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.
Jan 26. STAR Trek: Picard finds heroic Jean-Luc living on his idyllic family vineyard in France with his loyal pit bull, Number One. He’d be happy too, if he wasn’t haunted by dreams of his old pal Data, the sentient android who perished in 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis. Picard, 92, is pulled out of retirement by a young woman called Dahj who turns out to be Data’s “daughter”. Not only is Dahj dishy – “set phasers to stunning”, Captain Kirk fans might say – she’s also a nifty killing machine. And that’s particularly handy when you see poor old Picard struggling to climb up stairs. He takes so long I thought the show was buffering.
Jean-Luc was always more thoughtful than James T. Kirk, but he’ll fight when he has to... just as soon as he finds his bus pass. The beautifully shot sci-fi drama is slower too, though it livens up when Dahj kicks ass. Space was “the final frontier” for Kirk, but Star Trek has become an endless franchise. It’s spawned 13 films, seven spin-off TV series, umpteen books, cartoons, comics and theme park attractions Kirk was always my captain, yet Picard’s The Next Generation took Star Trek to another level. Inspired additions included the Holodeck, evil genius Q, the Soviet-like Borg, and Jeri Ryan’s 7 Of 9 who is surely No 1 in any discerning fan’s Top Ten space babes. (Although I did dream of penetrating the Delphic Expanse with T’Pol... )
We don’t know what innovations Picard will produce (Discovery has spore-drive, Voyager had the holographic doctor), but there’s already good news from the future – we’ll still be drinking wine in 2397. (No word on Brexit). Let’s hope Kirk’s optimism and pioneer zeal are still in the mix because rogue Romulans are operating out of Borg cubes. The alien threat remains but boy we’ve come a long way from Klingons on the starboard bow.
I HAVE a soft spot for the BBC largely because of the cracking comedy I grew up with. But that’s part of the problem. It’s a mighty long way from Fletcher and Fawlty, Eric and Ernie to Hold The Sunset... and it’s all been downhill. King Gary? Kin’ hell. Most BBC dramas these days are dire or drearily “woke”, and their political coverage is as well balanced as a sozzled Jean-Claude Junker on a high wire in a thunderstorm. The Corporation has become a bloated, biased behemoth, sustained by the licence fee which effectively featherbeds failure. Few people under 35 want to watch it, let alone pay for it.
AVENUE 5 is billed as a sci-fi comedy but sadly the laughs are lost in space. The titular Avenue 5 is a huge space-cruise-ship making its maiden voyage around Saturn until an accident throws it off course for three years (the sci-fi is iffy too). Few of the characters are likeable, charming Captain Ryan is not what he seems, and they’re lumbered with the company’s rich but dim owner Judd, a man-child who is only slightly more irritating than haemorrhoids. Titters are few and its message seems to be: people suck. Star Trek was powered by humane liberalism. Avenue 5 seems to hate humanity.
HOT on TV: Isa Briones, Star Trek: Picard (AmPrime)... Rush: Time Stand Still (SkyArts), R.I.P. Neil Peart.
ROT on TV: Avenue 5 – star bores... Sick Of It – never a truer word... AJ & The Queen... Crazy Delicious – I’d rather have a bacon butty.
DEAF subtitles are still delivering gems. Patrick Stewart, chatting to Graham Norton about LA’s Tower Bar, apparently said: “I’m expecting so many females now.” (He actually said “free meals”). Victoria Derbyshire talked about tackling “a lack of chippies” (GPs). Boris Johnson “couldn’t get Adele” (a deal). A ship “went through the sewerage canal” (Suez). And funniest of the lot, “the Trump administration” became “trumpet menstruation”. Bloody hell.
CHRIS Packham’s 7.7 Billion & Counting was a muddled mess. But he’s basically right. There are too many people on the planet, and we are living too long. Possible solutions: Fewer vegans, more cannibals. Slash tax on fags. Start small war. Colonise Mars. Revive death penalty for killers and child molesters. Start each day with the Linda Carter breakfast livener. Cheers! Happy to help.
*FOUR ex-Strictly celebs risked screen death on Midsomer Murders’ ballroom excursion. So why not Russell Grant? With his dancing, homicide would have been justifiable.
*ONE died amusingly of “SCD” – not Strictly Come Dancing, sudden cardiac death.
*DID you clock Bradley Walsh’s eyebrows on Breaking Dad? Did he inherit them from Denis Healey? Brad, mate, the challenge was to get more high-brow.
*JIMMY Carr on Noel Fielding: “His comedy style is described as surreal, which is a nice way of saying ‘has no ****ing jokes’.”
*HERE’S something The UnXplained never asks: why is William Shatner making cack like this instead of comedy dramas. Boston Legal fans watch and weep.
SMALL Joys of TV: George “Rubberneck” Holmes, Sunday Night At The London Palladium (Talking Pictures). Robert Bathurst. Baga Chipz. Mark Addy. Diamond Dealers & Cockney Geezers. Jett’s Carla Gugino.
RANDOM irritations: Dancing On Ice – too long, too dull, too much virtue signalling, too little action or honest criticism. One-sided vegan dross – hit back, eat a sausage sarnie every time one airs; it works for me.
SEPARATED at birth: Jim Jones on BBC4’s Jonestown and Engelbert Humperdinck? One made a million spines go cold... but enough about The Last Waltz.
QUOTE of the week – Jamie Oliver was slicing corn cobs with a large knife when he said: “Don’t go in too deep, just go in shallow with the tip of your chopper.”
Jan 19. “COLD feet, warm heart” we used to say. “Cold Feet, no laughs” might be more apt now. It was of course hugely moving when Jenny took off her wig to reveal her thinning wisps of white hair caused by chemo. It was bold, shocking, tasteful... and completely out of kilter with an episode featuring a fight so feeble it made Klitschko v Povetkin look like pay-per-view gold. “Do you have a problem with women?” David snapped after Adam had pooh-poohed an idea from his date Mary. “I had no problem pulling yours,” replied the Ulsterman, who’s now living with David’s ex-wife Karen. And bosh! They were at it. A push, a pull, a tumble, a roll on the cobbles... you’ll see better tear-ups in a coma ward. Ray Donovan has rougher sex.
Adam was suspended from work for accidentally upsetting someone young and “woke”. Making a speech at a colleague’s leaving do he’d quipped that in her case HR stood for “hand relief”. This was apparently “offensive” and “belittled women” – even though his colleague didn’t mind and the gag could just as easily have been used for a man. Natch it ended with a contrite Adam apologising and accepting a written warning; another triumph for generation snowflake. It would surely have been more in character if he’d told his boss to poke her job up her arse. This is Cold Feet’s ninth series, and like all soaps it’s getting ridiculous.
It’s hard to see what snobby Karen sees in gobby Adam, or why anyone would want to be in a pub quiz team with him. I’m not sure why the blokes hang out with wet Pete either. Or why David has lost all of his ambition. Once a well-paid management consultant, he’s now happily waiting tables in Mary’s caff. Ideally he’d win Karen back and Adam would be chasing 20-something baristas again, cracking inappropriate “grind” jokes.
HOW could the BBC let Doctor Who get into such a mess? Orphan 55 stank like a squadron of Slitheens on a high-fibre diet. Team Tardis were holidaying at Tranquillity Spa, an oasis of pleasure on a hostile planet with a poisoned atmosphere. Before long they were under attack from dim but aggressive CO2-breathing monsters, the Dregs. The entirely predictable twist was that this was future earth (the Planet of the Apes reveal, without the shock.) Dystopian futures are a sci-fi staple, but this badly-written shambles was more about ramming home a heavy-handed eco-message than thrilling us. The hypocritical gits completely undermined that message by flying to Tenerife to film it though. Lame jeopardy, iffy science and uninspired monsters won’t save this ailing show. Compare it to Stranger Things, Orphan Black or Star Trek: Picard and weep.
*GRAHAM won their holiday with coupons from “an intergalactic newspaper”. And to think people say print is doomed...
LOUIS Theroux: Selling Sex. Not a business idea you’d care to pitch on Dragons’ Den... or as it happened a show with much investigative depth. Theroux, as usual displaying as much emotion as an Easter Island statue, chatted to three women who were on the game in different ways. Single mum-of-four Victoria was charging £250 an hour in hotels. Sixty-something Caroline romped with her husband’s half-hearted approval... It was a world away from the harsh realities of much modern prostitution involving smuggled sex slaves from Eastern Europe, Nigeria and Vietnam. Not for the first time, Louis missed the real story. But at least we can be fairly certain that old stone face isn’t on The Masked Singer. Not so sure about Victoria.
*CAROLINE offered a “real girlfriend experience”. Presumably sitting with her back to you, doing her nails and watching Love Island.
*IT’S obvious The Masked Singer is a Korean format. Like their local delicacy it’s a dog.
HOT on TV: Good Omens... This Is Our Family: The Borgs... The Outsider (SkyAt)... Catching A Killer.
ROT on TV: The New Pope – papal bull... Love Island’s terrible twins... Silent Witness – makes In The Night Garden look like gritty reality.
THE way Piers Morgan uses every opportunity to have a pop at Meghan Markle because she stopped liking him, you’d think she was the only one... Piers was so intent on getting his opinions heard over everyone else’s on Monday that at one point he interrupted himself.
BEST fight of the week: Chris v Jerrome on SAS: Who Dares Win. Chris hit like Storm Brendan. Most uncomfortable fight: Bethany v Jay/“Jamie”. Jay out-boxed plucky Beth but I wouldn’t fancy his chances against Caroline Flack.
*THE BBC say EastEnders will kill off a “top star” next month. Do us a favour, kill ’em all. One good asteroid strike should do it.
*ROMESH needs a new agent. On Sunday a whole hour of TV went by without any trailers for his next three series.
*THE statuesque Dana Gillespie popped up on Hazell (Talking Pictures TV). She had a 1970s single called Weren’t Born A Man which on reflection was pretty damn obvious.
SMALL Joys of TV: Jodie Turner-Smith, Jett. Fleur Perkins, Midsomer. The SAS sickener. Cobra. Captain Kirk’s old conman adversary Harry Mudd resurfacing on Discovery. Rob Delaney – Justice. New Simpsons (Sky1).
RANDOM irritations: the skating-to-chat ration on Dancing On Ice. C4’s vegan bombardment. Dr Who’s sickly scripts – why not hire sci-fi writers instead of clots with issue-driven sixth form agendas?
SEPARATED at birth: “Cybil War” and Dee Snider? One sang We’re Not Going To Take It, the other seems to be managing to take everything they throw at him on SAS: Who Dares Wins.
CLASSIC Clanger: John Virgo was discussing Ronnie O’Sullivan’s snooker technique when he said: “Sometimes he follows through with such force he knocks the chalk out of his pockets.”
Jan 12. DID you see it? The mounting dread, the unbridled horror, the sheer mindless carnage? No, not Dracula – The Masked Singer. Lord knows ITV have served up some duds before. But 90minutes watching overpaid dopes trying to guess which minor celebrity is doing a crappy karaoke demolition of Like A Virgin in a duck suit... who the fudge gives a stuff?
The show might work if there were genuinely famous singers behind the masks. The US version had Gladys Knight, La Toya Jackson and Donny Osmond. Their winner was chart-topping rap star T-Pain. We had Patsy “Rickayyy!” Palmer (Ear-Pain) and former Home Secretary Alan Johnson. How would we know what they sound like singing? Why would we care?
Who next, James “Arg” Argent? John Bercow? The geezer off of the Go Compare ads? More likely John Barrowman, Vinnie Jones and another chance not to enjoy the dulcet tones of Martin Bashir...
Maybe I’m doing ITV a disservice. Maybe last night they rolled out Stormzy or Bruce Springsteen. But after wasting three ruddy hours of my life on this tripe I wasn’t inclined to stick around and find out. They don’t even sing live, it’s all pre-recorded. There’s not much competition involved – the four judges only battle to see who can make the most inane comments and ridiculous guesses... Margot Robbie? Idris Elba? Helen Mirren? Come off it, Wossy. Even if they were available they’d still pick Graham Norton over this. How is it even on air? Either someone is taking backhanders from Netflix or Ken Jeong’s drug baron Leslie Chow from The Hangover laced the ITV bosses’ morning meths with LSD. Either way, if the intention was to hasten the demise of mainstream Saturday night telly, it worked.
*TV’s Top 5 entertainment flops: 1) Naked Jungle 2) Sing If You Can 3) Red Or Black 4) Don’t Scare The Hare 5) Flock Stars.
ON The Trial Of Christine Keeler, Johnny Edgecombe got sent down for seven years. “I was framed,” he protested. He wasn’t. He’d blatantly fired a gun at the mews home where Keeler, his ex, was staying. But here’s the odd thing. When Johnny emptied his pistol into number 17 Wimpole Mews, his taxi driver didn’t even blink. Not many London cabbies are that blasé about gun crime, even now. It may be different with Uber. But then again he did keep the meter running. No-one comes out of the 60s Profumo scandal well. The BBC want us to sympathise with Christine, 19, a topless dancer and “good-time girl”. Her married lover Tory MP John Profumo is an oily creep and I feel like punching society osteopath/pimp Stephen Ward every time he calls her “little baby”. Profumo’s lies brought down Macmillan’s government but as the official papers aren’t released until 2046 there are clearly bigger shocks to come.
JUST as one royal washout retires from public life, another hits our screens. King Gary’s central relationship, between Tom Davis’s lofty softy Little Gary and his meddling dad Big Gary, is decent but where are the laughs? Parts of this uneven sitcom aim to reflect reality, the rest – like Gal practising his walk, and his irritatingly OTT wife – fell flatter than Norfolk. When Little G can’t deal with building site prankster Lee, Big G rides to the rescue. Sadly he forgets to bring a gag writer. Tom is right, we do desperately need sitcoms in the Porridge/Only Fools & Horses tradition. But saying it and delivering it are two very different things. Sadly this is no more comedy gold than a small child’s doodle pad is the Mona Lisa.
HOT on TV: Dolly Wells, Dracula... Suzar, The Voice... Ella Balinska, Midsomer Murders... SAS: Who Dares Wins.
ROT on TV: The Masked Singer – not so much “Take it off!” as “Turn it off!”... Davina – brings McCall to the party... Death In Paradise – paradise lost.
Hot NOT on TV: Ricky Gervais, Golden Globes.
THE opening episodes of Dracula had real bite, but the last instalment lost the plot as Drac – played by Claes Bang as six foot of prime Danish ham – adapted to the Instagram age. Much was made of the big Count batting for both sides, but Dolly Wells stole the show as cynical but heroic Sister Agatha.
*SAS: Who Dares Wins. Isle of Raasay. 9.05. Korey: “I just don’t want to fail.” 9.07. Korey: “I can’t run.” 9.10. Exit Korey, along with Amos who couldn’t swim...
*HOW long before we get the spin-off SAS: Who Dares Cooks with Ant and the lads showing us how to rustle up a three course banquet from a Raasay vole and a fist-full of thistles?
*ROSS Kemp’s mind went blank after he sampled Spice. The same thing happened when Eddie Murphy shagged Mel B...
*A SHOCKING atrocity on White House Farm – Stephen Graham’s Welsh accent.
SMALL Joys of TV: Kelly Brook spilling out of her wedding dress, Midsomer Murders. The Goes Wrong Show. Oz. Hazell (Talking Pictures). Father Brown. The High Chaparral (CBS Drama).
RANDOM irritations: The EastEnders writers’ strange belief that Cockneys say “whilst” a lot. Doctor Who’s inane, non-stop chatter. Karaoke TV, we’ve gone way beyond saturation point.
SEPARATED at birth: Richard Arnold and Fix-it Felix, one a grinning twerp in an unreal environment... the other is from an arcade game.
*QUESTIONS. Is Claes Bang any relation to Cillit? Who writes Victoria Coren’s outros on Only Connect? Samuel Beckett?
Jan 5. IT was the year The X Factor shed viewers faster than Simon Cowell lost weight, Caroline Flack was charged with assault, and the Woking branch of Pizza Express got unexpectedly twinned with the House of Windsor. Game Of Thrones fizzled out, Maura Higgins came clean about her “fanny flutters” and Luther put Londoners off travelling on the top deck of the Number 15 bus to Aldgate forever. But what else was hot and rot in 2019? To celebrate the highs and lows of the telly year here are my prestigious Bushell Awards for TV Achievement.
SHOW of the Year: Chernobyl. This superb drama series, based on the real-life 1986 nuclear disaster in the Soviet Ukraine, was tense, terrifying and utterly authentic. It was also a handy reminder of the legacy of Stalinism.
Turkey of the Year: Icons. Bonkers BBC box-ticking managed to keep Elvis, Sinatra, The Queen, Tommy Cooper and John Wayne out of the running for top icon of the 20th Century.
Top Drama: Succession, Jesse Armstrong’s brilliantly dark comic drama about a loathsome media family. None of the characters are remotely likeable yet the show still gripped like Superglue. Runners-up: Top Boy. The Virtues. The Capture.
Flop Drama: The War Of The Worlds. Most Over-Rated: Gentleman Jack.
The Dick van Dyke award for worst TV accent: actor Brian Gleeson as Mad Jimmy McClavern on Peaky Blinders. He sounded like he was from the far East End of Glasgow... somewhere around Stavanger.
Best Drama Import: The Loudest Voice. Best Crime Drama: Mindhunter. Best True Crime Drama: A Confession. Runner-up: Unbelievable. Top Cop Show: Line Of Duty. Maddest: Luther Top Cop: Ted Hastings, Line Of Duty. He didn’t float up the Lagan in a bubble. Most Passive-Aggressive Detective: Anna Maxwell Martin as Patricia Carmichael, Line Of Duty. Randiest Screw: Patricia Arquette’s Tilly, Escape At Dannemora, who entertained more convicts than Johnny Cash. Hardest Crime-Fighter: Punisher. Top fight scene: the eye-watering ladies’ loo tear-up on Punisher. Runner-up: every ruck on Warrior. Best axing: Jeremy Kyle.
Biggest Talking Point: The Prince Andrew interview; a slo-mo car crash. Randy Andy claimed he couldn’t remember meeting Virginia Roberts; bet he wishes he could forget meeting Emily Maitlis... (Best nickname for the sweat-free Prince? His Royal Dryness.)
Villain of the Year: Sir Oswald Mosley, Peaky Blinders. Worst advert for public transport: the terrifying bus murder on Luther.
Most welcome murder: Ayria filleting the Night King, Game Of Thrones. Scariest Sex Murder: Popclaw on The Boys who seduced her landlord only to crush his head between her super-strong thighs. Top TV Sex: Fleabag and her Sexy Priest. Wholly unholy. Runner-up: The pub karaoke night knee-trembler on The Bay, possibly to the sound of It Only Takes A Minute Girl. Poshest sex: Mosley “swan-upping” the Swan Lake ballet dancer (Peaky Blinders). Worst sex: MotherFatherSon. Most unexpected seduction: Ayra and Gendry, Game Of Thrones. Top Sex Object (Literally): Jean Smart’s eye-wateringly large blue Dr Manhattan dildo on Watchmen.
Best Documentary Series: Thatcher – A Very British Revolution. Runner-up: Spotlight On The Troubles: A Secret History. Best Music doc series: Country Music by Ken Burns. Funniest pop doc: BROS: After The Screaming Stops. Best Single doc: 8 Days To The Moon & Back. Worst: Gemma Collins, Diva Forever.
Biggest EastEnders mysteries: 1) How did Ben Mitchell stop being deaf? 2) Why did Louise forget she had blackmailed Sharon over her affair with Keanu? 3) How did the dozy locals drive from Walford to Gretna Green, Scotland, in under five hours for Tiffany’s wedding? (Tiff’s “something borrowed” was the plot; dad Fick Rick did the same thing in 1991). Top Soap Quote. Melanie Owen possibly about EastEnders: “It’s never over is it, this thing? It’s never going to end is it?” Nope. Hottest Soap Woman: Chantelle Taylor, EastEnders.
Funniest TV show: Harry Hill’s Alien Fun Capsule. Top comedy drama: Guilt. Top black comedy: Barry. Runners-up: Dead To Me. After Life. Top Sitcom: Catastrophe (UK); The Kominsky Method (USA). Runners-up: Still Game. The Good Place. Worst Sitcom: Warren – War & Peace was funnier. Runner-up: Hold The Sunset. Biggest let-down: This Time with Alan Partridge.
Biggest hypocrite: Frankie Boyle, purveyor of rape jokes and witheringly cruel insults, trying to reinvent himself as a feminist. The annual Last Leg award for Worst Satire: Nish Kumar. Best Off-screen moment: The heckling of Nish Kumar at a Lord’s Taverners charity do. Top panel show: Would I Lie To You?
Best light entertainment host: Michael McIntyre. Worst LE show: Shopping with Keith Lemon. Best dance: Kelvin and Oti’s rumba. Worst ice-dancer: Gemma Collins as Marilyn – some like it not. Worst awards host: Joanna Lumley, Baftas.
Best “Reality” show: The Apprentice. Most promising contender: Thomas Skinner. Most cringe-worthy moment: Ryan-Mark crying on a Thorpe Park rollercoaster. The Joey Essex award for Genius: Riyonn mistaking a rhino for an elephant.
Best Quiz: Mastermind. Worst: The Wall. Best challenge: SAS Who Dares Wins. Best breakfast TV hosts: Piers “Chunky” Morgan and the long-suffering Susanna Reid.
Best sci-fi: Stranger Things. Runner-up: Star Trek Discovery. Best Superhero saga: The Boys. Runner-up: Watchmen Best Performance by an Inanimate Object: the coffee cup on Game Of Thrones. Runner-up: Romesh Ranganathan, Royal Variety.
Best natural history: One Planet, Seven Worlds.
Irritations of 2019: “Woke” virtue-signalling dramas that are more about diversity than story-telling. “Celebrity” bookings you have to Google. Over-excitable Gregg Wallace. TV political bias permeating everything from news to drama via “satire” and debates. Piers Moron claiming the Spice Girls were “the female Beatles”. Clare Balding lecturing us.
Small joys of 2019: Jaime knighting Brienne on Game Of Thrones. Nessa’s proposal, Gavin & Stacey. Legasav’s closing words at the trial on Chernobyl. Gemma Collins’s tumble, Dancing On Ice. Rob Beckett’s Celebs Go Dating commentary. Rylan’s mum, Linda. Eric Bana, Dirty John. Penny Lancaster, Famous & Fighting Crime – an arresting sight.
Top Lookalikes: Elton John and Nicola Sturgeon’s mum. Runners-up: DCI Ronnie Box (Endeavour) and Russ Abbot’s Vince Price. Best transformation: Russell Crowe, The Loudest Voice.
Most unsettling subtitle cock-up, about Ian Hislop & Stacey Dooley (HIGNFY): “Ian and Stacey have sex.” They had six, mercifully.
Top Actor: Stephen Graham, brilliant in Line Of Duty and The Virtues. Runner-up: Billy Bob Thornton, Goliath. Top Actress: Jodie Comer. Runners-up: Paloma Faith, Pennywise; Michelle Williams, Fosse/Verdon; Regina King, Watchmen.
Goof of the year. Jeremy Vine telling an all-male team on Eggheads: “Gentlemen, the time has come for you to knock one out.”
Word of the Year: Prorogue. Name of the year: Annunziata. Top Blonde: Lucie Donlan, Love Island Man of the Year: Thomas Skinner, The Apprentice. Bosh. Woman of the Year: Dina Asher-Smith. Star of the Year: Lee Mack
Jan 1. The 2010s were a terrific decade for television. Here, in order of the year they were screened, are my Top Ten. 2010: The Walking Dead. 2011: Game Of Thrones. 2012: Line Of Duty. 2013: Peaky Blinders. 2014: Fargo. 2015: Catastrophe. 2016: Stranger Things. 2017: Blue Planet II. 2018: Succession. 2019: Chernobyl. Also brilliant: House Of Cards, Catastrophe, The Americans, Black Mirror, Fauda, Fleabag, The Crown, Braquo, The Killing, The Good Place, Breaking Bad, Inside No 9, The Vietnam War and Bojack Horseman.