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.
July 28. I’VE got a lot of sympathy for Geoff Norcott. I’d rather do naked push-ups over a hair-trigger mouse trap than spend time with people called Tarquin or Jemima. You know the type: privileged, poncy, condescending twerps who think they’re better than the rest of us. We met a few on How The Middle Classes Ruined Britain, as Geoff infiltrated posh dating events and rubbed yummy mummies up the wrong way. The BBC occasionally wheel out Norcott for “balance”. He’s always introduced as “a Conservative comedian” which shows how rare such creatures are in TV circles. There’s no need to introduce Adam Hills or Sara Pascoe as smug, left-wing virtue signallers because that goes with the territory. This divide is more to do with class than politics, though. Unlike most TV folk, Geoff is working class and chippy. And okay, some of the show was inverse snobbery played for laughs. But he made good points, especially about well-off families who tell porkies to get their kids into the best state schools.
Kale nibbling, turmeric latte sipping twerps have ruined everything from art to football, via free speech and the Labour Party. They’ve definitely buggered up TV comedy, mucking up Xmas telly in the process. TV execs come from the same clique as the comedians they employ, with Oxbridge heavily over-represented and all the “correct” views in place. It’s much harder for working class voices to be heard. So when a Micky Flanagan or a Kevin Bridges gets through it’s such a rare event I find myself willing them on. Or, in Micky’s case, willing them never to do anything as pony as Detour De France again. Snobbery is a real problem. It’s easy to highlight, but beating it is like trying to drown a fish – nigh on impossible.
*FOR balance, here are the Top 5 middle class sitcoms: 1) The Good Life 2) The Rise & Fall Of Reginald Perrin 3) George & Mildred 4) Keeping Up Appearances 5) Terry & June.
HARRY Hill called Who Do You Think You Are? “a great format if, like me, you enjoy well-known people crying over people they’ve never heard of who died hundreds of years ago.” He had a point. Some episodes should be sub-titled Why Do You Think We Care? But occasionally – Danny Dyer, Boris Johnson, Emma Willis, Larry Lamb – the format hits pay dirt. Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe’s series opener was a belter. His great-great uncle Ernie died in World War One; his Jewish great granddad Samuel killed himself after being accused of staging a robbery at his own Hatton Garden diamond shop. Daniel’s investigation of Samuel’s death took in financial ruin, mental illness and the shadow of antisemitism. Radcliffe was polite and dignified throughout, even when the tears flowed.
ITV’s Beecham House was like a bad curry. It looked terrific but everything else about it – the wooden acting, the woeful writing, the inevitable liberal guilt – stank like a dysentery ward. It could be funny though. Our glum-faced hero John Beecham took a bullet in the chest which left him with a scar the size of a flea bite. And despite being dressed like Indiana Jones, he never broke into a sweat. He couldn’t, the plot moved at the speed of molten tar. The dim dialogue couldn’t have spelt things out more simply if it had come in cartoon speech bubbles. It was less Downton Abbey, more downright shabby.
HOT on TV: Manny Pacquaio…Atlanta…Last Chance U (Netflix)…Human Discoveries (Facebook Watch).
ROT on TV: Beecham House finale – with the emphasis on ham…Shopping With Keith Lemon – bargain basement TV.
I’M in the States where they have their own version of Love Island running in prime-time. The villa is classier but the show lacks the charm of the UK version, not to mention Maura’s mischief and Iain Sterling’s wit. On the plus side there’s no Caroline Flack.
*STEP aside EastEnders, there’s a new reason to cry – Vicky McClure’s improv; a waste of her talent and our time.
*NEXT on Naked & Afraid: Piers Morgan faces bathroom scales.
*THEY had a shower gel with unicorn branding on Shop Well For Less. “What do unicorns smell of?” snorted Alex Jones. “It's just a horse with a horn.” Giddy up!
*WARNING: if you receive an email offering two free tickets to Josh Widdicombe’s October tour DON’T OPEN IT. It’ll be two free tickets to Josh Widdicombe’s October tour. REALLY ran three shows back-to-back on Sunday: Embarrassing Fat Bodies, More Sex Please We’re British and My Extreme Weight Loss. So a problem, a cure and a happy resolution…
SMALL joys of TV: Brooklyn Nine Nine (E4). Eve Myles, Keeping Faith – even though it’s loopy. Dark. Rylan’s mum Linda. Space 1999 (Forces TV). Philip Schofield being off screen for two blissful months.
RANDOM irritations: cheap docs like Who Built The Sphinx? – ten minutes of content squeezed into an hour by repeating questions and the same handful of facts, plus 8minute ad breaks. Gertcha.
SEPARATED at birth: Frasier’s Niles Crane and Gollum? One a slightly unsettling fictional creation who makes us laugh out loud, the other is Gollum.
JULY 21. STRANGE days on Poldark. A branch of Class War, led by Sulky Tess, has opened in Falmouth. Captain Ross has been reborn as a government spy (the name’s Bond, Bodmin Bond). And wicked George Warleggan is losing his marbles. Writer Debbie Horsfield has elbowed the books and given the show a bog standard issue-led BBC make-over, which “t’ain’t right” for many reasons. Firstly, she’s moved the main action from Cornwall to London, so no beaches, breakneck gallops, skinny-dipping or topless scything. She’s ruined George who’s hallucinating that Elizabeth is still around... which would make more sense if he’d loved his late wife much, or been remotely nice to her in the first place. Is Debs trying to make us care about the creep? It’s like rewriting JR Ewing as a born-again philanthropist. Geo’s uncle looks horrified. Condition normal.
Meanwhile the peasants are revolting. And up in arms too. Demelza gave Tess a job – despite suspecting her of fire-bombing Nampara – and left Prudie running the gaff. That’s Prudie who you wouldn’t trust to run a bath… And there’s a new capitalist baddie, mahogany exporter Ralph Hanson who’s had “upstart Irishman” Ned Despard, Poldark’s old army pal, banged up for sedition. Ned’s wife Kitty recruits Ross to free him, which he does by thwarting an attempt to kill King George after over-hearing the careless assassin ranting in public. Yeah. For his swift thinking, he became Ross Poldark, special agent, and negotiated Despard’s release. Protestant Ned was a real-life British Army hero who gave ex-slaves in Honduras equal rights. But Kitty campaigned for prison reform rather than against slavery. Horsfield has her blaming the vile trade on capitalism although slavery predates that by millennia… Ho-hum. Winston Graham wrote twelve Poldark novels. Shame the Beeb didn’t stick with them.
ROISIN Conaty plays struggling actress Marcella on GameFace, a woman who attracts disaster the way a picnic attracts wasps. She’s besotted with her driving instructor John “an Irish Forrest Gump” letting him believe she’s failed her test in order to keep seeing him. The sitcom has lovely moments, not least Marcella’s flashback to the time she told a bloke in a bar she had a tattoo of a horse “down there”. She then had to hastily mock it up in marker pen when he came back to hers. A disturbing image. You wouldn’t know whether to mount it or feed it a carrot. GameFace has been compared to Fleabag but it’s more like Man Down, with fate torturing Marcella with a series of unlikely disasters. Her ex has moved in with her mum, she’s being followed and she’s such a case study in how to mess up that her life coach lets a student sit in on their sessions. Shame about the unnecessary c-bombs.
I’M loving Warrior. There hasn’t been this much TV blood spilled since they let Mr Bean loose in the Casualty props room. The latest episode saw a tasty saloon bar shootout and Ah Sahm ripping out an outlaw’s windpipe before his gang could even draw their guns. Talk about sticking your neck out. He and Young Jun were transporting a Chinaman’s corpse by stagecoach but robber Harlan knew the coffin contained more gold than Flavor Flav’s gnashers. The show covers the casual bigotry of the times, and threw in Jun’s tasteful romp with a Native American woman called Wankeia (do your own jokes) but it’s the classy martial arts action that hits hardest.
HOT on TV: Gabriella Wilde, Poldark… Chasing The Moon (PBS)… Diane Doan, Warrior… Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies.
ROT on TV: Katie Price: My Crazy Life – the Price ain’t right… Nadiya’s Time To Eat with tinned veg – can it!
DENIS O’Hare’s lawyer Ira Farber made Celeste open up about her sex life in court on Big Little Lies. He was so ruthlessly efficient, it was easy to forget he was essentially slut-shaming her. Farber downplayed her late husband’s appalling violence and made it all about Celeste’s “sickness”. Terrible yes, but think what he’d make of the toxic Slaters.
FRED Sirieix went all Swiss Toni on Remarkable Places To Eat saying a risotto is “just like a beautiful girl”, sadly failing to add “lovingly prepared, slowly brought to the boil and thoroughly infused with cream”. If he found a place that served proper bread and dripping that’d be truly remarkable.
*NEARLY 4 out of 5 people want TV to cover more women’s sport. But further research indicates that 9 out of 10 men asked are referring only to beach volleyball.
*ON The Planets we learned Titan has an atmosphere a bit like ours. Granted the water’s undrinkable, the temperature’s unbearable and you can’t breathe the air, but it’s still more habitable than any soap.
RANDOM irritations: Louis Theroux paying yet another visit to an obscure Kansas church. Tennis commentators. BBC2 feeling the need to televise the Liberal Democrat Hustings.
SMALL joys of TV: Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Justified now on AmPrime. Milo Mindbender, Catch 22. Bob Monkhouse on ITV3’s Comedy Years. People Of Earth (Fox).
SEPARATED at birth: Lord Sugar and It from 5 Children & It. One a grumpy and hairy other-worldly being seen on the BBC, the other was in a children’s story.
JULY 14. JUDGING by summer’s terrestrial TV, business must be booming… for Netflix. Dark Money is the latest three-legged nag that the BBC have put under starter’s orders – a good idea sabotaged by poor execution and plodding direction. While ITV drama is looking about as competitive as that poor monkey in the pygmies’ cooking pot on Extreme Tribe. It’s hard to take the “so-bad-it’s-good” line on Beecham House when the scripts are cornier than Big Mo’s “plates”.
The week’s best telly was a docu-drama. BBC Two’s breath-taking 8 Days: To The Moon & Back relived one of humanity’s greatest achievements, the 1969 moon landing, and made it vividly real. The film, directed by Anthony Philipson, recreated the Apollo 11 mission using previously classified cockpit audio tapes, hi-tech FX and ham-free reconstructions. The grainy images took me back to being 14 watching the landing replayed in class – the sense of achievement, of wonder, of history in the making. Please god, we thought, let them get back alive.
The US astronauts exhibited extraordinary courage and calmness throughout their mission. A broken switch could have left them stranded on the lunar surface. Unruffled, Buzz Aldrin used a felt-tip pen to fix it. They were just as cool when they overshot the landing site, and when commenting on the moon’s mountains (“by gosh, they’re monsters”) and the sun rising over the horizon (“Goddamn, that’s pretty”). It felt like we were in the cockpit with them when the Eagle touched down at Tranquillity base. Clips of veteran US newsman Walter Cronkite reminded us the whole world was watching with a growing sense of pride as Neil Armstrong took his small step and mankind’s big one. This was humanity at its bravest and best. We can all aspire to be that ourselves. Or I suppose we could keep on keeping up with the Kardashians.
BILLY the lifeguard on Stranger Things is a proper mum-magnet with his mullet, moustache and offers of “private swimming lessons” at a discreet motel. Sadly he won’t be teaching Mrs Wheeler any breaststroke techniques or deep diving skills. He’s been clobbered and cloned by an evil entity from another dimension. The body-snatching Mind Flayer gets locals under his spell and gives our teen titans another battle to win. This season comes with a new mall, ham radio, exploding rats (very Hale & Pace) and teenage kicks – super-powered Eleven and Mike drive copper Hopper crazy with their nonstop tonsil tennis. The show’s heady cocktail of humour, horror and 80s nostalgia charms and scares us in equal measure. Much like Boris Johnson.
DID you catch that new ITV quiz show? It wasn’t so much Man O Man as Why Oh Why? There was a wide-eyed posh bloke with a cunning plan and a catchphrase (“I’m an entrepreneur!”) versus what appeared to be an afghan hound in a suit. We used to have great orators in Parliament. Lloyd George, Nye Bevan, Michael Foot, F.E. Smith. Whatever happened to that? Jeremy Hunt looked like he’d been swigging coffee since breakfast but was still about as exciting as a bank manager on a works outing. Boris bumbled through a series of catchphrases “got to get our mojo back... get off the hamster wheel of doom... let sunshine win the day” which seemed to do the trick. We’re always going to go with a bloke who brings us sunshine. Even if he makes a hungry fox look trustworthy.
HOT on TV: 8 Days: To The Moon & Back... Catriona Balfe, Outlander (More4)... Andrew Koji, Warrior... Gomorrah (SkyAt).
ROT on TV: Shipmates – Love Island with added sea sickness, jump ship... Adam Hills – a clear case of mistaken nonentity.
IS it compulsory for female historians to have trouble with their Rs? Blonde blue-eyed Lisa Hilton’s pronunciation of “regicide” was a joy. She’s no Lucy Worsley but I’d like to wead her waunchy ewotica.
*HOW much did the BBC blow on that intimacy director for Gentleman Jack? Talk about money for old grope. You get more passion on Crashing.
*JEREMY Hunt’s wife calls him “Big Rice”. Is that because he’s bland, stodgy and hard to digest?
*WHY do drag queens of all shapes and sizes keep crowing about being “Fab-U-Lous” when most look “Ridic-U-Lous” and often “Horr-En-Dous?”
DARK Money saw a promising young British actor abused by a Hollywood producer. Max Fincham was terrific as the kid, but the plot was iffy. Told British cops couldn’t investigate, why didn’t his parents contact the LAPD? Or find a no-win, no-fee Yank lawyer?
SMALL joys of TV: England thrashing the Aussies. Jim Croce’s You Don’t Mess Around With Jim on Stranger Things. Wild Nordic. BBC4’s Classic Albums: The Crickets – The “Chirping” Crickets.
RANDOM irritations: TV bosses giving up for the summer. Lazy Love Island rip-offs. Toothless TV debates. ITV using the 19th century union flag in 18th century Beecham House.
SEPARATED at birth: Alex Morgan and Susannah Hoffs? One walked like an Egyptian, the other scored like a champ.
RIP Rip Torn best known for playing Archie in The Larry Sanders Show, one of the finest US sitcoms ever made. How about rerunning all 90 glorious episodes from scratch?
WEATHER wonder woman Carol Kirkwood was comparing an inflated Wimbledon court cover to a giant mattress when she said: “This time in the morning, that’s just what you want to be bouncing up and down on.” How many of us, looking at Carol, have thought (CUT! – Ed)
JULY 7. NICOLE Kidman is quite a slapper, then... in character. Widow Celeste hit her toxic mother-in-law Mary Louise so hard on Big Little Lies that her specs came clean off her face. But Mary Louise topped that with the killer come-back “What should we call that? Foreplay?” She knows Celeste and her psychotic son Perry had such a violent love-life their humping sessions should have come with a ref and two corner men. What a racket! Boris Johnson’s neighbours would have skipped the cops and called an exorcist.
The slap played straight into Mary Lou’s hands. Filing for custody of her grandkids, she added assault to other unfit mother charges: Celeste’s prescription drugs stash, her related car accidents, her one-night stands... Perry was a filthy rapist, fathering a son with victim Jane, although Mary Louise (Meryl Streep on sparkling passive-aggressive form) won’t believe it. She accused Celeste of driving Perry to adultery and moved into Jane’s apartment block to get closer to her child.
We know what Mary Louise and plod only suspect, that Perry was murdered – pushed to his death by Bonnie. Now all of the women conspirators known as the Monterey 5 are fraying at the edges. Madeline is nuts – her daughter’s drawing of opposites showed her mum and a door, only one being hinged... Filthy rich Renata is losing everything thanks to her hubby’s impending bankruptcy. Bye-bye yacht, car, condo and $20million pad. The scene where she was stripped of her fancy watch and wedding ring must have had John McDonnell on his chair cheering. And Bonnie’s mum had a stroke, apparently including a premonition of Bonnie’s death by drowning. Brilliant screenwriter David E. Kelley’s has made season two eminently watchable and enjoyably unpredictable. I have no idea how it’ll end, but there’s clearly a simple three word solution to the Mary Lou problem: Bonnie. Staircase. Shove.
MARK Hamill rocked up wielding a medieval sword on Knightfall. Blimey. The French will have heart attacks when he lights that up. Star Wars legend Hamill plays Talus who trains Knights Templar initiates. With that beard, wig, scars and padding he looks like Hagrid auditioning for ZZ Top. The Templars turned on bold Brother Landry over his fling with late French Queen Joan... talk about airing your dirty Landry in public. Although surely screwing the enemy is what it’s all about? Landry’s already saved a lot of novice lives, though. With mounted knights on his side he’d be unbeatable. Let’s hope Talus tells him: “Landry, I am your father”, adding swiftly “May the horse be with you”.
REALLY Really Rude Comedy was a let-down – not even a sniff of Louis CK... It was just a lazy trot through familiar clips, which I suppose is what you expect from Channel 5. But it deserved more thought. Not least because what we class as “rude” has changed so drastically. The Beeb used to have a list of subjects comics were forbidden to mention. Now you’ll find all of George Carlin’s “seven dirty words you can’t say on TV” in one episode of Year Of The Rabbit. Swearing has replaced the much tougher business of writing decent jokes entirely. The only way to outrage today’s TV establishment is to back Brexit.
*MISSING from the “really rude” clips: Stan Boardman’s Focke-Wulf, Derek & Clive, Jerry Sadowitz, Judge Dread, Jim Davidson, Jim Jefferies, and the Carry On crew, once considered so “offensive” Channel 4 banned them.
HOT on TV: new Stranger Things (Netflix)... Catch 22... Coco Gauff.
ROT on TV: Trawlermen: Celebs At Sea – stunk like Captain Haddock’s fish bin... Inside The Bank Of England – little interest, a bad investment.
Hot NOT on TV: singing impressionist Christina Bianco.
LONG Lost Family would make a stone statue weep. If you weren’t touched by Carol and Simon reuniting with mum Sylvia after 50 years apart, you’re probably an undiagnosed psychopath. Elsewhere KT Tunstall met two half-sisters she didn’t know she had. Cynics may have responded in the traditional Glasgow Empire spirit – “Christ, there’s three of them”. I found it oddly moving.
A FULLY-immersive pop-up museum is opening in New York dedicated to Seinfeld, the greatest-ever US sitcom. I understand BBC One are planning a Warren experience – a manky room where a foul-mouthed driving instructor comes in and hollers mindless abuse at you.
*LINO’s dead on Gomorrah. Rival villains walked all over him.
*GLASTONBURY? If that’s The Cure I’d hate to see the disease.
*DOES Ultimate Worrier Jon Richardson worry that his show isn’t funny enough? Because it’s not.
*ODD. Viewers were traumatised by Villanelle wearing a pig mask on Killing Eve, yet they happily watch Jo Brand... that’s the sort of offensive joke no one does any more... thank goodness.
SMALL joys of TV: The Killers at Glastonbury. Kanye West on Letterman’s Netflix show. Charley Pride – I’m Just Me. The synagogue gig on Crashing. Jonny Bairstow’s ton.