
*CHANNEL 5. 8.25: The Best Of Jeremy Vine. 8.26?
SEPARATED at birth: Suzi Ruffell and The Joker? One a comical nightmare with over-sized choppers... the other one fought Batman.
TV Maths. Fred from First Dates + Billy Gibbons’ beard = Javert on Les Mis.