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 27. THIS is my 777th column for this great paper, and the 1605th since Bushell On The Box began in 1987. The column has spawned an ITV series, a boardgame, a DVD, two books and a regular segment on The Big Breakfast. It was even spoofed by Viz as Bluto On The Box.
I WROTE my first TV column 35 years ago and led on Roger Cook’s hard-hitting new current affairs show The Cook Report. Back then variety was televised, Coronation Street was cosy, and once someone on EastEnders actually smiled, although on reflection it was probably wind. We had four channels. TV now is more like the control panel of the Star Trek Enterprise. There are streaming services, pay channels, satellite channels... we have more choice than a love-starved love-rat on Love Island. Yet it’s harder to find anything worth watching, and when we do, we feast on it, gorging through boxsets like those pumas devouring guancos on Dynasties II.
There aren’t many “watershed moments” now. With downloads and Sky+ we watch what we want when it suits us. Mainstream TV mattered more decades ago. There was less this-will-do, more effort. Dramas had wit and verve in the 60s (The Avengers, The Prisoner, Danger Man, The Persuaders). And working-class voices abounded in the 80s, from the Auf Wiedershen Geordies to the Blackstuff Scousers. Cockneys may be discriminated against today but Londoners were everywhere once: Minder, Big Deal, Fox, Out, Hazell, Prospects, Fools & Horses... Scripted comedy was at the heart of our schedules, not cooking and daytime dross. Viewers were entertained by peerless variety professionals. And Les Dennis. TV’s second golden age kicked off in the 90s. Cracking HBO shows like The Sopranos and later Game Of Thrones outshone Hollywood. But political correctness, class prejudice and comedy snobbery are choking the life out of modern telly. Viewers want escapism, not endless nagging. TV bosses would be foolish to carry on thinking their views and predilections are the only ones that matter.
*PS. Intrepid reporter Roger Cook – half Meatloaf, half-Equaliser – once doorstepped me with a camera crew... mercifully as a spoof for my 1996 ITV series.
My TV Top 7s! All-time TV dramas. UK: Minder. The Sweeney. Sharpe. The Avengers. Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. House Of Cards. The Prisoner. US: The Sopranos. Game Of Thrones. The Shield. Dallas. Columbo. Boston Legal. NYPD Blue.
Top modern dramas. The Wire. Life On Mars. Peaky Blinders (until 2017). Line Of Duty. Chernobyl. Luther. Sons Of Anarchy.
All-time greatest sitcoms. UK: Only Fools & Horses. Hancock’s Half Hour. Porridge. Fawlty Towers. Steptoe & Son. Dad’s Army. Rising Damp. US: The Simpsons. Seinfeld. Frasier. The Larry Sanders Show. I Love Lucy. Friends. Cheers.
Top modern sitcoms. The Office. Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights. Extras. Modern Family. Still Game. Peep Show. Catastrophe.
Top modern joys. Harry Hill’s TV Burp. Curb Your Enthusiasm. Would I Lie To You? Black Mirror. Fargo. Cobra Kai. Inside No 9.
All-time stinkers. Naked Jungle. Sing If You Can. Don’t Scare The Hare. Flock Stars. Beat The Crusher. Ice Warriors. Len Goodman’s Partners In Rhyme. Next week, more Top 7s!
MUMBLING actors, OTT soundtracks and dramas shot in the dark (like Chloe) are constant viewer irritations. We also dislike unknown “celebrities”, talentless reality “stars” and dumbed-down quiz shows. But wherever I go, people’s number one moan is the decline of TV comedy. Popular sitcoms, down-to-earth comics and family-friendly sketch shows have been largely abandoned by humourless zealots. Yet these days we need laughter more than ever. Writers like Eddie Braden, John Sullivan and Caroline Aherne had the knack of creating comic characters we could love. Unlike most TV folk, these writers came from humble roots. We need more like them. Minority elitist tastes attract minority elitist audiences.
*IF they’re going to stick warnings on Dad’s Army, how about balancing that with: “Caution! This show contains distressing scenes of middle-class bedwetters!” Or “Beware! Toothless satire!” Maybe give news “experts” fuller on-screen descriptions too, like “Danger! Eco-loon!” I’d rule out “Contains scenes of politicians lying”; that would be in daily use.
HOT on TV: Jasmine Jobson, Top Boy (Netflix)... Para//els (Disney+)... This Is Going To Hurt finale.
ROT on TV: The Island – isle of s***e... Interior Design Masters... The Simple Life – more old-hat than a second-hand milliner.
HARPREET won The Apprentice, largely cos Kathryn’s business involved dog pyjamas. £250K for cake shops though? Sugar looked like he had the soggy bottom. A crepe end to a half-baked series. My winner was the exploding turd cruise logo.
*HARPREET called her cakes “naughty” but failed to suggest a meringue a trois...
*NICK looked like he was “inspecting the buffet at Mr Kipling’s funeral,” said Sugar. Yep. He does make exceedingly good wakes.
*THEY use half-inflated netballs to keep genitals apart during sex scenes on Bridgerton. Brid and PJ had a similar experience on Holding, but it was just his meat baguette slipping.
*ON Corrie Adam Barlow was pushed off a balcony, landing on his back. He came to in hospital with a face full of cuts and bruises. How? Was there a feral cat in the ambulance? Or did she stay in Walford?
Small Joys of TV: Dynasties II. Nikki Kelly as Sylvia Garnsey on Hi-de-Hi! repeats (Gold). Lee Mack. Robert Plant & The Sensational Shape Shifters (SkyArts).
Random irritations: Quiz show questions about obscure TV shows or forgettable fly-by-night pop acts – this is not general knowledge. . Watered-down Bridgerton. Eddie Jones – kick him into touch.
MY all-time favourite goof. Ulrika Jonsson, talking about snowfall on GMTV: “I had a good eight inches last night.”
March 20. WHAT’S happened to Peaky Blinders? It’s a bigger doped-up mess than Arthur Shelby. This once-great show feels slow, lumbering and neutered. Backstreet Caesar Tommy Shelby (Labour MP, gangster, opium trader) spent most of Sunday’s episode stumbling around what looked like Wuthering Heights. There was mist, wind, stony peaks... you half expected Kate Bush to start squawking behind a rock. Tommy’s wee daughter Ruby had TB, but he was convinced she was the victim of a gypsy curse. He’d tracked down Esme, his ex-sister-in-law (widow of his brother John), for umpteen minutes of meandering mystic mumbo-jumbo and manic ranting... only to miss poor Ruby snuffing it. Elsewhere Tom’s sister, Red Ada, stood in for him at an unlikely meeting with Diana Mitford, Oswald Mosley’s mistress. Diana was a snob, a fascist and apparently a bi-sexual speed-freak (something else historians missed).
The real action was in Liverpool where dockers had been helping themselves to Shelby opium. Ada sent Isiah, with Mad Arthur and some trainee Peakies, to duff up union convener Haydn Stagg. Stagg, played by the great Stephen Graham, managed to rattle Arthur with psychology. He, and Arthur’s recovery, are the only hope the series will end as well as it started. But the odds aren’t good. It’s been lumbered with Peaky Blunders since the early years, when the script wrongly claimed the British fought at the battle of Verdun. But now every episode is stuffed with fake history, including the barking claim that 20million Brits attended fascist rallies in 1933. Do behave. The rot set in last series and it’s spread. Why has writer Steven Knight allowed this to happen? My guess is he’s believed his own reviews – and run out of ideas. The show lacks humour, credibility and crucially gang warfare. They’ve even ditched the theme tune.
INTERVIEW week on The Apprentice is brutal. Sugar’s advisors are blunt, forensic and fearsome, and Brittney fared worse than most. She pitched an alcoholic protein drink, but her business plan was “a glorified brochure”, she’d forgotten manufacturing costs and the foul potion tasted “chalky and bitter”. You’d be better off with a pork pie and a pint. The others weren’t much better – Harpreet had a “desert concept” and an unmentioned sister, Stephanie’s pre-loved designer clobber (second-hand clothes) came with a proposed authentication partner company that didn’t authenticate clothes... ) Kathryn’s plan, for matching family pyjamas (accurately dubbed “the rantings of a lunatic” by Claude Littner – great to have him back) involved two years of heavy losses and air-freighting jim-jams from China. Somehow, she survived and Steph went.
DON’T let Michael Mosley watch Holding! These County Cork villagers neck wine like tap water and cook their grub in so much butter that just a sniff of breakfast would harden Joe Wicks’ arteries. The darkly comic whodunnit is full of oddballs with weird country ways. Most dress like an unmade Tracy Emin bed. The discovery of local love-rat Tommy Burke’s bones during a farmhouse demolition gives local cop PJ more to do than scoff Mrs Meany’s heart-stopping fry-ups. Motives abound. Tommy had ditched dipso bride-to-be Brid at the altar and was knocking off her hotter sister Evelyn. Maybe “Mrs Doyle” star Pauline McLynn was jealous. Imagine the scene: “Ah Tommy, you will, you will, you will... you won’t? Bastard!” BLAM!
*EVELYN, 40, is shagging a randy schoolboy in a clapped-out ambulance. Ambulance sex! It’s fast, noisy, with occasional screams and constant prayers that you come on time.
HOT on TV: Lucy Boynton, The Ipcress File... new Top Boy (Netflix)... Daliso Chaponda... The Real Peaky Blinders.
ROT on TV: Baftas – a woke joke... Comic Relief – a relief when it’s over... Fame In The Family – lame in every sense.
Random Bafta irritations: Pointless red-carpet posing & preening. Undeserved wins for rotten films – dreary Dune, Licorice Pizza. Tedious digs at JK Rowling. Even the box-ticking element got it wrong.
JEREMY Kyle’s vile ITV show was rightly dubbed “human bear-baiting”. Death On Daytime showed how vulnerable people were conned and bullied by this jumped-up posh boy who set himself up as judge and jury. Cold-hearted Kyle saw his victims as less than human. Three took their own lives. Who here was the real lowlife?
*A NEW Celebrity Mastermind low as Clive Myrie asked, “Oink is a sound made by what farmyard animal?” Really, BBC? What next, spell your own surname? Coming soon, specialist subject “My Instagram feed”.
I HAD a whale of a time Talking Pints with Nigel Farage on GB News this week. A lively interviewer, he’s happy to chat to people he disagrees with and takes those “Barrage the Farage” questions sight unseen.
*GB News should launch a weekly satirical show. Who else has the balls?
BRIDGE Of Lies has no bridge, no lies, and Ross Kemp as a host. It’s The Adventure Game’s vortex with an added guessing game. Kemp spends too long waffling and lacks the warmth and comic sharpness to make a poor format watchable.
*KATE & Koji is more concerned with making clunking Guardian-friendly political points than laughs. The cast are good, the comedy weak. Koji had the best line, on eco-loons gluing their heads to the road: “I think it’s a mistake,” he said. “The forecast is for flooding.”
Small Joys of TV: Annie Wersching, The Borg Queen, (Star Trek: Picard). The Curse and Emer Kenny. Shirley Bassey at the Baftas. Original Maigret (Pictures TV).
SEPARATED at birth: Benny Hill and Conleth Hill in Holding? One a flabby figure of fun from a by-gone era... the other is a late, great comedian.
March 13. CLASSY Fiona came home to find another couple moving into her £2million London semi on Our House. She took it pretty well, but then Fi was used to heart-breaking surprises. Months before, she’d stumbled across husband Bram bonking her best pal Merle in the kids’ playhouse. She’d had a Semillon, he had something similar. Caught bobbing away between Merle’s legs, Bram hilariously told Fi “It’s not what it looks like!” So what was it? Late night limbo doubles practice? They should’ve called that shed a Wendy-house, as in “Wendy house is rocking, Bram is knocking... up the neighbour”. He was a reckless berk with a stash of speeding fines to prove it. Racing home for a reconciliation, banned driver Bram was provoked into a road rage incident and forced a car off the road, leaving a child to die. Enter Wendy, a one-night-stand... who wasn’t. Blackmail quickly became property fraud. Bram co-operated to keep his sorry arse out of clink.
The four-part ITV potboiler was so stuffed with terrific twists it could’ve been called Inside No 91. Fi’s smug new fella Toby/Mike masterminded the entire scam. Then he was cleverly out-conned... only for Bram’s suicide note to doom Fi to jail. The time-jumps irritated. You could only work out where we were by Fi’s hair-style. And too much was left unexplained. How did the blackmailers know Bram would be at a conference, or that he’d drive back like the clappers? Why couldn’t Toby taste the ground-up tablets in his plonk? And why was Bram, played by Martin Compston, so irresistible to women? The Line Of Duty star’s line of booty included Merle, wicked Wendy, and work colleague Saskia. He could have been the new Matt Hancock. I’d write more but I’ve got a playhouse to build.
*FI was Tuppence Middleton. Cheat on her and you’re obviously not the full shilling.
THE new series of Star Trek: Picard is like manna from heaven for Trekkers and Trekkies alike. There’s Seven Of Nine, Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan, the Borg and a cracking final twist that I won’t blow for you. And that was just episode one. That’s like EastEnders hitting us with Angie Watts, Grant Mitchell, Nasty Nick and throwing in the ghost of Frank Butcher... You feel sorry for Picard. He’s 80-odd, happily retired, tending his vineyard and falling for Orla Brady’s Laris, but Starfleet just keep calling him back. There was a spatial anomaly, of course there was. Thousands of aliens appeared to be trapped inside it, all calling for Picard. Naturally, it was a con, and cue the real villain... who will delight you.
THERE isn’t a ducking stool in the world big enough to dunk everyone involved in The Witchfinder, but we could start with the berks who commissioned it. It’s typical of modern sitcoms – zero laughs and few viewers. Episode one’s 750,000 audience will plummet like a witch on a busted broomstick. It’ll still get nominated for a Bafta, though. Even The Repair Shop couldn’t fix BBC TV comedy.
HOT on TV: Tom Hollander, The Ipcress File... Michael Keaton, Dopesick (Disney+)... Servant Of The People.
ROT on TV: The Witchfinder – lacks magic... Killing Eve – a self-indulgent mess...the NCAs – national complacency awards.
WHO Made Britain Fat? We did. It’s not the state’s job to tell us what to eat, we’re not North Korea. Blaming the government, as Michael Mosley does, is like Monty Python’s nabbed crook saying, “It’s a fair cop but society is to blame.” PS. The show aired on C4, home of Bake Off, Snackmasters, Extreme Chocolate Makers, Come Dine With Me etc etc... D’oh!
*BAD history haunts Peaky Blinders like a gypsy curse. On Sunday, Alfie Solomons talked about bayoneting Italians in World War I. Either the writer forgot Italy was on our side then, or Alfie was fighting for the Jerries.
IT was Emmerdale Vs EastEnders this week. Like having to choose between typhoid and cholera. Enders lost, so you might’ve missed psycho-killer Gray proving harder to kill than John Wick. In a related story, plans for a Walford edition of Monopoly were scrapped when the makers realised every other square would have to be Go To Jail.
MULTIPLE fails on The Apprentice. Their baby food was either “stodgy, tasteless” and “like Plaster of Paris” or lumbered with a slogan that appeared to read “First Time Dies”. Sugar’s double sacking seemed restrained. Maybe sack the booker too.
*THE Chase gave ArrDon as a possible rapper’s name. He’d certainly stand out.
*ROCK Till We Drop’s ratings more than halved in a week. They rocked; viewers dropped.
Small Joys of TV: Lucy Boynton. Tuppence Middleton playing footie bra-less in the park in a flimsy top – you could see it was chilly too. The Prisoner repeats (Horror).
Random irritations: Cliched dialogue in dramas. Factual sloppiness on Peaky Blunders. Lazy TV bosses opting for endless remakes and copycat commissions.
SEPARATED at birth. Joe Cole, The Ipcress File, and young Elvis Costello? One blamed it on Cain, the other replaced him.
TV questions. Why can’t The Witchfinder hire a joke finder? Has Putin got a brother called Ras? If Tuppence Middleton went into business with Jill Halfpenny, would it be a tuppenny ha’penny enterprise?
QUOTE of the week: David Gower, talking about cricketer Jonny Bairstow’s reaction to a test appeal (BT Sport), said: “You could see the horror on Bairstow’s face when the finger went up.”
March 6. MANY MPs have second jobs but few, as far as we know, have gone into the opium trade. It’s another first for Tommy Shelby – Labour MP, gangster and First World War veteran – who now plans to flog opium to the Yanks... which will bring new meaning to “Poppy Appeal”. There were fights, frights and fresh foes for Tommy as Peaky Blinders swaggered back for its final series, bidding a touching farewell to Aunt Pol who was cremated in her gypsy caravan. Bird song replaced music on the credits in a tribute to the late Helen McCrory who played her. After huge historical Peaky Blunders in the shark-jumping last series – Oswald Mosley was a Labour MP in 1929, not a fascist – we’ve skipped ahead to 1933. Tommy hasn’t touched a drop of hooch for four years and seems calmer. But, like Bruce Banner, you wouldn’t like him when he was angry. Provoked into a brawl on Miquelon Island, he brutally slashes a Frenchman’s face with a switchblade, and shoots a passing pigeon.
Miquelon sits outside US territorial waters and Shelby wants to use it to supply the Boston Irish with opium to replace their Prohibition bootleg booze industry. Their boss Jack Nelson, uncle of Michael’s wife Gina, is destined to be Tommy’s next enemy. Especially as he got Michael banged up. At home his psycho brother Arthur is strung out on the Big O, and daughter Ruby is muttering about the devil in Romany. Blinders is as watchable as ever – a tough, confident, deranged 20th Century Western, with a belligerent rock soundtrack. But bonkers politics nobbles it. The IRA might have wanted to save Mosley, who opposed the Black & Tans, but why would their “Captain Swing” try to take over the Blinders? Or adopt an 18th Century English farm rebel’s name?
*MORE Peaky questions: is Jack Nelson meant to be Joe Kennedy? Was the bird Tommy shot an omen pigeon? (Sorry). And how long will it take him to bed Gina?
NEWS footage from Ukraine is so heart-breaking it makes you want to punch a wall. But the heroism of the Ukrainian people is humbling. Who wasn’t moved by the sunflower seeds lady, or the courage of civilians blocking roads to Russian tanks? TV reporters have come to the fore, not least Mark Austin, John Irvine and Matt Frei. Clive Myrie has grown in stature before our eyes.
NAKED Attraction is shallow, demeaning and cynical, but could it reach the parts our self-aggrandising TV “satirists” can’t? Imagine a political special with “Putin” hiding his tiny, withered embarrassment behind a thermo-nuclear device? Russia Today’s Alex Salmond could be played by a 5ft tartan boob, competing with Lukashenko to see who’s the world’s biggest tit.
ODDLY Rock Till We Drop is mentored by people with little interest in rock. Rapper Lady Leshurr wants her band to play reggae; Martin Kemp wants soul... The Spandau Ballet pop star told Bob, 82, to sing “something contemporary”, then Kemp’s keyboardist picked For Once In My Life (written in 1965!). Hmm. Many of the old hopefuls were terrific, but why should they be contemporary? Nobody wants pensioners to sound (or twerk) like Megan Thee Stallion. The winners played last year’s Isle of Wight festival where Duran Duran headlined. 2022’s big names include Madness, Chic and the Happy Mondays. “Contemporary” doesn’t come into it. Patronising gits say it’s life-affirming to see oldies gigging. Maybe so, but it’d be more useful to give TV exposure to vintage bands performing original material.
*THE true Rock Till We Drop spirit lives on at Download. Two of Kiss are in their 70s; Iron Maiden’s average age is 65.
HOT on TV: Yasmin Seky, Kin (AmPrime)... Star Trek: Picard (AmPrime)... Sydney Sweeney, Euphoria (SkyAt).
ROT on TV: Killing Eve – pull the plugs, the writers are loopier than she is... lousy boxing judges sucker-punching Jack Catterall... Trigger Point – not much point.
GANGSTER saga Kin pits the Kinsella family against Dublin drug lord Eamon Cunningham. When hothead Eric “The Viking” Kinsella sparks a deadly feud, grieving mum Amanda steps up with a survival plan. A strong cast, including Ciaran Hinds and Aiden Gillen, plus Peter McKenna’s taut scripts put it capo and shoulders above most UK gangland dramas.
THEY were flogging moody gear on a TV shopping channel on The Apprentice. Products included a solar-powered owl “handcrafted by hand”, an inflatable plastic flamingo and “vegan-friendly face cream” that was about as vegan-friendly as a bacon butty. Del-Boy’s fire-damaged woks would have sold better.
*SO it was Tina’s body buried under the Argee Bhajee on EastEnders. Shame. I was hoping it’d be Brookside’s Trevor Jordache on a world tour.
*DID you see the size of Les Dennis’ gut on Five Go Fishing? We asked 100 people what he’d been eating. The survey said, more chips than fish... .
*FIRST No Return, now The Holiday. It’s like TV is conspiring to put us off travelling abroad. In both shows, the holiday highlight was the pat-down at the airport.
Small Joys of TV: Stanley Tucci: Searching For Italy. 70s Doctor Who with Jon Pertwee (Forces TV). Jane Badler, V (SyFy). Lexi’s play, Euphoria. The Simpsons’ Fargo spoof.
Random irritations: Third-rate comics called “fantastic”, “amazing” and “fabulous” by BBC kid-brains. Snoochie Shy on Celeb Mastermind proving that she’s neither.
TV Maths. Dan Walker + wig = Diane Spencer, GB News.
Classic Clanger. Tracy Austin was commentating on a Wimbledon tennis serve when she enthused: “Right up the middle, deep and hard and again in the brown patch.”