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.
June 27. DOWN the mean streets of TV crime drama, a man must go who is not himself mean... Harry Bosch is that man, untarnished and unafraid. The hard-boiled Los Angeles homicide detective has seen more corpses than Dignitas since Bosch hit Amazon Prime in 2015. It’s police procedural delivered with pulp fiction grit. Harry is something we don’t see often on modern TV – a police hero. He’s the sort of cop Gene Hunt would admire – tough, determined, allergic to “the rat squad” (internal affairs), and driven by a burning sense of justice. Titus Welliver makes Harry (actual name, Hieronymus) three-dimensional and utterly believable as he hunts down and bangs up serial killers and terrorists, clashing with dirty cops and FBI agents along the way. He has an unusual past – ex US special forces, the son of a murdered prostitute, a lingering suspicion that he’s a mite too trigger happy. To his rivals and enemies in the LAPD’s Hollywood Division, Harry is arrogant, an insubordinate know-it-all. A rule-breaker. “A prick”. But he’s too good at his job to be brought down by envious no-marks.
In his final series, Harry takes on arsonists while his oppo Jed wrestles a drink problem. An attack on an apartment block led to multiple fatalities and a ten-year-old girl died because a fire exit was nailed shut. But is the owner plotting to drive out the tenants? Meanwhile a smarmy yuppie awaiting trial plans to squeal on a “big fish” to get him off… could the stories possibly be related? Tough-talking, risk-taking tecs were once the bedrock of police dramas. Our screens were full of fearsome thief-takers like Burnside, Jack Regan and Theo Kojak. We don’t make ’em like that now, more’s the pity. God, I miss The Bill.
*OTHER great 21st Century TV cops: Vic Mackey (The Shield), Gene Hunt (Life On Mars), Bunk (The Wire), Lennie Briscoe (Law & Order), Catherine Cawood (Happy Valley). Eddy Caplan (Braquo). John Luther (Luther).
BRIAN Cox talked about entropy this week – the law that states everything falls apart eventually. Make your mind up, mate! In D:Ream, you told us things can only get better. Coxy confirmed the theory that “time matters not one jot” (copyright Professor Kenneth Dodd of Knotty Ash), and assured us that the universe is irreversibly doomed. Cheers! He should tackle String Theory again. That holds that there are an infinite number of parallel worlds where anything is possible. So, on some alternative earth, Dominic Cummings is lighting up RuPaul’s Drag Race, Adam Hills is as funny as he thinks he is, and, most remarkably of all, Boris Johnson remembers he’s a Tory.
*TIME doesn’t exist, Cox argued. Obviously true for teenagers and network rail bosses.
THE Handmaid’s Tale is so depressing I had to watch Time again straight afterwards to perk myself up. The series overtook the book yonks ago, so producers just cranked up the agony: Wince as June’s wound is cauterised with a red-hot iron, weep for child bride Esther whose husband let other men rape her, and whoop when one of the creeps is caught, castrated and killed. In this dystopian fantasy, puritanical Christians have banned American women from working and forced fertile ones to be broodmares. Rebels are stoned to death. Far-fetched? Not at all. Regimes like this exist. Women were stoned to death in Afghanistan (2020), Somalia (2018), Iraq (2016) and Pakistan (2014). No Christians were involved, however. But the horrors of these woman-hating regimes are not the concern of Western producers. Dramatic cowardice or cultural self-loathing? Probably a bit of both.
HOT on TV: Bosch (AmPrime)... Clarkson’s Farm... Murder At The Cottage (SkyDocs) – true crime, but with an almost poetic quality.
ROT on TV: Too Hot To Handle – as shallow as a Borrower’s eyebath... Physical – all pain, no gain... The Handmaid’s Tale – torture porn? It’s torture to watch.
TOO Hot To Handle is Love Island with a sex ban. Vain dimwits are conned into signing up and then they get the bad news – kiss, touch or “self-gratify” and the prize pot plummets. It’s like bear-baiting for the barely dressed. Except, is it really that hard not to have sex with someone you just met? The show is policed by Lana, a cone robot, allowing Chase to moan “I’ve been cock-blocked by a cone.”
*SOME lovely moments in Piers’ Joan Collins chat, not least her revelation that sex with Warren Beatty was like sticking “an oyster in a slot machine”.
*WILL Up Pompeii be revived? I’m not sure anyone could play Lurcio like the great Frankie Howerd, but if the LibDems can stage a comeback anything could. (For Ludicrus Sextus see Matt Hancock). Maybe TV could remake and update Some Mothers too. Joe Pasquale and Sarah Earnshaw were superb as Frank and Betty Spencer in the stage production.
*QUIP of the week from Terry Cant: “He’s as happy as a bloke with haemorrhoids on the Tour de France.”
*ON Unbeatable, a contestant thought a codpiece was a hat. What a dickhead...
*HOW can Wimbledon compete with the Euros? Simple: shoot Eugenie Bouchard entirely in slo-mo, with Je T’aime playing in the background.
Small Joys of TV: Modric’s passing resemblance to Gail Platt. Hollywood Bulldogs (BritBox). Rick & Morty. The Harlequins’ comeback from 28-0 down. André Rieu.
Random Irritations: VAR, VAR and more VAR. People who can’t time the button press on Tipping Point. “Real Housewives” who’ve never come close to housework.
SEPARATED at birth: Anne Robinson and Edna “E” Mode? One a monstrous spectacle-wearing scene-stealer utterly convinced that her way is the right way, the other is in The Incredibles.
June 20. EURO 2020 is serving up great football, real drama and cracking goals. Patrik Schick’s 49-yard belter stood out like Maya Jama’s necklines on Crouchy’s odd-ball show. From Sterling to Yarmolenko, the golden boys delivered. But for those unmoved by beautiful game, the main channels let us down as badly as Boris with a dismal line-up of repeats, soaps, old films and over-promoted daytime formats. We haven’t seen such a lacklustre, “that’ll do” effort since, ooh, last Bank Holiday. It was like going into the sausage war with a stick of stale celery.
Frustrated viewers must have felt bone-idle TV bosses deserved to face a public grilling over their failings – preferably involving Dilksy, that bald, scary bloke from the interrogation episode of SAS: Who Dares Wins. The exception is Jimmy McGovern’s brutally gripping Time, a BBC drama that hits like a knee in the nuts. It’s realistically grim, and often violent – on Sunday, mild-mannered Mark finally snapped and went the full Mike Tyson on evil Johnno’s earhole – but never loses sight of the humanity of the characters. Meanwhile, on Netflix, the makers of Lupin appear to have gone loopy. Series two takes Omar Sy’s master-thief out of Parisian high society and plunges him into car chases and kidnaps. We wanted a French Raffles, not Wacky Races! Sky Atlantic’s City On A Hill, with Kevin Bacon, is far better.
TV comedy barely exists. Jennifer Saunders is right – AbFab wouldn’t get made now. None of the great sitcoms would either. British humour once spanned everything from mainstream masterpieces to eccentric genius. Now it’s lame, tame and terrified of causing spurious “offence”. It’s time to take risks, think big and make Britain laugh again. Or at least that large proportion of population with a working sense of humour.
*CROUCHY’S “Year-Late” Euros? Laugh-Lite, surely.
THERE’S a core of truth behind the GB News mission statement. Mainstream TV does distort the news agenda to reflect and reinforce the fashionable middle-class opinions of media folk, and try to diminish or close down views they disapprove of. But the new channel’s opening night was shakier than the camerawork on The Bourne Ultimatum. There were sound problems, duff links, and sets apparently designed by Blind Pew... Give ’em time, though. BBC2’s launch night was worse – it was taken out by a power cut. The big question is, has GB News got enough going for it to hook viewers? There are brilliant broadcasters involved, especially Andrew Neil. But to keep audiences, it needs to be more than just talk radio with pictures. Why not commission Real Question Time as a forum for genuinely radical views? And news-based comedy where actual satirists pick apart accepted “wisdoms” rather than reinforce them? Toxic “cancel culture” means the death of free speech and it must be kicked into touch.
DANNY Dyer is doing his bit to keep Cockney rhyming slang alive on DeadEnders, dropping “haddock” for car (haddock & bloater = motor) into Mick Carter’s patter. Sadly, we’ll never hear the slang the soap actually inspired in the Vic. You won’t get Big Mo moaning “Me Patsies are playing up” (Patsy Palmers = Farmers; Farmer Giles = piles). And if Linda had been “on the Grant” (Grant & Phil = pill), no one would’ve known she’d cheated. Now, as soon as that kid is born looking like a giant baked bean, everyone will know Max Factor.
*IF Mick Carter, in the BBC ad, can tell us about ’Enders being on iPlayer – meaning the soap character was aware that he was on TV – why didn’t he clock Max Branning on Beat The Chasers? Maybe we’ll have Phil telling Sharon how well Grant is doing with his documentaries.
HOT on TV: Stephen Graham, Time... Alexandra Sorbei, Box 21... Gerald, Clarkson’s Farm (AmPrime).
ROT on TV: The Hotel Inspector – time to check out... Prodigal Son – there’s better drama in Boris’ WhatsApp group.
THE real criminals on Liverpool Narcos make the soaps look tame. Drug-runner Stephen Mee robbed his own primary school when he was 9. And brutally honest drug-dealer Raff admitted “your moral compass goes to Cash Converters”. The dramatized scenes were less solid. The script had Scouse ecstasy users saying “off your Barnet” to mean off your nut. Barnet means hair (Barnet fair) not head, in Liverpool as well as London.
INSIDE No 9 misfired by bashing Proms lovers. In one scene a sex-starved wife got off by rubbing herself against an illegal immigrant “Jesus”. Talk about thy rod and staff they comfort me. The episode was like Abigail’s (Nazi) Party meets The Second Coming. Every Guardian prejudice ticked. Low hanging fruit for BBC types.
*FIVE million watched The Great British Sewing Bee final. Mark my words, a masked version will surely follow. And all you’ll hear is, “Ouch!”, “Oops”, “Bugger!”, “****’s sake!”, and “Strewth that bloody hurt!”
*LOKI has “a female variant”. What next, The Hulk in high heels and an off-the-shoulder Sally Lapointe? Dr Strange could soon get a whole lot stranger...
*DAN Wootton may not have COVID 19, but he seems to be LIVID 24/7...
*WHY haven’t Sky One got the intelligence to realise Intelligence just isn’t funny enough?
Small Joys of TV: The Exeter Chiefs incredible come-back against Sale Sharks. Botham: The Legend of 81. Bill Maher on “progress-o-phobia”. Lucifer (Netflix).
Random Irritations: The snidey war on GB News conducted by extremists who want to close down free speech. I will boycott every firm that pulls their ads.
SEPARATED at birth: Linda Carter and Terence Stamp in drag? One a hard-faced angel with a big secret to hide... the other is Terence Stamp.
Classic Clanger. Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen was talking about painting a chicken on Celebrity Painting Challenge when he said: “I’ve longed to paint a cock, and look at that cock! It’s amazing!”
June 13. WHAT is the point of the BAFTAs? Seriously? If they’re meant to celebrate excellence then why are they stuffed full of unwatched, so-so shows? I have no beef with Big Narstie, he’s an engaging rascal and it’s good to see him getting away with it. But top comedy entertainment of 2020? Come on. The judges must have been smoking as much weed as he does. An obscure poetry show was deemed best entertainment. Romesh won best entertainment performer for sitting in his garage and grumbling... Bradley Walsh mouthed “It’s a joke” to the camera in jest. But he was right. Of course, some wins were deserved – Lennie James’ cracking drama Save Me Too; Once Upon A Time In Iraq, so absorbing it was heart-breaking; the remarkable Inside No 9... Michaela Coel fully merited her gongs for the bravely personal, risk-taking verve of I Will Destroy You. But much of the night sucked like an Adult Material porn star.
Too many great shows were blanked. Where were After Life, Kate & Koji, and Des? Or strong imports, like retro-treat Cobra Kai and Cate Blanchett’s Mrs America? Blanchett was stunning. Casualty won, suggesting there’s a stealth award for just hanging in there. Diversity’s victory was, ahem, assisted by keeping heavyweight rival contenders out of the running. Even the ceremony lacked pizzaz – you’d find more atmosphere on the moons of Neptune. Richard Ayoade works on panel shows, but as host he felt as detached as the houses in Hampstead’s billionaires’ row. Irony and sarcasm he can do. Spontaneous wit, no. Next year, book Gervais to stir things up. This was a half-hearted, issue-obsessed, futile Covid-tamed version of an awards shows, with predictably dull speeches and winners awkwardly scrabbling about on Zoom. A wasted opportunity. The gap between the BAFTAs and genuinely great TV is large enough to park Big Narstie in sideways.
PRISON drama Time is like a bomb-proof Rolex – a really tough watch. Jimmy McGovern’s script captures the grim brutality of life behind bars. His HMP Craigmore makes Slade Green look like Maplins. Sean Bean plays mild-mannered middle-class teacher Mark, serving a four stretch for the drink-driving death of a cyclist. Stephen Graham is conscientious screw Eric whose own son is banged up elsewhere, making both vulnerable. Mark witnesses “jugging” – sugared boiling water being hurled over a suspected grass; the sugar makes it cling and strip your skin. And then makes the risky schoolboy error of winding up terrifying Scouse “jugger” Johnno. Time is bleak and authentic, with political points that hit home. People like self-harmer Bernard should be in asylums, not prisons. What happened to them?
LOKI, the Norse god of mischief, has his own spin-off show. But sadly, Disney+ have taken away his powers, which is like booking Meghan Thee Stallion for a gig and not letting her talk dirty. Or putting Floyd Mayweather through a pretend boxing charade. Oh wait, that happened. At the end of episode one, Loki was recruited by time cops to hunt down an evil, twisted version of himself. Hold on! That’s the Loki we want to watch!
HOT on TV: Box 21... Time – Shawshank for Scousers... Clarkson’s Farm (AmPrime)... Kevin Bacon, City On A Hill.
ROT on TV: the BAFTAs – as suspect as Mayweather Vs Logan... BBC3’s Shrill – less a scream, more a cry for help.
IS EastEnders getting funnier? Perhaps. Terry Cant loves his “bants” and I’m slowly warming to Violet. She called Karen “Fag Ash Lil”, Bernadette “a sack of spuds” and said, of Honey dating toy-boy Jay, “Standing behind the register? She should be on the register.” Blanche Hunt should sue.
*TOP 3 Albert Square facts: 3) No one knows where Walford Common came from... or where it’s gone. 2) 22% of viewers only tune in on the off-chance that Phil Mitchell might spontaneously combust. 1) Jean Slater? She’s a Wolverine in bed.
GOOD news, bad news on Brian Cox’s Adventures In Space & Time. Coxy reckons there’s at least one alien civilisation in every galaxy. In other words, triple-breasted Eccentrica could really exist! Hurrah! The bad news? It’d take millions of years to reach her... D’oh! Mind you, any aliens who find us would be so advanced, we’d be like ants to them. Best keep our nuts down.
*OUT of all the contestants on last weekend’s “celebrity” shows, I only recognised two faces – and one of them was my postman.
*SMOTHER was aptly titled. All the way through I felt like smothering the musicians on the soundtrack.
*IF BAFTA ratings get much lower, they’ll have to add themselves to the memorial montage.
*SO Zoe Ball was a llama. Blimey. That explains all those years of woolly-headed chitter-chatter.
Did anyone else watching the sickening crimes recounted on Fred & Rose West: The Search For Victims wonder why we ever did away with hanging?
Small Joys of TV: Derek Jacobi, Inside No 9. Anne finally snapping on Motherland. Loki (Disney+). Noel Gallagher: Out Of The Now. Black Space (Netflix).
Random Irritations: ITV stripping repeats. BAFTA’s political agenda. People opening up about their feelings on TV – we’re becoming a nation of cry-babies.
SEPARATED at birth: Paul Merton and Wetherspoons’ Tim Martin? One pulls pints, the other pulls his punchlines.
June 6. THERE was a terrible moment last week when “Bradley Walsh” started trending on Twitter. Dear god! Please don’t say we’d lost Brad! Mercifully no. The mere suspicion that the great man was jigging about dressed as a rubber chicken on The Masked Dancer had excited the birdbrains. But what on earth made ITV think we’d want to endure strictly dumb dancing for 90minutes every night? At least with The Masked Singer you had half a chance of guessing the celebrity from their vocals. What chance have you got with dance? You’ve only got their legs to go on. You might as well have Masked Ventriloquists.
Jonathan Ross plays along, making demented guesses: Prue Leith, Meghan Markle, Richard Branson... He knows it’s cobblers but clearly needs the cash. Well, his Gucci handbags don’t come cheap. But even when the losers are unmasked, most viewers were stumped. Beetroot was Dita Von Teese, rubber chicken was Eddie Edwards. All the big names. Viewing figures limboed under 3 million, suggesting the country was finally developing herd immunity to this mutating TV virus.
ITV found a (baffling) winning formula with The Masked Singer and now they’re flogging it to death. Will The Masked Comedian follow? Could work, with audiences judging stand-ups by their gags alone. The drips on The Last Leg would drop like flies. Netflix are reviving Sexy Beasts (masked dating). Pretty much any successful TV format – home makeovers, cooking shows, gardening – could be rebooted with contenders in disguise. And why not Budget broadcasts? A few chancellors in my lifetime should have worn masks when they mugged us in broad daylight with eye-watering taxes. Denis Healey did, John McDonnell still might if Keir gets the push...
*Llama in his mask looked like Julian Clary, but what a shame Carwash wasn’t Sia... or Cousin Itt from the Addams Family.
*THE US Masked Singer had T-Pain, we had Sue Perkins – t’pain in t’arse.
SAY what you like about Piers Morgan but he’s no Andrew Neill. He’s not even a James Corden. His cynical schtick is to make his Life Stories guests blub. Tears for Piers. But what does that prove? You’d need a heart of stone not to well up talking about the death of your sick mum. Sir Kier Starmer seems a decent man. We found out he likes a pint, supports Arsenal, and probably dabbled in drugs in his youth. That was shocking – a Gooner!?! But what does the Labour leader believe? How would his vision for Britain differ from Boris’s? How would he pay for it? Does he grasp exactly how far he’ll have to distance himself from fashionable views to win back traditional Labour voters? Right now, Cummings is a more effective opposition leader and he’s bonkers.
*BEST exchange – Starmer: “Mum and dad rescued donkeys.” Piers: “Is that what made you become leader of the Labour Party?” For the ass, see Owen Jones.
*PIERS didn’t question Sir Keir’s claim to be grammar school educated, or mention that his school went private when he was fourteen.
JODIE Turner-Smith is a cracking actress, but did Channel 5 choose her to play Anne Boleyn just to distract us from the stilted script? With all that controversy, who’s got time to notice the constipated dialogue, cartoony Cromwell and sub-Wolf Hall plotting? See also Anne snogging Lola Petticrew’s Jane Seymour. (And if I could see more of Jane Seymour, I’d let Jane see more of me). Still, now actors are playing other races, bring on Simon Gregson as Kunta Kinte and BBC repeats of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. If it’s okay for Jodie to portray a white woman from Norfolk who could possibly complain about Michael Bates as Rangi Ram?
HOT on TV: Cynthia Erivo, Genius: Aretha (Disney+)... Mare Of Easttown finale... Liverpool Narcos.
ROT on TV: Anne Boleyn – wolf balls... Lisey’s Story – an avalanche of over-acting.
ON Roast Battle, Brennan Reece told Kiri Pritchard-McLean her privates looked like “Chewbacca with a cleft palate”. Rude yes, but refreshingly un-PC. Kiri laughed. Good for her. In fairness, she was never going to top it.
*THE Motherland women continue to flirt with me. “Garry with two Rs,” mused Anna Maxwell Martin’s besotted Julia. “So much softer, sexy, super... ”. Yeah, yeah. But I’m playing hard to get. After seeing her on Line Of Duty, only a hardened masochist would risk the chill of her disdain.
*JUST 22per cent of a Greggs sausage roll is protein, according to C5 doc Inside Greggs, but it’s still ten times meatier than Yesterday, Today & The Day Before.
*DID you see Piers Corbyn on the anti-vax doc? Strange man, yes, but with his wild hair, eccentric clothes, potty theories and conviction he’d make a bloody good Dr Who.
IS Beat The Chasers fixed? Don’t put it past ITV. Gregg Wallace triumphed last weekend, but only after the chasers missed/threw easy questions. Despite calling himself a proud Englishman, Gregg didn’t even know when St George’s Day is.
*AMATEURS have no chance on Beat The Chef. How can you cook some poncy nonsense on your first attempt better than someone who’s been knocking out braised goat placenta with truffle oil pasta for decades?
Small Joys of TV: King Otto. Adrian Dunbar, Inside No 9. Alec Guinness, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (BBC4). Sweet Tooth (Netflix). Playing For The Mob (ESPN Player).
Random Irritations: TV guessing games. Wooden gangsters and cliched dialogue in Before We Die. Reality TV “stars” endorsing dodgy debt write-off schemes.
SEPARATED at birth: Deborah Meaden and this podling? One a small, bartering creature who lives on seeds, roots, and berries, the other is from The Dark Crystal.
Classic Clanger. David Lloyd was talking about a cricket ball gauge when he said: “The umpire has got his ring piece out to check the size of the ball.”