Garry Bushell
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BUSHELL ON THE BOX - 2011

MARCH 27. VICIOUS fights, betrayal, drunken carnage... ye gods, Spartacus is back and it’s bloodier than a bad night with Becky in the Rover’s Return. And OK, it’s a prequel, so there’s no Spartacus and no chance of any slave up-rising outside of one of the show’s frequent orgies. But in every other aspect Gods Of The Arena delivers all the heaving flesh and senseless brutality a psychopath could want. There’s a new hero in cocky gladiator Gannicus who looks like a rock star and at one stage has to fight a rival to death while he alone wears a blindfold. Ganni-boy is slave owner Batiatus’s ticket into the big league. “He can strip naked and fight with his cock as long as he wins,” boasts Bats (John Hannah) who for all the nudity here, is still the biggest plonker on screen.

In one graphic scene, Bats gets jumped, battered and then piddled on by rival Tullius, which I believe is known in Soho as the Max Mosley deluxe package. This series won’t win any prizes for subtlety but its mix of Extreme Fighting, 300-style slo-mo, and illicit passion serves up guilty pleasures by the bucket-load. Especially now it has the added bonus of Jaime Murray as Lucretia’s aptly named widow pal Gaia, who wastes little time getting Lucy Lawless a lot looser and completely draws-less. Series one of the brutal gladiator saga taught us that while there’s life there’s hope; series two teaches that while there is opium there’s dreamy lesbian sex. (Murray bints, Murray bints, too good to hurray, bints...)

This six-part spin-off came about because Spartacus star Andy Whitfield needed cancer treatment (he’s since left, and will be replaced by Aussie actor Liam McIntyre). It charts Batty and Lucretia’s rise into the big league, and introduces her future lover, Crixus, currently just a long-haired arena apprentice. We also meet trainer Oenomaus’s wife, a hot slave girl who looks at Ganni the way Heather Trott might look at a naked George Michael covered head to toe in cheese. By Jupiter’s cock, there may be trouble ahead... ITV’s Gladiators were never like this. Outside of Ulrika’s dressing room at any rate. Even Caligua would say steady on. But he’d probably tune back next week like the rest of us.

MORE suspected racism on TV last week as those twisted swines at ITV2 invited us to laugh at people just because of the colour of their skin. They are the simple orange folk of Brentwood on The Only Way Is Essex – a “living soap” so banal it makes Jersey Shore seem like The Wire. After introducing the world to the vajazzle; Essex now unveiled the wonders of the corned beef tan and the pet micro-pig. Step forward Mr Darcy – “our first born child,” claimed airhead Lydia, who varnishes his trotters and walks him like a dog. Beat that, gypsy wedding planners! Lydia and boyfriend Arg (presumably short for Large cos he never stops eating) then rowed about whether they should rent the flat beneath his bed-hopping best mate Mark. Exciting it wasn’t. Well, not until Sam’s shop opening party where Mr Darcy peed on the floor. Tsk, everyone’s a critic. And rightly! These shallow creosoted clowns make me want to bury my head deep in Nanny Pat’s cheesy hedgehog. The show’s as dull as Crossroads, if not quite as badly acted. But OMG, Sam and Jessica are hot. Shaddup!

*CORNED beef tan, does it come in a spray bentos can?

* FACT: earth girls = 60per cent water; Essex girls = 55per cent silicon, 45per cent collagen, ten per cent not quite up on this maths lark.

HOT on TV: Spartacus: Gods of the Arena... Jaime Murray... new V (Syfy)... new Fringe (Sky1)... Clara Paget (Midsomer).

ROT on TV: Katie – the Price ain’t right... White Van Man – in urgent need of comedy jump-leads... So You Think You Can Dance – so you think we give a flying foxtrot?

ON Wonders of the Universe, Brian Cox discussed gravity, which is vital for our very existence. Why, without gravity, when a lap-dancer took off her clothes they’d float in the air, completely obscuring the view.

*BEING in zero-gravity for days makes you lose all the strength in your legs. So we can only assume that Charlton Athletic are currently training deep in space.

*HELP me out, please. I’ve got a quote in my notebook saying “the massive pull of these monsters can rip a star apart.” Was that from Wonders Of The Universe or the new Katie Price series?

* IT was all-action on Katie, as Pricey enjoyed three whole days of hair treatments on two continents... zzzz. Price is amazing, a self-invented industry and a double-fronted monument to the emptiness of modern celebrity. But the only thing that actually happened - her big split with Alex – got less screen time than her visit to the dentist.

*GOOD news for Alfie Moon: Kat has agreed to IVF treatment to save their marriage. The bad news? She thinks it means Insert Vibrator First.

*IT’S Hollyoaks The Trial this week. Isn’t it a trial every week?

WILL Lily Allen’s Lucy In Disguise boutique inspire other pop stars to open bad-pun retail outlets? How about Adam Ant’s Goody New Shoes, Billy Idol’s White Bedding, Eliza Doolittle’s Skinny Jeans...

*LILY wants to stop being famous so badly she’s made an entire TV series to prove it.

*POOR Steve McDonald has gone from Jack the Lad to a triple-henpecked wimp dominated and humiliated by barking mad boilers. What will he do for an encore? Go on Loose Women? He was better off in chokey.

RANDOM irritations: Nicolas Sarkozy – arse de triomphe. Peter Kay slogging Geraldine to death. Jenni Falconer – devoid of personality, but full of self-love. Andrew Stone getting air time, or indeed air.

SMALL joys of TV: Stan Lee’s Superhumans. Dancing On Ice sand sculptures. Jim McDonald back on Corrie, so he is. ‘Spitfire girl’ Mary Ellis, 93, (Wartime Secrets) – tough, sparky, inspiring...

SEPARATED at birth: Madge on Benidorm and Oogway - one big-eyed, long-necked with a hard shell; the other a turtle from Kung Fu Panda.

March 20. It’s easy to be cynical about Comic Relief, especially now Red Nose Day is officially Red Nose Season. It spreads its tentacles through the schedules for what seems like months at a time, inflicting abysmal shows on us in the name of charity. Let’s Dance For Comic Relief? No, really, let’s not. Robert Webb’s Flashdance was sensational; Katie Price hoovering in a fake moustache is not. But at least it made a change from performing newsreaders. The day we see Evan Davis tap-dancing in a basque with matching nipple clamps will be... the day the Beeb fit hidden cameras in his bedroom. ‘Do something funny for money’ is the slogan. Do something funny for gawd’s-sake, is the annual viewer reaction. Yet this year, unless I’m mellowing, the night itself scored more hits than misses...

Harry Hill’s Autumn Watch spoof with Bernie Clifton and co worked a treat, Karl Pilkington was a magnificent arse, ditto Alan Partridge, Smiffy worked his magic again, and I’m still chuckling at Dale Winton in that dodgy syrup on Uptown Downstairs Abbey. The funniest moment was EastEnders conking out, though. Even BBC technology couldn’t stick Walford’s latest laugh-a-minute ‘scummy-for-money’ prostitution story-line.

Granted Doctor Who was lame, Outnumbered under-par, and most of us would pay NOT to watch Ruby Wax cooking. The world is not yet ready to revise our opinion of Gordon Brown and there’s still something grating about millionaire celebs begging hard-up viewers to donate hard-earned cash, too – especially when the public have no say in where the money goes. You might not have wanted Comic Relief dosh to be used, for example, to fund Shabina Begum taking her Luton school to court for not allowing her to wear a jilbab in class. Or invested in Women In Prison, which campaigns against locking up female criminals. Much of the cash is well spent, of course, but viewers should be able to specify which cause they’d like to see benefit from their generosity. Some might prefer to give to charities serving ex-servicemen let-down by successive governments rather than say the street girls of Bangladesh. Why can’t we have that option? I’d also introduce a competitive element: a stand-up knock-out tournament where we can vote for our favourite funnymen: Billy Connolly or Marcus Brigstocke, you decide; loser to stay off TV for a decade.

WHITNEY Dean went on the game for Comic Relief. And, Rob promised, for £50 more, she’d shave her Pudsey bare... How unlucky can one girl be? Abused by paedo Tony, the Walford teen lost her boyfriend to her step-gran, Cougar Carol, and was tricked into prostitution by two ‘friends’. Although in fairness Rob said he just wanted her to get her five-a-day. Hey Whit, love, if sex gives you a Red Nose, you’re doing it wrong.

*ALL-time funniest Comic Relief moments: 1) Ricky Gervais on a faked African set. 2) Smiffy’s England team talk. 3) Ali G’s Beckhams interview.

*WAYS to make more money next time. 1) A Loose Women sponsored silence 2) For every £1million raised, Kelly Brook removes item of clothing 3) Let viewers choose Jordan’s next husband (come on Katie, it’s not like it’s going to last).

CYNICS say the main point of Comic Relief is to give Lenny Henry something useful to do. But even their hard hearts must have been moved by Famous, Rich & In The Slums. We saw Kenyan families of eight living in one crammed room, smaller than a Premier Inn single, by open sewers. Lenny was so moved he broke the rules and bought a house for the five orphans he was billeted with. The gesture was genuine, and heart-warming; the programme moving and life-affirming.

HOT on TV: The Event... Sarah Roemer... TV Burp... The Mentalist (Five)... Kevin Bridges... Boardwalk Empire (Sky Atlantic).

ROT on TV: Matt Smith as boy-crazed bore Chris Isherwood in Christopher & His Kind – Doctor Who, get you!... Noel Fielding as Kate Bush – wuthering shite... Hairy Bikers: Mums Know Best - shame they didn't know contraception... OMG! – WTF!?!

MORE amazing revelations from Brian Cox. Apparently every part of you was “forged in the furnaces of space”, and not in that bus shelter up on the common as previously thought. “Everything in my body was once part of something else,” the Prof informed us. “A rock, or a tree...” Once? Most of the Hollyoaks cast still is.

* ESSEX comic Russell Kane dragged up as Beyonce. He made a spectacularly ugly woman. Here’s how rough he was, Phil Mitchell proposed...

*PEACHES in a five-in-a-bed orgy? OMG! One Manky Girl. In fairness, Peaches do go best with plenty of plums.

*MATHS guru Alvin Hall is a top addition to Jamie’s Dream School, but that headmaster is woollier than a petting zoo llama; the pupils walk all over him. I’d get Gok Wan to sort out the school uniforms. That’d teach ’em. Give it all you want, kids, but you won’t look ‘hood’ naked...

RANDOM Irritations: TV nepotism – Chloe Madeley, Peaches Geldof, Lily Allen’s flaky sister. The ridiculous ‘cougars’ on OMG! Most looked like they’d been mauled by one. PC-cowed nitwits at ITV hanging Brian True-May out to dry.

SMALL joys of TV: Karl Pilkington (Comic Relief). The In-Betweeners’ rude road trip. Clarissa Dickson-Fright. The BBC’s private dick hypocrisy exposed.

Separated at birth: Dominic West as Fred West, and Joe Swash – one responsible for horrific crimes (Hole In The Wall, At Home With Joe), the other a noted actor.

*MYSTERIES: who let Claire Balding look at the Olympic Clock? How did Corrie’s Xin get that cut-glass accent? Where was Liz McDonald staying in Spain, Costa del Face-Lift? And seriously, now child-like enthusiasm is all the rage, whatever happened to BBC engineering wiz Garry Lavin?

*THE BBC isn’t biased in favour of the European Union, says new boss Chris Patten, the former EU commissioner...

*AN odd episode of Doctor Who last night. The Tardis had landed in pre-War Berlin, and the Doc, who was calling himself Christopher, had turned into a raving iron. All it was short of was a Dalek in the background chanting “Ex-sperminate, ex-sperminate.” And K9 turning up with some KY Jelly.

March 17. The way people are over-reacting to the Midsomer Murders row, you’d think that the local estate agent was Nick Griffin, and exec producer Brian True-May resides in a cottage called Dun-Lynchin’... True-May has been suspended and his TV career is probably kaput because he observed correctly that many Home Counties villages are white. But most small hamlets are. That’s just a fact. English villages tend not to look like Peckham High Street. Keeping the show white merely reflects observable reality. Besides, what sane black person would want to live in Midsomer? The village has a higher death rate than Misrata, or even Weatherfield. Old-fashioned escapism is the essence of the show’s charm – it still has a library, and even more miraculously a working post office. But racist? No. Don’t forget those 251 corpses were all white too. (The grave-diggers are Eastern European, though – no-one else can keep up...)

*NEXT from panicking ITV: Midsomer Madrassas? Murder She Tweeted? A Touch Of Frost & A Line Of Charlie?

March 13. IN a few million years the earth will be fried alive by our dying sun. Sometime later, Brian Cox assured us, every single star and every living creature will be as dead as Prince Andrew’s reputation. Thanks for that, Prof. Welcome to The Wonders Of The Universe, or as I like to call it Happy Hour; a show for people who find EastEnders a tad too cheerful. Brian’s message was simple: We’re all doomed! The “arrow of time” is heading straight for the bulls-eye of oblivion. And everything humanity has ever achieved will count for sod-all. It was like being mugged by a well-meaning vicar.

On the bright side Brian had fun blowing BBC2’s travel budget. We saw him up a mountain, on a Costa Rican beach, next to Patagonian ice fields and building sandcastles in the Namib dessert. No wonder he grins a lot. It was The Wonders Of The Licence Fee, Wish You Were Here with a PhD. “Why are we here?” he asked. “Where do we come from?” I don’t know, but you’d cheerfully carry his bags for a seat on the gravy train. Even if his simpering style does grate like a team of cheese chefs.

Cox wandered about like that guy on The Fast Show insisting everything was “brilliant”; even Armageddon. He quoted numbers huge enough to blow Vorderman’s mind and had a stab at explaining ‘entropy’, a concept summed up by that noted scholar Axl Rose as “nothing lasts forever.” Some of it was nuts. Brian said there was no law in physics to say the wind couldn’t build a sand castle. Well there should be, cos it won’t. And he couldn’t even begin to explain dark energy and dark matter (which make up most of the cosmos) because science doesn’t yet understand them. But he still insisted the future will be a permanent void where “nothing happens and it keeps not happening forever.” So the Universe is going to end up just like Jaywick Sands! Great. Cox may be likeable and engaging to women and small children but his message, frankly, was a kick in the nuts. Especially coming from a bloke who once promised “things will only get better.”

* JUST to clarify, Brian Cox presented The Wonders of the Universe; Courtney Cox in a bikini IS a wonder of the universe.

*WOULD we take Cox seriously if his first name were Isaac?

PHIL Mitchell called Shirley the Terrahawk “beautiful” last week, proving crack addition really mucks up your eye-sight. Would she marry him? No as it happens, but who cared? He’s a failed villain; a bullying grass who stole from his own family. She’s a hard-faced, child-deserting, booze-sozzled skank with all the charm of an angry Rottweiler. Shirl forgave Phil for sleeping with his auntie, after quizzing him about previous wives. “Sharon, what did she look like?” she asked. Miss Piggy? Kathy was “classy”, he claimed. (Especially in lay-bys.) She forgot his other brides, Nadia the bag-lady, Cruella Stella, and Kate, the undercover cop (D’oh!). No mention either of Lisa, who shot him, or his unlikely Swann-upping period with delicious Dawn... He’ll be on top of Heather next. Frankly Phil’s character is clapped-out. The soap needs a new alpha-male, pronto, and it needs Zsa-Zsa back. She’d definitely be on Charlie Sheen’s to-do list.

*TOP let-down? Shirley tossing an entire roast chicken at Jay, and Heather not appearing from nowhere to jump up and swallow it whole.

HOW could The Story Of Variety miss out the 1990s? Michael Grade, the genius who killed off Doctor Who, reckoned variety died in 1984, but is now re-born through talent shows and Michael McIntyre. It was a re-writing of history Joe Stalin would have been proud of. Giants like Freddie Starr, Michael Crawford and Barrymore (before the fall) didn’t even get a mention. Nor did high-rating formats like Live From Her Majesty’s and Wednesday At Eight. Tommy Cooper was glossed over with a still photo. And instead of household names, Michael interviewed Maurice Sellar, the obscure co-writer of the rubbish Reg Varney sitcom Down The Gate. Down The Gate? Grade’s documentary-making career just went down the pan.

*THE best revelation was that superstar tenor Mario Lanza was a violent drunk who duffed up agent Peter Prichard, OBE. There must be a song in this: The Great Caruso-weight.

HOT on TV: new Modern Family (Sky1)... Bradley Walsh (Law & Order UK)... Better With You (5*).

ROT on TV: Piers Morgan – bluffer turned duffer... Love Thy Neighbour – hate thy format... OMG! – stinks like Tim Healy’s breath (allegedly)... Corrie’s fake-marriage saga – Xin when you’re losing.

THERE’S a new rule in Audrey’s salon on Corrie: pensioners pay up front. Yes, poor Edna passed away in curlers on Monday. I believe she asked for the John Stape special. If only dull Xin would book in for a perm. The girl has as much warmth as Ming porcelain.

*NEW Audrey salon slogans: Dye With Dignitas, The Grim Crimper, They Died With Their Roots Done, Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow...

*NATO update: Sophie Webster’s bedroom is still officially a no-flies-zone.

*WHY bother re-casting Two & A Half Men? Just following Charlie Sheen around with a camera would be so much funnier.

*JAMES Nesbitt made a better Monroe than James Franco, but not as good a House as Hugh Laurie. And this is just a shameless rip-off of House M.D. So what next from those great original minds at ITV? Brutal gangsters The Tenors? Cheery sitcom Mates? 1930s drama Ealing Broadway Empire?

*MARTHA Costello, barrister, is pregnant on Silk. Clearly she’s taken down the legal briefs and been tried in the box. Sadly the show is just drama by numbers, a poor man’s North Square. It’d be easier to believe in Elvis Costello, QC.

RANDOM Irritations: absurd X Factor advance hype. TV giving failed politicians a second career. Anyone who claims to be “passionate about cauliflower”. BBC documentaries using metric measures instead of miles, how long before we get a jazz doc on Kilometres Davis?

SMALL joys of TV: Jazzy B (Jamie’s Dream School). Starkey. Melvyn Hayes (Benidorm). Graham Norton’s chat-show. Zach Galifianakis: “I had dyslexia as a child; I wrote about it in my dairy.”

*FANTASY TV: Hawaii 38-DD; Washing Up with the Kardashians; CSI: Charlie Sheen Investigates.

Separated at birth: Miranda Hart and Bernard Bresslaw? One a big, clumsy masculine oaf, and... you’re ahead of me.

March 6. JAMES Franco at the Oscars... what was that all about? He looked about as happy as John Galliano at a bar mitzvah. Flat, disinterested, apparently on medication, the guy was a bigger waste of space than Anne Hathaway’s entire show tune segment. I’m not saying he was stoned, but if a bong could speak it would say, “Hi I’m James Franco.” He made Dermot look like Sammy Davis Jnr.

The Academy booked Franco and Hathaway as hosts to “reach a younger demographic.” Anne in fairness put some effort into it, largely by changing outfits a lot. But Franco? Sheez. If he’d got any livelier a funeral would have broken out. At least Gaddafi would have ranted. Compare and contrast his reception with the way the audience responded to Billy Crystal, or their reaction to old footage of Bob Hope saying: “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Academy Awards, or as it’s known in my house: Passover.”

Youth in itself is not enough; you have to be able to do the job. And awards ceremonies need an entertainer at the helm, especially if they’re as long and dull as this one is. The ordeal began with the traditional insert-hosts-into-movies bit, including Back To The Future - an unwise choice, because if a time machine had been available very few of the audience would have chosen to endure this 97-hour snoozeathon. No pace, no surprises; Colin Firth and his stirrings aside, the speeches were poor and the music was worse. Randy Newman’s performance should be officially recognised as an alternative to water-boarding. And with all the great singers available, why indulge Gwyneth Paltrow? She sang about “a four letter word.” Yeah, crap – and I cleaned that up.

The funniest moment was unintentional: the orchestra getting louder and louder in a bid to drown out Aaron Sorkin. Diana Ross knows a song about this: You Can’t Hurry Luvvies. The biggest talking point, other than Melissa Leo’s classy F-bomb was the appearance of Kirk Douglas, 94. The small joy of seeing the barely living legend here, and not in the montage, was outweighed by questions like what’s the hell has he had done? Kirk’s stretched face now looks less like Spartacus and more like ‘Scouse git’ Tony Booth with Mike Reid’s ears grafted on. A shocked Bruce Forsyth is believed to have said: “Even I’m not that doddery.”

*DRUG up-date: after the show the audience tested positive for disappointment.

*OSCARS mysteries: is Christian Bale growing that beard for a Brian Blessed biopic? Was Melissa Leo auditioning for Mrs Brown’s Boys? Was ‘Winter’s Bone’ Shane Warne’s nickname for Liz Hurley? And seriously, why wasn’t Christopher Nolan nominated for best director?

HOW To Live With Women was more ‘aren’t-men-rubbish?’ cobblers from the Beeb. Take one job-shy user, make him work for three successful women, and voila, he’s cured. In fairness, layabout Tom was as much use as Charlie Sheen at a temperance rally. But when will TV get around to tackling those annoying female habits like not ordering chips and then eating yours, inviting Mum over during the football, wanting you to buy them chocolates and then blaming you for getting fat? (Cont. divorce court)

THE Story of Variety recalled a lost world of scary audiences, loony landladies and flea-infested hostels. It was a time when comedy immortals rubbed shoulders with crocodile charmers, jugglers and flaky memory men. The agents were ancient. Kenny Earl looked like he got his wooden teeth second-hand from Elizabeth I. It’s just a shame Michael Grade’s interviewing technique is so poor. Less ego, Michael, more clips! More magic!

*GRADE insists variety has croaked. So the nine million who watch the Royal are presumably ghosts... Bah! Put Conley, Bassey, Pasquale, Longthorne, Adele, Davro, Freddie Starr and Paul Zerdin on one Saturday night show with great spesh acts and see how dead it is...

HOT on TV: True Blood (FX)... The Killing (BBC4)... Pollyanna (Gadget Show, C5)... John Lydon (One Show).

ROT on TV: James Franco at the Oscars – putting the kak in the Kodak Theatre... OMG! With Peaches Geldoff – oh eff off... Outcasts – sigh-fi... How To Live With Women – more suspect than Christian Bale’s accent.

THE X-Files is re-running from scratch on Sky Atlantic. Every week Mulder sees ghouls and aliens but he can never prove it. You feel like shaking him and saying “Fox, you moron, buy an effing camera!” PS Didn’t Scully look different when she was on Antiques Roadshow?

*GEORGE Michael has a lot in common with Mulder. He also spends a lot of time out in the woods at night hoping to get sucked up by something exotic and friendly…

*PHONE pest to Agnes (Mrs Brown’s Boys): “If you can guess what I have in my hand you can have it.” Agnes: “If it fits in one hand you can keep it.”

*SAM Womack coped with misery, slums and still-born babies in Africa. It was horrible; it was like being back on EastEnders...

*HUMANS are still evolving, said Horizon. Jeremy Kyle’s guests suggest otherwise.

*MEMO to all contenders on The Biggest Loser: you’re still fat!

*FANTASY TV: 1) I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant, Chris Moyles edition. 2) Jamie’s Dream School, with games masters Charlie Sheen. 3) One Man & His Camper Man: Jimmy and Alan Carr together at last!

HOT not on TV: Jim Davidson’s play Stand Up & Be Counted. It’s funny and thought-provoking, so no doubt the Guardian will demand military intervention any day now.

*JIM’S latest wife Michelle is charming and lovely but how must it feel to know that some horrible, heartless swine has opened a book on your marriage? Sorry about that.

RANDOM Irritations: actors who “don’t know what to say” when they win an Oscar. You know you’re nominated, hire a writer! George’s whiney voice on Being Human: man up, wolf-boy!

SMALL joys of TV: Arthur Haynes clips (BBC4). Mrs Brown – living proof that Chubby Brown shagged Mrs Merton. Brian Blessed – the actor Colonel Gaddafi calls “that crazy bloke.” His every TV appearance should begin with the words: “Bring on the Kraken!”

SEPARATED at birth: Jasper Carrott and Vladimir Putin: one an ageing figure of fun, the other a popular English comedian.


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