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 25. CAN we talk about Van Der Valk? The scripts are almost as hard to swallow as Lucy Beaumont’s mud cake show-stopper on Bake Off. Absurd lows included: Piet VDV saving Mariana from a sniper by pulling a curtain around her hospital bed. Because curtains repel lead, obviously. And free-runners being used to retrieve drugs from lofty dockyard containers cos you can’t buy ladders for love nor money in Amsterdam. Oddly the nimble street athletes couldn’t scale a simple six-foot fence when the Oud Willem (Old Bill) had them cornered. I’ve always liked Marc Warren and his Piet VDV is nicely buoyed by sour cynicism. But he’s seriously nobbled by the scripts and the crack team of box-ticking caricatures ITV have lumbered him with. These right-on clowns irritate like nettle rash. Do cops really use words like “adulting” and ask each other “how do you identify?” Even Dutch ones? It’s not like they’re trend-crazed English school teachers. Would they really study crime footage in a public café?
The only likeable bods are hard-drinking pathologist Hendrik Davie who perks up his coffee with a cheeky short, and hot hospital doc Lena Linderman, Piet’s old flame. Oh to join her waiting list... But why set the action in a gloomy container port? It robbed us of the show’s real appeal, Amsterdam itself. This Van Der meander was just a two-hour waste of time. The makers should watch Barry Foster’s original, superior Piet VDV on Talking Pictures. The boozy bad-tempered bully made Warren look like Joe Lycett. Even he wasn’t much cop though. Despite being dubbed an “astute observer”, Piet failed to spot wife Arlette’s head changed three times over four series. But it does have the iconic theme, the most memorable thing about the show, which was cluelessly ditched by ITV.
BLACK Mirror’s Gaap wasn’t like other demons. For starters, he was the dead spit of Boney M’s Bobby Farrell, right down to the six-inch white platform heels. (Where was Maizie Williams though? She’d have made a mighty fine succubus, I’d imagine.) Shoe sales junior Nida was living in her own personal hell, tormented by yobs who daubed “NF” on her front door and department store coworkers carping about her smelly curry. The young Anglo-Asian coped by indulging in violent revenge daydreams. Sort of Are You Being Severed... Gaap – new to his, ahem, soul-destroying job – gave her a choice: kill three people in three days or humanity gets wiped out in a fiery nuclear apocalypse. Was it supernatural horror or one of Nida’s fantasies though? The clue was Art Garfunkel chirping “Is it a kind of dream?” on the soundtrack.
PS. If Boney M can embody fantasy horror, isn’t it time The Wurzels had their moment?
*TORY MPs are TV’s go-to political villains (Francis Urquhart, Alan B’Stard, Jacob Rees-Mogg... ). Black Mirror’s Tory was a smarmy bigot. Where’s the Labour equivalent? They’ve had their share of slimeballs, creeps and criminals – seven Labour MPs have been nicked this century. Tweedledum and Tweedledumber. AFTER 19 series, Ancient Aliens has yet to produce a shred of evidence that we’ve ever been visited by what the noted scholar Danny Dyer memorably called “that mob up there”. While BBC4’s Aliens: The Big Thinkers told us to look not for living species but machine intelligence. Keir Starmer? ETs remain a staple element of sci-fi dramas, however. Disney’s Secret Invasion sees Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury battling the Skrull – evil lizard shape-shifters from the Andromeda Galaxy. They wipe human memories in an abandoned Russian nuclear plant, the most toxic environment this side of Westminster... where our own reptilian shape-shifters wish they could do the same.
HOT on TV: The Change... Poker Face (SkyMax)... Paapa Essiedu, Black Mirror (Netflix).
ROT on TV: Van DerValk – stank like a Glasto portaloo... The Rise & Fall Of John Leslie.
WHY are so many kids’ TV characters deranged? Mr Blobby, Jack-Straw-lookalike the Demon Headmaster, sociopath Pip on Pip & Posy, Rupert Bear’s pal Raggedy Hartley Hare... It makes you yearn for the good old days of Mr Punch and Emu. Oh wait...
*JIMMY Cricket on electricity bills: “I used to be scared of the dark, now I’m scared of the light.”
*MICHAEL Portillo’s clothes, are they a cry for help?
*“COMEDY is back in the building,” boasts ITVX. Yeah. In their case the building is a crematorium.
*LUCY Worsley presents “bwand new series, Puzzling”. Sorry, make that pwesents. They should weally have called it Widdling.
*If GB News subtitles are to be believed, newsreader Polly Middlehurst called the former US Prez “Plum Trump”. She then added that he’d “pleaded guilty”. He actually pleaded not guilty. Wishful thinking?
*CYNDI Lauper just turned 70! Hurrah! Expect to see her on Later with new single, Girls Just Want To Stay Home & Knit.
*IS Jon Culshaw turning into a fat Alan Sugar? He looks like Alan Too-Much Sugar.
NEWS that This Morning execs call their viewers “Tower block Traceys” caused upset while I was away. Unsurprising though. I once heard an arrogant ITV boss dismiss straight people as “breeders”.
Small Joys of TV: Phil Baker Hall, RIP, as tough-talking library inspector Lt Joe Bookman on Seinfeld (Netflix). Birds Of A Feather clips (C5). Kids show Bluey (Disney).
Random Irritations. Glasto overkill, other festivals are available. Two-hour cop shows with not enough plot to power an hour. The endless pox of OTT backing music.
TV maths. Van Der Valk’s Hendrik Davie + beard & hair dye = Roy Wood of Wizzard.
June 18. DO you ever look at the TV schedules and think you’d find more life in a pro-biotic yoghurt? ITV’s Monday line-up consisted of 12 hours of repeats and increasingly dopey soaps. Thank the gods of telly for the streaming services. Here’s my quick guide to five new shows you might not have seen and which won’t let you down:
Beef (Netflix). A smart black comedy set in motion by a road rage ruckus that rapidly spirals out of control. The feud between the rival drivers, played by Ali Wong and Steven Yeun, is like the case against Boris – petty, vindictive and thoroughly believable. The ten-part series packs in pathos and satire too.
Daisy Jones & The Six (Prime). The rise and self-destruction of a 70s soft rock band with a passing resemblance to the platinum-selling r’n’r soap opera that was Fleetwood Mac. The ten-part drama is brimming with ego, ambition, drug abuse, sexual chemistry and sweet little lies.
The Last Of Us (Prime). A zombie thriller based on a video game that has unexpected depth and heart. Joel must protect teenage Ellie, who holds the key to human survival, from the fungus-fuelled zombies and paranoid survivors. It’s violent but touching.
Jury Duty (Netflix). A smart twist on “reality” TV, this follows a fake court case where everyone is an actor except for jury foreman Ronald Gladden who thinks a real trial is being filmed as a documentary. Joys abound as Ron copes with the unfolding madness and the eccentricity of his fellow jurors. Think The Truman Show meets Crown Court.
Star Trek: Picard (Prime). Anyone who ever loved Star Trek: TNG owes it to themselves to watch the final run of Picard. This is top quality sci-fi, with terrific twists and a fan-pleasing assembly of familiar faces. Resistance is futile.
CHARLIE Brooker’s brilliant Black Mirror has form for foretelling the future – not just the dark sides of social media and virtual reality, but political scandal too. The very first episode had a fictional PM forced to have sex with a pig on TV years before David Cameron was forced to deny something surprisingly similar. Now of course all of our PMs seem fictional. Series six kicked off with Joan Is Awful imagining a world where your life (and muck-ups) can be immediately turned into a CGI TV series using quantum tech. The fictional show is made by streamer “Streamberry” which has a cheeky resemblance to Netflix, Black Mirror’s current home. Far-fetched? Give it time. Brooker’s the Mystic Meg of the Metaverse. Other episodes of this modern Twilight Zone include Loch Henry, a killer twist on true-crime TV. This Mirror’s not so much cracked as cracking.
TV killed Room 101 by turning it into a panel show with too many lightweight panellists who deserved to be IN Room 101, rather than on it. Now back on radio, it has one guest per show and veers between comedy and therapy. The format would work again on screen if they a) booked celebs who were grumpy and funny, and b) told “sensitivity” censors to get stuffed. So much fashionable nonsense needs debunking. Puffed-up twerps rewriting classic stories, ham-fisted box-ticking casting, the rotting edifice of Channel 4... I’d love to see a hidden camera doc about C4 suits who snigger all the way to the bank while relying almost entirely on endless repeats and gratuitous flashing. It can only be months before they commission Naked Attraction Does Riverdance. More bounce per ounce.
*SEVEN great Room 101 guests: Spike Milligan, Alexei Sayle, Terry Venables, Bob Monkhouse, Bill Bailey, Danny Baker, Johnny Vegas.
*ONE recent pet hate: Dragons Den dunces who claim they’re in “negative profit” when they’re losing dosh like The Gallows Pole lost viewers.
HOT on TV: Black Mirror and Salma Hayek (Netflix)... Johnny & Denise... new Ricky & Morty.
ROT on TV: Queen Of Oz... The Full Monty... Absolutely Dyer – never a truer word misspelt.
WHY can’t the BBC make decent sitcoms? US telly still does. We get Significant Other (insignificant humour), they had The Good Place, Veep, Curb Your Enthusiasm... And if you like your laughs darker, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is like Seinfeld with booze and psychos. The Yanks know pathos is not enough (although they probably think he’s fourth musketeer).
WHAT’S madder, joining Talk TV to “relaunch” your career with zero viewers, or Enders resurrecting dead characters? Word is Cindy Beale has been on “witness protection”. Although technically that should be witless.
*DO you ever watch Catchphrase and think, money for old rope?
*THE Sex & The City sequel is back on. Think the Golden Girls with dildos. And a humour bypass.
*THEY had a self-inflating lounger on QVC. Was I alone in expecting the camera to cut to Nish Kumar?
*FIVE words TV bosses don’t understand: Celebrity. Variety. Refugee. Reality. Impartiality.
RIP Glenda Jackson. Repeat Elizabeth Is Missing in her honour, BBC. Followed by Women In Love...
Small Joys of TV. Hancock’s Half Hour: The Blood Donor (BBC4). Jimmy Jones: Harder & Faster (Ustreme). The Wrong Mans (iPlayer). The Kings (Disc).
Random irritations. People who only have TV careers because they were once married to someone with some actual talent. Too-fast end credits on TV dramas.
TV Maths. Jerry Seinfeld + Donkey from Shrek = Stephen Mangan
Classic clanger. John Murray was talking about Arsenal losing 4-Nil to Liverpool when he said: “They had their trousers pulled down in the first half and in the second half Liverpool just toyed with them.”
June 11. SUNDAY night on ITV, and an oddly-dressed clown is busy proving he’s nowhere near as funny as he thinks he is. But enough about Bruno... What an odd night. Cowell lost his voice, the judges lost their marbles. And Viggo Venn, a man more off the wall than an antique squash ball, romped to victory with nearly a quarter of the public vote. Not bad for a wild-haired hi-vis “Viking” with no act.
This wasn’t so much Britain’s Got Talent as Norway’s Got Nitwits. Ant McPartlin was bowled over by Viggo. Literally. (Why is Ant always the one that gets decked?) You felt for choirboy Malakia, dancer Lillianna and gravity-defying Duo Odyssey. But Venn’s win was a V-sign to the contrived charade this show has become. It’s all about the judges now, and they just aren’t fit for purpose. None has the authority Tony Hatch brought to New Faces. Cowell is out of his comfort zone with non-singers, and Amanda gushes like an over-hydrated cart-horse. BGT has lost its mojo, but here’s how to reboot it:
*Prove producers don’t fix the result by having acts draw straws for the running order.
*Ration nutters. Sadists enjoy seeing judges crush the dreams of folk whose ambition heavily outweighs their ability, but too many cranks corrode the contest.
*Bring in agents competing to represent the acts.
*Create variety formats to build them, and a youth spin-off show – teens shouldn’t be competing with adults.
*Realise variety means more than umpteen singers and dancers. Give us more laughs. One reason Venn won was his sheer silliness. He had no sob story and no issues or grievances, just clown moves, likeability and surreal warmth. If nothing else, he’ll have a great career as a football stadium steward.
*ALESHA laughed so hard “she broke her ring”. Blimey. The queue of volunteers to kiss it better must’ve stretched halfway to Wetwang.
*DON'T knock Tonikuku! The bloke brought new meaning to “just pants”.
HAS Arnie gone from The Terminator to a career terminator with FUBAR? I love the big lug but the lightweight drama feels like it was knocked out by an AI chatbot infested with a cliché virus. The plot is True Lies but with a father and daughter with secret jobs as high-flying spies, not husband and wife. Arnie is Luke Brunner, on his last-ever mission to rescue an undercover agent held in evil Boro’s compound (Riverside stadium?). The agent is of course his daughter Emma. The show mixes action thrills with endless, patience-straining family bickering. “I’ll be back” star Arnie deserves sharper writing. And at 75, the odd “Ow, me back” groan would add some reality. Maybe time for Conan The Librarian.
*NETFLIX doc Arnold is more fun, tracing his rise from a bodybuilder looking like “a condom stuffed with walnuts” (Clive James) to movie star glory.
*FUBAR? Misjudgement day.
HOT on TV: Molly Marsh, Love Island... The Many Faces Of Les Dawson (BBC4)... Prince: A Purple Reign (Prime)
ROT on TV: The Idol – flop idol... Queen Charlotte – aristo-crap... The British Soap Awards – who are they kidding?
ITV’S Soap Awards were over-shadowed by the real life drama engulfing their ex-host Phil Schofield. Pip insists there was no toxic culture on This Morning, and he’d merely cradle-snatched a colleague for a quick fling. In other words, move along, there’s nothing to see here. But if that’s true, why have so many ex-employees piled in saying the ITV show was a rotten place to work? And why was Holly so desperate to distance herself from her former best pa? What do she and ITV know that we don’t? Odds on there’s a lot more sh** to hit Pip’s fans.
*HOLLY described This Morning as “a place of warmth and magic”. Yeah, cos nothing says magic like crazy cosmetic surgery addicts and Kim Woodburn losing her rag. They had post-breakfast sex toys once. At least they kept the show buzzing.
MICHAEL Sheen has a point about dodgy accents. I quite like George “The Nightmare” Knight in DeadEnders but Colin Salmon sounds nothing like anyone who grew up next door to Custom House. Still, at least his accent hasn’t miraculously changed nationality overnight like Vicky Fowler’s did.
*LOVING the weird critters on Prehistoric Planet. The Beelzebufo or “devil toad” had serrated teeth which were almost as cutting as Jimmy Carr, who coincidentally shares its nickname.
*CLASSIC Les Dawson. Cissie (Les): “When you went to Blackpool for your honeymoon, were you... virgo intacta?” Ada (Roy Barraclough): “No, it were just bed & breakfast.”
*A PAL who found his wife watching MasterChef jokingly asked, “What are you watching that for, you can’t cook?!” Quick as a flash she replied, “Well you watched Masters Of Sex... ”
*LOVE Island mystery: why do IQs get lower as temperatures get higher?
*THE BBC weather forecast renamed Belfast to “Belfat” on Wednesday. Sloppy mistake or long over-due tribute to local broadcasting legend Eamonn Holmes?
Small Joys of TV: The Good Life (Gold). Rumpole Of The Bailey (TPTV). My Grandad’s War. UFO re-runs (Legend). Inside Classical: The Lark Ascending (BBC4).
Random Irritations. Sky News. OTT nuisance Bruno Tonioli. Corrie getting two awards for their awful acid attack – picked by ITV’s “experts”, not the viewers.
June 4. WHAT fell faster last week – Ant on Britain’s Got Talent or ITV’s share price? The must-see BGT moment was Simon Cowell struggling to find his own mouth with a straw, a perfect metaphor for this ailing show that can rarely tell its arse from its elbow. If you thought this year’s contest hit rock bottom with a fake Mr Blobby blundering his way through a bad magic act, you can’t have seen Ichikawa breaking wind to lighting effects – as memorable as a fart in a thunderstorm. It’d fill this page to list what’s wrong with BGT but for starters:
*The gushing judges. Cowell, once renowned for his brutal honesty, turns into a fairground rube whenever he watches magicians. He said South Korean Kimoon Do’s card trick was “impossible to explain”. (Best swerve Chase The Lady, mate.) He can’t even make his own decisions now, either going by crowd response or the public vote. Like the other judges, he’s not fit for purpise.
*The heavy bias towards singers and dancers, cute kids and sob stories annoy too. As did the Golden Buzzer fiasco and Bruno in general – they already have one dancer, why do they need another one? Then there’s the manipulated running order – opening acts never get through – and foreign professionals. It’s BRITAIN’S Got Talent, so why import pros who fade in the final furlong like doped thorough-breds? It either says Britain hasn’t got enough talent, or Cowell’s scouts don’t know where to find it. That woman who interpreted everyday objects through the medium of dance might work on TikTok but she died on stage.
ITV’s decades-long disdain for joke-telling comedians doesn’t help. Op Knocks and New Faces launched much-loved house-hold comics, Cowell doesn’t get them. He idiotically buzzed Marcus Birdman on Wednesday. Norwegian clown Viggo Venn, who had likeability but no discernible act, is more his style. This show needs realism and knowledge on the judging panel like Bruno needs shirt buttons.
THE last-ever Succession packed in more surprises than Derren Brown’s stage shows. It had everything – drama, brutality, black humour and of course betrayal. Kendall was the big loser after his board accepted Swedish “Viking” raider Lukas Matsson’s take-over. Matsson made smarmy yes-man Tom his CEO (or “pain sponge”) after stabbing his pregnant wife Shiv in the back. The job might even prolong their sham marriage. Naturally she’d have shafted Tom without a second thought had their positions been reversed. Moving moments came when half-brother Connor played footage of their late dad Logan cracking jokes, and Karl, his finance boss, singing a Robert Burns song. Kendall attacking Roman felt more real than EastEnders has for yonks. What next for Ken and his unsustainable delusions of adequacy? Will he hurl himself in the sea or will creator Jesse Armstrong give us a follow-up where the Roy clan regroup and regain their legacy? Don’t bet against it.
HAPPY days, Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Fireball XL5 is back on Talking Pictures TV with “brave and fearless” Steve Zodiac and sultry space medic Dr Venus. The 1963 puppet show was the Andersons’ first US success. Stingray came next. It also had one of the finest theme tunes of the decade. Only the date, 2067, seems optimistic. There’s a target for you Elon.
*Top 7 Sexiest TV Puppets: Lady Penelope (Thunderbirds). Marina (Stingray). Dr Venus (Fireball XL5). Rhapsody Angel (Captain Scarlet). Dorina (Joe 90). Spamela Hamderson (Muppets). Maggie Thatcher (Spitting Image).
HOT on TV: Succession finale (SkyAt) – stunning ... Alexandra Oomens, The Yeomen Of The Guard (BBC4).
ROT on TV: Sitting On A Fortune – dishwater-dull format, insipid host... Whitehouse Plumbers – shite-house satire.
CINDY Beale’s resurrection worries me. It won’t end there, will it? It’ll be Ronnie and Poxy next. And then what? Sensual inferno Fat Pat in an Open House threesome with Reg Cox and Angie Watts? Mind you, who’d moan if Chantelle Atkins sashayed out of the dishwasher like nothing had happened? For the Finish Powerball see Claudette “hubba-hubba” Hubbard...
ON Open House, before her first lesbian oral encounter, Kirsty described the experience as “a new flavour of ice cream”. Well there’s nothing like a sticky Mivvi. Though some say a banana split has more going for it. Take care Kirsty, get addicted and you could find yourself adding 100s and 1000s.
*SOMEONE on GB News said that the singing dog on BGT should have been orchestrated. True. At least then it wouldn’t reproduce.
*JIMMY Tarbuck recalled Billy Connolly getting caught short at his house and writing his name in pee from a bedroom window. The prank was exposed by a snowfall. “I wouldn’t mind,” quipped Tarby on his ITV3 Audience With, “but it was in my wife’s handwriting.”
GREAT clips on Barry Humphreys At The BBC. Not least when Dame Edna told a woman in Graham Norton’s audience: “I’m trying to think of the word to describe what you’re wearing. Affordable.” And Sir Les Patterson declaring: “I’m as busy as a one-armed taxi driver with crabs.”
Small joys of TV. Natasha Lyonne, Poker Face (SkyAt). Fireball XL5. Person Of Interest re-runs (Alibi). Love To Love You: Donna Summer (Sky). Eamonn Holmes.
Random irritations. BGT enhancing some acts with slo-mo. ITV taking us for fools. “Satirist” Ian Hislop not recognising the power of the unelected civil servants.
Separated at birth: Anna from V and Sheldon Cooper? One a strange unearthly being with a total lack of empathy. The other’s a sci-fi alien...
Classic clanger. Tennis commentator, Bill Threlfall at Wimbledon: “Sanchez looks a bit sloppy but Martina’s really rubbing off on her... no wonder with all that puffing and blowing.”