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.
March 28. MOTHER of God, what has happened to Line Of Duty fans? One episode in, and they’re already losing faith. Unforgotten is so much better, they say. And yes, the show is suffering from TMFA – too many flaming acronyms. Some might enjoy watching an ARU dealing with a GSW while tucking into KFC and a large G&T, but would it hurt to run on-screen translations for the rest of us? Then we’d know instantly that a CHIS (Covert Human Intelligence Source) was an informant, a copper’s nark. But OMG it’s not DOA yet. This was a scene-setter, and a depressing one for our anti-corruption heroes. DI Fleming has quit AC-12 for the MIT (murder investigation team), DS Arnott was washing down painkillers with Corona – the long-term repercussions of being hurled down a stone staircase by Balaclava Man back in 2017. And boss Ted Hastings has been side-lined by top brass (for dumping his laptop and unauthorised prison visits). Subdued, Ted only managed one new Northern Irish expression – “Houl yer whisht” (button it).
Dodgy new DCI, Jo Davidson is reporting to iffy Super Ian Buckells. En route to nick a suspect for the murder of journalist Gail Vella, Jo diverted her convoy to target an armed robbery in process which she claimed improbably to have noticed while passing at high speed. A surveillance team watching the suspect’s flat had to withdraw after Buckells botched the paperwork, giving him time to flee. Instead cops collared Terry Boyle, who has learning difficulties and has been exploited by the crime gang before – his missing freezer once contained Jackie Lavery’s dismembered corpse. Yes, it started slowly, but odds on they’ll be sucking diesel soon.
*Questions arising: which of the new cops is the crime gang infiltrator who we previously saw passing out at Hendon? How close will Kate Fleming, now reporting to AC-12 again, get to lesbian Jo? And since when do DCIs interview murder suspects?
DEATH where is thy sting? On Midsomer Murders, the bees dunnit. Well, some of it. The fiend behind the bee-related killings was... the yoga trainer – quite a stretch. But Midsomer isn’t about realistic crime and detection. It’s a celebration of English village eccentricity with homicide thrown in as light entertainment. Derek Griffiths was a randy reverend who didn’t get to Play Away. He fancied the dishy doctor who was smeared in bee pheromones and stung to death. Another victim perished in a suit of beeswax. It’s all deliciously dotty. There’s been death by wild boar, death by frog toxin and once Martine McCutcheon was bumped off with a giant cheese round... which still wasn’t as cheesy as the time Frank Butcher ran her over. (Shame the killer wasn’t a stinking bishop). Oddly Griff Rhys Jones as bolshy beekeeper Ambrose Deddington wasn’t dead-ed at all.
THE strongest documentary of the week was also the bleakest. Football’s Darkest Secret told how youth trainers like Barry Bennell molested scores of boys. It took guts for ex-Crewe defender Andy Woodward to tell his story, encouraging other victims to come forward. Former midfielder Steve Walters was left traumatised and broken. Ex England star Paul Stewart’s abuser, Frank Roper, swore he’d kill Paul’s parents if he spoke out. When he scored the equaliser for Spurs in the 91 Cup Final, Stewart said he didn’t enjoy it “because I had this empty soul”. Heart-breaking. Hundreds of lives were blighted by predators who betrayed positions of trust. Like other powerful abusers, these scumbags knew their status, along with their victims’ fear and shame, would keep a lid on their revolting crimes.
HOT on TV: Unforgotten... Your Honor (SkyAt)... Zero, Zero, Zero finale.
ROT on TV: Robert Peston, All Star Musicals – no star performance... This Is My House – daytime dross, demolish.
*CORPSES in fridge-freezers are TV’s latest crime cliché. But at least Michael Ball is safe. There’s not a freezer in the land big enough to take him. Looks like John Barrowman is on the same diet...
*PSYCHICS Colin Fry and Derek Acorah are dead, but why aren’t they making new TV shows?
*WHAT a world we’re building! Imagine a kid in years to come asking their parents about the family history. “Well, we met on Naked Attraction, Married At First Sight and within hours we were Strangers Making Babies... ”
*DON’T fret about Covid. It can’t last forever. According to Terminator 2 we’re only eight years away from the A.I. apocalypse.
*AMANDA Holden on Comic Relief? Wasn’t that how she got famous?
THIS Is My House is less Through The Keyhole, more Down The Plughole. It crosses Loyd Grossman’s classic show with Would I Lie To You? Four people pretended to own a converted Kent barn. Which one was real? Why would we care? Keyhole let us peek into celebrity homes, Would I Lie is consistently hilarious. The fakes here – including an OTT yank – weren’t remotely credible and the judges were as funny as subsidence.
*A PENIS-shaped bottle-opener was pixilated. A proper boner of contention...
Small Joys of TV: Resident Alien. Tricia Helfer, BSG. Law & Order UK repeats. Invincible (AmPrime). Griff Rhys Jones, Midsomer Murders. Hausen. DC Chloe Bishop, Line Of Duty.
Random Irritations: Creeping levels of violence and intimidation on all soaps. Do we really want family shows to serve up an endless cycle of drugs, gangs and vicious threats? Lighten up!
Classic Clanger. MUTV football commentator Ben Thornley: “If Pogba starts to open up his legs, then Palace are going to see a problem.”
March 21. PITY the poor groom on Grace whose pals buried him alive in a coffin, Max Branning style. It made a stag do in the Queen Vic being drooled over by Big Mo feel like a hot weekend in Budapest. Michael’s mates did it “for a laugh”, but then one of them tried to finish him off for real. And that wasn’t even the worst betrayal. Michael’s bride-to-be Ashley was shagging his best man, Mark – the business partner who’d left him to die. Worse, she was a con artist with a string of victims, and her psycho side-kick killed Mark and sliced off Michael’s finger. Gawd knows what would’ve happened if she’d ask him to toast his nuptials.
John Simm played DS Roy Grace, a dour, middle-aged Brighton cop shunted over to cold case investigations, who gets sucked into hot crimes too. Grace’s wife Sandy had gone AWOL years before – possibly, whisper it, because the bloke’s about as exciting as watching the Gulls. Amazing Grace, he’s ain’t. He works with a psychic, but even he didn’t see where this story was going. The plot had the niftiest twists this side of Nemesis Inferno. I haven’t read the original Peter James books, so I can’t say whether the original tale or this adaptation was the reason Grace’s oppo DS Branson was so one-dimensional. Let’s hope ITV flesh him out for the second instalment, which they’ve moved to later this year rather than take on the might of Line Of Duty. They also need to sort out the dialogue, which was lamer than Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspect. In fairness, at least the story had an ending. Unlike Finding bloody Alice (please don’t bother looking).
*THE top sign your marriage is doomed? The first dance at the wedding reception is U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. Ashley’s choice would’ve been Money For Nothing...
THE steamiest telly of the week was Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion at the Grammys, which was halfway between lesbian porn and all-in wrestling. It was so hot, James Corden quipped that TV bosses had to “cover Young Sheldon’s eyes”. The poor kid’s bowtie must have been spinning like a ballerina on speed. Let’s hope The Bay’s karaoke-loving detective Lisa Armstrong doesn’t try to re-enact it with Vera on her next night out.
FAWLTY Towers first aired in 1975 and it’s still laugh-out-loud funny. John Cleese’s bad-tempered Basil was a toxic mix of stupidity and snobbishness. His disdain for those he saw as below him and pathetic fawning over the posh and privileged made him the very last person who should run a hotel. Yet incredibly he was based on a real Torquay hotelier. All of the characters were drawn deliciously, not least Sybil, Basil’s wife who hated his guts. Each episode is a perfect mini-farce. None are weak, but The Germans and Communication Problems are the funniest, along with the car’s fate in Gourmet Evening. Tragically, due to BBC tunnel vision, no current sitcom comes close.
HOT on TV: Kaley Cuoco, The Flight Attendant... Susan Lynch, Bloodlands... The Story Of Us.
ROT on TV: Comic Relief – a relief when it’s over... Drawers Off art – definitely more fake than fortune.
ITV and the BBC marked St Patrick’s Day. BBC4 had St David’s Day shows for Welsh viewers too... Gentle reminder – it’s St George’s Day on 23rd April. Wouldn’t it make a nice change if they celebrated that as well?
*WHAT a result for DCI Tom Brannick on Bloodlands. Not only did “Goliath” kill with impunity, he also qualified automatically for the All-Ireland Gurning Contest – winner to take on Vicki Pattison for the British Isles title. PS. Where did all that snow go?
*ALLEN Vs Farrow disappointed. Firstly because I misread the title and was expecting the sequel to Alien Vs Predator. But chiefly because it was so one-sided. Mia Farrow’s accusations were unquestioned and remain unproven; US cops dropped the case against Woody Allen. For his side, read his book Apropos Of Nothing.
*THAT Oprah/Meghan interview was shown on CBS in the States. Apt, said comic Bill Maher, “cos when I turned it on, boy did I see BS”.
*IN 2006, BBC bosses killed off EastEnders gangster Johnny Allen saying the soap shouldn’t be about villainy. Have they watched it lately? It’s got more psychos than Broadmoor.
*THE Repair Shop’s Kirsten did a cracking restoration job on a flaky old musical dog. Anyone mentioning Madonna in this context should be excluded from polite society.
*ARE those Green Green Grass repeats for the benefit of people who forgot what a let-down it was the first time?
HURRAH! The Champions is running on Talking Pictures TV. This late 60s sci-fi thriller about super-powered spies was made by Lew Grade’s ITC who also gave us The Prisoner and Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased), back when ITV had imagination. Last week’s baddie was Peter Wyngarde, AKA Jason King from Department S who solved problems “too baffling for Interpol” – another ITC classic.
Small Joys of TV: Sally Phillips, Hypothetical. The Falcon & The Winter Soldier (Disney+). Kelly Holmes. Top Gear’s “dad cars” tribute. Alexandra Bastido, The Champions.
Random Irritations: BBC Breakfast’s flag-hating berks. John Oliver – self-righteous cock. The Beeb insisting the Proms “aren’t just about classical music” – why the hell not? Where else can fans see it?
March 14. THE Oprah and Meghan show split the country even harder than Brexit did. Was Megs a brave, long-suffering victim who took on a racist establishment, as many Twitter users believe? Or a self-serving Hollywood d-lister giving the performance of her life – the Piers Morgan verdict? One obvious problem is that Oprah Winfrey failed to ask Megs – or Harry when he turned up – about the finer details of their complaints. Why, if no questions were off-limits, did Oprah not push the couple on their claim that one Royal was “concerned” about unborn baby Archie’s skin colour? What exactly was said, by whom, and in what context? Were they concerned or just curious? To drop a depth charge like that, knowing full well the stink it’d kick up, and then refuse to elaborate doesn’t seem courageous, Joe Biden. More intentionally poisonous. Besides, isn’t fleeing “racist” Britain for the USA like jumping out of a tepid frying pan into a raging inferno?
If the Duchess felt suicidal, that’s a shocking business. But when she needed counselling, why didn’t Harry help more? (Ditto if she didn’t know how to curtsy.) Why, if Megs is as lovely as we’d like to believe, has she fallen out with her entire family? Oprah didn’t ask. Nor did she know enough about Royal protocol to bat away the assertion that racism was the reason Archie wasn’t a Prince – which was as palpably false as the claim they’d “married” three days before their £32m wedding. I liked Meghan at first and hoped the Markle Sparkle would become a permanent fixture. Being charitable, perhaps no one explained to our self-absorbed Little Mermaid the difference between royalty and celebrity. Or spelt out what a life of duty meant. Still, roll on the return match. The Sussexes with Andrew Neil would do nicely. Enough of “her truth” and “his truth”, just give us the truth.
THERE are some positives about Piers quitting GMB. For starters, Susannah got the hearing back in her right ear. Some mornings Piers was so loud people watching BBC Breakfast could hear him. But ITV shot themselves in a foot by trying to force Morgan to apologise instead of defending free speech. Their breakfast ratings will drop faster than their share price. The channel has lost its way. Sure, its true crime dramas deliver, but its big formats are past-it and it hasn’t had a hit comedy since TV Burp. They urgently need an entertainment visionary but sadly today’s equivalent of David Bell or Nigel Lythgoe is nowhere to be seen.
THE BBC love to crow about their “ground-breaking” comedy, but what have they got for family viewers? Where’s the 8pm sitcom, the 7.30pm sketch show? Where are the working-class voices? The first time I saw Billy Connolly live he had the audience gasping for breath. Funny Festival Live had feisty comics like Thanya Moore and Joanne McNally, but little in the way of belly-laughs. The roars we heard contrasted sharply with shots of the crowd just smiling. And yes I know there were Covid restrictions but the regular Live At The Apollo cheats their audience reaction shots too. Davro is right. Why not let older popular comics have a go? Not just great old mainstream pros like Bobby and Jethro, but seasoned turns from the club circuit like Martin Beaumont and Brian Higgins? Let’s make Britain laugh again!
HOT on TV: Life In Colour... Lucy Dwan, Bloodlands... Flintoff & Redknapp, DNA Journey.
ROT on TV: Saturday Night Take-Away – Ant & Dec woefully exposed without an audience... The Best House In Town – the worst show on telly.
ROB Beckett was “the rank outsider” on Celebrity Bake Off – something Jonathan Ross could never say. Toothy comic Rob got a Hollywood handshake. He was doing okay until he mucked up his ganache paste, admitting “I could do grouting with that”. Poor Daisy Ridley called her own shortbread “rancid” and herself a “dunce... the token joke.” Although in fairness the Star Wars star happily sent herself up. “What was it like, actually being in that episode of Casualty in 2013,” teased Tom Allen. “I get asked this all the time,” she replied. Alexandra Burke rightly won. The “bugbear cakes” round was inspired. How much flour would it take to make a life-sized GC sponge?
PEOPLE pretend to be something they’re not on Celebrity Circle. In many cases, they pretend to be celebrities. Others fake being bigger names. We got to see Lady Leshurr’s Big Narstie – nowhere near as exciting as that sounds. But players saw straight through Baga Chips as crazy Kim Woodburn – living the dream, Baga. Hilariously the first celebs up for eviction were genuine ones.
*DS Dodds passed his fitness tests on McDonald & Dodds. The scripts are still on life support. Tonight’s final episode has been quietly shunted off air
*GREAT lies of the week. Jenny Éclair, Drawers Off: “A fantastic first day in the studio.”
*JENNY reckoned Jon was working “against type” with his portrait of Jilly. And also against reality. He gave her two arms on one side.
Small Joys of TV: The Champions (TPTV). Hysterically lousy artwork on Drawers Off. Robert Plant: By Myself. Soppy Matt Lucas. Bill Maher raising awareness of the epidemic of awareness raising.
Random Irritations: Chips & butter. Ginge & Whinge. The ludicrous, bum-numbing length of many ITV shows, surely now a recognised cause of DVT. Why stretch the joy out of formats that work perfectly at a single hour?
TV questions: If the Stig won The Masked Singer, how many minds would that blow? Did ITV forget that DS Dodds was supposed to be the smart one on McDonald & Dodds? And Why doesn’t Corrie’s Carla look directly at her love interests? What she looking at? Cue cards? Maybe she’s just cock-eyed.
CLASSIC clanger. Desmond Morris opened the door of the gent’s toilet at a zoo on Animal Roadshow to show Sarah Kennedy the beautiful birds inside. His immortal words? “There’s been a cockatoo in there.”
March 7. ONE big problem with McDonald & Dodds is that they don’t feel like coppers. Dodds is more like what would happen if a mad scientist animated a Care Bear after pumping it full of train-spotter DNA. The show returned with a hot-air balloon murder. Sadly, most of the over-heated gas was in the script. Four 80s faces were living in luxury Bath apartments. Martin Kemp was music mogul Mick, Patsy Kensit was Botoxed Barbara, Rupert Graves played Peter York style snob Gordon, and Cathy Tyson was writer Jackie. Mick laid on a surprise last-minute balloon trip for them involving the worst CGI since Vanity Fair. Gate-crasher Frankie – who’d been blackmailing them for decades – plummeted to his doom. A deserving fall-guy. Enter Ray, an air accident investigator played by Rob Brydon as Dodds’s nit-picking double.
Except the harmless anorak turned out to be the real killer, out for revenge over the murder of his childhood pal. But how did he know about the balloon trip? Or that Mick had weights at home for him to pinch? How did he know Frankie would gate-crash their ride? Instead of his improbably complex murder plan, why didn’t he just nobble the balloon and take out all five of them? And if he’d grown up on RAF bases in Germany why the West Country accent? The script had more plot holes than Lebanon has pot holes, along with the obligatory dig at Thatcher (the famous four were driven by Yuppie greed). It isn’t enough to be convoluted and quirky, it has to be clever and credible too. McDonald & Dodds is to Midsomer Murders what Tipping Point is to Only Connect. It’s less Death In Paradise, more Dull In Somerset. Gentle escapism? Maybe, but I’d rather tuck into a McDonald’s and fries. On the plus side, Bath looks lovely.
*IF we’re going to conjure up unlikely cop fantasies, how about a Dirty Harry-style hero who bangs up bad guys and isn’t as bent as Uri Geller’s cutlery?
WELL done the near-naked artists on Drawers Off. It takes balls to go on national TV and show off your miniatures. They say great art is in the eye of the beer-holder, and you certainly needed to sink a few to appreciate Sarah’s frantic “expressive” work. She drew Shevon’s head so small the poor woman could have been on loan from Beetlejuice. Poor Shevon. Sara turned her into an older, chunkier cavewoman; Will’s version was an oddly-shaped cartoon. Shevon’s slow “Okay... ” verdict spoke volumes. I liked Glyn’s tattoo-inspired work, but they can all take comfort from knowing that they weren’t as bad as they were painted.
ON Stand Up & Deliver, “comedy mentor” David Baddiel’s only strategy was to try and get Rev Richard Coles to swear. Specifically, to say “Jesus, can I f***!” Yawn. Shaun Ryder needed no encouragement. “You’re going to be laughing your bollocks off,” he said in rehearsal. “Not because I’m funny but because I’ve spiked your f***ing drinks.” Away from his clumsy cue cards, Shaun was hilarious. I’d pay to hear an hour of his earthy anecdotes. But in the event, it was Baroness Warsi – formerly co-chairwoman of the Conservative Party – who stormed to victory. She did this largely by attacking the Tories and dropping the F-bomb – and she hadn’t even seen Rishi’s budget at the time. Yeah, see – right-of-centre folk can make it in modern TV comedy... just as long as they toe the approved line. Next, how about booking someone genuinely funny to mentor the mentors?
*REV Coles at his rudest: “I really like genital acts. I saw them support the Clash in 1977.”
HOT on TV: Paloma Faith, Pennyworth (Starzplay)... The Terror... Bill Burr: Paper Tiger (Netflix)... Deutschland 89.
ROT on TV: Your Honor – poorly judged... McDonald & Dodds – largely duds... David Baddiel, Stand Up & Deliver – a bad deal all round.
THE Terror adds supernatural horror to the true story of a doomed 1845 Arctic expedition – the crew of two British ships are stalked by a monster called the Tuunbaq (think Hornblower meets Steven King). If only they had turned back... It’s well-cast and atmospheric, a nightmare in ten parts, but it’s still not as weird as the Marcella finale which was so far beyond bonkers I can only assume Hans Rosenfeldt wrote it for a bet.
*A KILLER twist on Bloodlands as heroic cop Tom Brannick gunned down an innocent unarmed man. So is Tom mystery psychopath Goliath? Is his wife actually alive? Why is Tori, daughter of one of the victims, getting close to him? It’s so baffling I had to Goliath down.
*THE easy way for cops to discover Goliath’s identity: just ask around town who’s been buying up postcards of that giant crane.
*AFTER The Muppets and Dr Seuss, can it be long before the PC axe falls on the Trumpton firemen for lack of workplace diversity? And what about those Flowerpot Men? Where are the flowerpot women? Sexist bastards.
*MEL Giedroyc: Unforgivable. Mel & Sue? Just Unwatchable.
Small Joys of TV: Bill Maher’s cancel culture rant. Drawers Off using the Vision On music. Life In Colour. After Henry re-runs (Forces TV). Laia Costa, Devils. The Many Faces of Ronnie Barker.
Random Irritations: BBC dimwits censoring Fawlty Towers, one of our most sublime sitcoms. Too much soap in police dramas. Way too much rabbit on Britain’s Favourite 80s Songs.
SEPARATED at birth: Jonathan Ross and Mr Noseybonk. One an ancient TV grotesque who terrified small children, and so’s the other one.