BUSHELL ON THE BOX
OCT 29. IF there were any justice on TV, Siobhan Smith would have survived on The Apprentice. Strictly would have binned Bruno. And Gemma Collins’s trapdoor would have deposited her lardy arse directly into Pat Phellan’s cellar o’ doom. If there were any sense, telly bosses would know when to knock a show on the head. The Walking Dead reached its one hundredth episode last week. In occasionally stirring scenes, hero Rick Grimes and his allies finally took down vicious tyrant Negan, the Craig Revel Horwood of the zombie apocalypse... which was just as well. Last season was so sluggish it turned into The Sleep-Walking Dead. But how much longer can our small band of survivors evade the hungry clutches of the flesh-munching undead? And how much longer will we care?
Even the producers seem to have lost interest in the zombies, who are just wheeled out like dumb decomposing cattle these days. Sure they look the business – this show conjures up the scariest images since Honey G threatened to strip for Playboy. But where’s the bite? The walkers aren’t the threat any more, rival humans are. Negan, played brilliantly by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, was a magnificent enemy for former deputy sheriff Rick. With his vast mob of Saviors and brutally customised baseball bat, Lucille, this swaggering psychopath was the show’s most unsettling character since Merle Dixon. But like judges houses on The X Factor, the Negan pantomime dragged on way too long – and he’s still not dead.
Sure it was terrific to see Rick’s motorcade decked out in corrugated iron shields and Daryl on his hog setting off roadside bombs to lure the lurching hordes towards the enemy compound. Yet the battle felt flat compared to Game Of Thrones, and was irritatingly inter-cut with scenes of an older, heavily whiskered Rick. Do they really expect the show to run for another seven years? There is enough source material to sustain it. In the comics, new enemies called the Whisperers rock up (presumably recruited from BBC dramas). But you can have too much of a good thing. The Sweeney called it quits after 53 episodes, The Sopranos managed 86, GoT – a vastly smarter drama – will throw in the towel after 73. Sometimes the greatest gift in TV is knowing when to stop.
LORD Sugar accused Siobhan of “over-ordering alcohol” on The Apprentice. I have checked with friends and colleagues and nobody believes such a thing is even theoretically possible. Tasked to run a corporate box at Wembley Stadium, Siobhan and team Graphene delivered decent grub, plenty of plonk, a convivial atmosphere and crucially not a hint of god-awful karaoke. Admittedly, she could have done without Bushra’s half-baked talk on Wembley’s role in the beautiful game, but compared to the boys she smashed it. In contrast, Team Vitality served up Cheesy Wotsits and Walkers Squares in cheap bowls, quickly ran out of wine and “treated” their guests to Harrison murdering My Way. They might have made more profit on the day, but who’d get the repeat trade? Siobhan every time! It’s a scandal that she’s gone while grim-faced Elizabeth is still floating around like some lost Halloween poltergeist.
GREG Davies returned as grotesque man-child Dan on Man Down. He’s a middle-aged ex-teacher who hasn’t got a Scooby how the real world works... so is clearly inspired by NUT conferences. Like Frank Spencer, Dan is a perpetual juvenile who can’t cope with everyday life. But unlike Frank, there is nothing likeable about the whining slob. It’s hard to see why anyone would suffer Dan’s belligerent self-pity, let alone befriend the great lummox. The show can’t decide if it wants to reflect real life, as all our greatest sitcoms did, or loiter in an absurd fantasy world. We might accept that Roisin Conaty’s Jo is living in a railway station lost property office on This Is Jinsy, but not in a show apparently set in modern day Home Counties suburbia. 6ft 8 Davies with his monstrous straining gut is certainly built for comedy. But the laughs come from cartoon violence or random filth – Greg dropped the c-word in the opening minutes to describe chickens. He’s so hopeless it’s hard to believe he’s ever dated a woman, let alone knocked up an attractive head teacher. How did Dan’s blunt, interfering aunt Nesta allow her nephew to become such a bum?
HOT on TV: new Stranger Things (Netflix)... Katya Jones, Strictly... Damson Idris, Snowfall... Rock and Roll (Sky Arts).
ROT on TV: Tracey Breaks The News – the writers barely broke a sweat... The 18-30 Stone Holiday – a fat lot of good... Sounds Like Friday Night – the Beeb’s latest gift to rhyming slang.
LAST weekend saw harrowing scenes of torture and agonised screams on our screens... and when The X Factor ended Gunpowder had more of the same. The BBC’s “historical” drama wilfully distorts the facts. No women were crushed alive in 1605, the year of the Gunpowder Plot. That happened just once, 19 years earlier, to Catholic saint Margaret Clitherow (who wasn’t stripped naked and executed publicly). Before that, unmentioned by the Beeb, Bloody Mary (Queen Mary 1st) had burnt hundreds of Protestants at the stake.
*WHAT’S going on with breakfast telly? BBC1’s Louise Minchin said “sh*tted” when she meant fitted, ITV’s Sean Fletcher claimed BT customers “could see their balls drop”... rather than bills. Shocking. One breakfast TV source says, if Mary Whitehouse were alive today she’d be doing her butt.
*LUCY Worsley loves opera but can’t pronounce it. The poor woman has trouble with her Rs (not in the Jim Royle sense) and bangs on about “opewa” instead. Let’s hope she never has to rank them.
*THE Beeb are working on bite-sized versions of popular dramas. Why stop there? Pointless would be half as long and twice as watchable if they edited out the repetition and waffle.
*BITE-sized EastEnders: Monday – life sucks. Tuesday – pain and betrayal. Thursday – after a brief snatch of contentment, be astounded by a fresh outbreak of misery. Friday – see Monday.
TV questions: If the girls on Bad Habits, Holy Orders feel hard done by, would they complain to an ombuds-nun? Why do skint Corrie characters blow their dough in Roy’s Rolls? If ITV really want Gordon Ramsay to fight cocaine use, shouldn’t they send him backstage at The Brits?
SMALL joys of TV: Takeshi’s Castle. The Interviews: Spike Milligan. Teller on Dice. Danny Baker’s Talking Pictures take-over. Shereen, X Factor. Jessica Barden. Tracy Ifeachor, Legends Of Tomorrow.
RANDOM irritations: the perennial pox of grown men crying on talent shows. Childish names for weather phenomena. Storm Brian was particularly naff; Storm Bastard or Storm Git would’ve made more sense.
SEPARATED at birth: James 1st, Gunpowder and Billy Connolly – one a great Scot who united the nation in adoration, the other, played by Derek Riddell, is a lot camper.
OCT 22. IS this the dumbest ever line-up of The Apprentice? Some of Lord Sugar’s business wannabes would have trouble running a boot sale in Braintree. The robots they were supposed to be selling would have made a better fist of flogging the humans. It started badly for the blokes when Sugar put Michaela in charge, although looking back that was Team Vitality’s highpoint. They aimed at the over-60s, creating Jeffrii, a robot that specialised in yoga, recipes and reminders to take your pills. But Michaela changed its name to SiiMON without bothering to tell the sub-team who were programming it. Consequently it introduced itself as Jeffrii at a sales pitch in front of a promo board headlined SiiMON. Oh shiit. “His name is SiiMON, okay,” smarmy Elliot insisted. “But his family name is Jeffrii.” They might have got away with it too if their slogan had read “Your helping hand for life” instead of “You’re”. Michaela spent so long faffing around with colours they hadn’t had time to check for spelling mistakes.
Women’s team Graphene are just as useless. They bicker constantly, especially Elizabeth and Siobhan who make Itchy and Scratchy look like Chris and Kem. Edna Mode lookalike Elizabeth is annoying but Siobhan would give an aspirin a migraine. “Like a drill going through my temples,” said Sarah-Jayne. The very sight of her would have inspired Robby the Robot from Lost In Space to burst into repeated warnings of “Danger, Will Robinson!” Their machine, blandly dubbed eBot, fell over demonstrating karate to John Lewis buyers, which as Siobhan would say must’ve “underminded” their pitch. Elizabeth suggested they order 1,000 of them. Asked why, she replied “It’s just a nice round number”. And they have the cheek to call robots artificial intelligence...
The men should have walked this task. Instead they sank like a stone. Incredibly Sugar fired Elliot instead of Michaela. She’s a bigger character, you see, and The Apprentice these days is Big Brother in suits, powered by cock-ups and confrontation. Wouldn’t you like to see a series that pitched economics graduates against a team of backstreet market traders? That would have real competitive edge.
BAD Habits, Holy Orders sent five sexy but shallow young women to a Norfolk convent. Rebecca, 19, confessed she’d never counted the number of boys she’s slept with, suggesting she’s either really promiscuous or very bad at maths. Mostly the girls were into booze, bonking and selfies. Well, it’s nice to have hobbies. The nuns greeted Gomorrah’s advance party with kindness and tolerance. “Perhaps we’ve lost our moral compass,” reflected one of the Daughters of Divine Charity accurately. The rules were a real culture shock for the party girls. “F**k. No swearing,” said Page. “That’s me f**ked.” But apart from smuggling in contraband vodka, they treated their hosts with respect and may just end up concluding there’s more to life than hangovers and loveless sex with strangers.
*SHAME the sisters didn’t get to swop lifestyles too. We’ll never find out if the old saying is true: nuns do it out of habit.
THE scariest part of Gordon Ramsay On Cocaine was seeing gasoline, battery acid and cement used in the manufacturing process. If I wanted to risk that kind of chemical time-bomb, I’d eat at McKlunky’s. Acid, cement and gasoline... that sounds like the ingredients Macbeth’s witches forgot. Ramsay claimed he’d made the documentary because a friend died after taking contaminated coke in 2003. Fourteen years to spring into action? He’s definitely not on speed then. Gordon made no attempt to put cocaine use in perspective. 371 deaths in England and Wales last year involved the drug (including its deadlier and far more addictive cousin crack cocaine). Contrast that with around 9,000 alcohol-related deaths and more than 2,000 involving opiates. 460 involved legal anti-depressants; nobody ever investigates that.
HOT on TV: Chris Packham: Asperger’s & Me... Lara Pulver, Electric Dreams... James Franco, The Deuce (SkyAt).
ROT on TV: Liar finale – pants, no fire... Russell Jones, X Factor – went for quirky, looked berky... tedious Nish Kumar.
ODD that the Beeb have killed off Crimewatch just when we need it most. British cops seem to have given up fighting crime altogether. Burglary, shop-lifting, drug-dealing... it’s not their business. To make the show up to date, Tina Daheley would have to ask vigilant viewers to report offensive tweets and oppressive ideas. Or send in nail varnish tips.
*I’M surprised they don’t go one step further and turn the format into a helpful guide to where to buy stolen goods: “Brand new Nike trainers, straight off the lorry, going for a song in the Nags Head, Penge... ”
THE Vietnam War covered the My Lai massacre. It was heart-breaking. US soldiers brutally slaughtered more than 500 women, children and old men. They were the good guys, right? More would have perished if brave Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson hadn’t landed his helicopter between the troops and the retreating villagers and threatened to open fire on his own comrades if they continued their attacks.
*STAR Trek: Discovery is cracking on at a pace, but have you noticed Saru’s nose? Talk about Embarrassing Bodies! The long streak of space-piddle has a hooter like an intimate female part. In less enlightened times they’d have nicknamed him Fanny-face. Saru’s schnozzle is up there in any list of TV’s greatest beaks, alongside Ellie Taylor’s delightful bum nose, Karl Malden, and Jodie Marsh whose original snout looked like a bricklayer’s elbow.
*BILLY bashed Peter Barlow on Corrie, earning himself the nickname Reverend Right-Hook. Although clearly a welterweight I’d fancy Billy’s chances against Hughie Fury. You can’t get better than a quick, fit vicar.
*THEY had a Rum Nicky on Bake Off, a large sweet tart with a rum-soaked fruity filling... wasn’t that Mandy Dingle? Paul Hollywood was talking about the dessert when he said: “I came across this particular tart about three years ago.” I bet he did. Not sure about Steven’s claim: “I’ve got a huge clanger” though.
*ONE of Candy’s clients on The Deuce died after she’d pleasured him. In a neat touch he came and went simultaneously.
*GANGES with Sue Perkins? Too much Perkins, not enough Ganges.
SMALL joys of TV: Debbie McGee’s standing splits on Strictly – it brought new meaning to Paul Daniels: My Life In Magic. Lucy Worley’s Nights At The Opera. Brilliant clips of classic US comics on Sky’s History Of Comedy, not just Lenny Bruce and Joan Rivers but Sam Kinison, George Carlin, Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley and Jean Carroll.
RANDOM irritations: Eat Well For Less – TV’s most patronising show, it’s basically how to shop for dummies. Dithering Louis Walsh. Eight flaming hours of the Six Chair Challenge over two weekends. Matt Lucas sleepwalking his way through Travel Man. Porridge – thin gruel.
SEPARATED at birth: Stephen Walters on Tin Star and Motörhead’s Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor. One guilty of causing outrageous mayhem... and so’s the other one.
TV maths: Bunty from Chicken Run + glasses = Amber Rudd, another daft clucker.
*I’M warming to Susan Calman on Strictly. She and the head judge really complement each other. One’s a Ballas, the other’s the ballast.
*IF Anneka Rice doesn’t want to be spotted, why not go back on The Wright Stuff?
OCT 15. New ideas on television are as rare as an A cup on Love Island. But why have the BBC resurrected Porridge? It’s like getting a team of gibbons to re-paint the Mona Lisa. The original was brilliant, one of the greatest British sitcoms ever made. Ronnie Barker’s Norman Stanley Fletcher was a genuine comedy icon, up there with Del-Boy Trotter and old man Steptoe. Everything clicked – the casting, the characters, Sydney Lotterby’s direction, the wonderful script by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. So why mess with the memory?
In fairness Kevin Bishop does a reasonable job mimicking Barker’s delivery as Fletch’s grandson Nigel, but Dick and Ian’s new scripts stink like a dirty protest on D Wing. They have the rhythm of the old show but not the sharpness. The audience howl at anything – and nothing. Old Joe hawking had them in hysterics, as did a con declaring his food “illegible” rather than “inedible”. Bizarrely even the phrase “chop-chop” got laughs. Maybe the sound mixer dropped off. It’s like watching a tribute band do substandard songs in the style of the act they are meant to be impersonating. Mr MacKay is reworked as Officer Meekie (and, briefly, a female screw with the same mannerisms). Braithwaite is a clone of Barraclough. Naturally there’s no Lukewarm.
Friday’s episode involved that bog-standard sitcom staple, the mix-up. Two cakes, one loaded with magic mushrooms... and suddenly the female MacKay turns the whole wing into an acid rave. Very 1980s. I’m no expert but even I know that spice is the modern con’s drug of choice and it seems unlikely that they have to smuggle it in inside a banana & walnut loaf. There are token efforts to update the show – a female governor; this Fletch is doing a five stretch for cyber crimes. But HMP Wakeley must be the only UK clink without an Isis cell. Last year’s Porridge pilot was one of the better efforts in the Beeb’s woeful Landmark Sitcom Season. Turning it into a series is a major error, though. It’s only happening because the smug Oxbridge gits who run BBC comedy are incapable of commissioning new gems. Clare Balding as Basilica Fawlty and Sue Sodding Perkins as Antonia Hancock are just a Blushing Bellini or three away.
GOGGLEBOX guzzlers Steph and Dom look odds-on to get nabbed first on Celebrity Hunted. They made off in a chauffeur-driven convertible Roller (very low-key) and took refuge in a series of pubs and boutique b’n’bs. Unfortunately they got their driver so blotto he blabbed... Dom dumbly made a phone call too, which begs the question how pie-eyed was he when he was watching Hunted for Gogglebox? The rules for survival are simple, mate: no phones! No ATM machines! And make sure your driver uses a road atlas rather than SatNav... The show is hide-and-seek for the semi-famous. There’s Jay and Siva from The Wanted, Jamie and Spencer from Made In Chelsea – so The Wanted versus the unwanted. And Anneka Rice effortlessly charms strangers into helping her, which is smarter than using known acquaintances. The Chelsea posh boys shaved their hair, The Wanted headed West. Anneka roped in John Illsley from Dire Straits, going down to the waterline (token Straits reference) and on to the Isle Of Wight. My money is on her to win. It’s hard to imagine the other poor lambs will have the willpower to stay off social media for a fortnight.
IS there a check-list of prejudices you have to tick before you can write for EastEnders? Brexit bad, free enterprise worse, aspiration stinks, working class people are meat-heads and losers etc... Last week Sonia told the story of a dedicated French nurse forced to go home because of horrible comments from bigoted Englishmen. Boo hiss. Racism sucks, we get that. But there’s never any balance. In soaps, immigrants are always saintly; the wrong’uns only feature in those inconvenient real-life court reports. The 1956 Suez Crisis was “all about oil”, the soap asserted on Tuesday, and not as previously thought all about Egyptian president Nasser, backed by the Soviets, nationalising the Suez Canal. Nasser did it to finance a mega-dam on the Nile after the Yanks reneged on promised loans. If the writers spent as much time on their storylines as they do on one-sided sixth form propaganda, soaps might be more watchable.
*JANE woke up on EastEnders. Still no word on the continuity editor.
HOT on TV: Grace Davies, The X Factor... Amy Dowden, Strictly... An Hour To Catch A Killer.
ROT on TV: Steph & Dom’s One Star To 5 Star – no stars... The Last Post – the past lost... GameFace – lame, mate... Dynasty (Netflix) – another pointless remake, bring back the Moldavians!
HOT not on TV: Micky Flanagan’s An’ Another Fing live tour.
WHAT would Ena Sharples make of today’s Corrie with its hostage-taking, bi-curious snogs and criminal capers? Some of the scenes would steam up Albert Tatlock’s spectacles. The soap increasing resembles a cross between cheap pulp fiction, naff amateur panto and the agony aunt advice column of Diva magazine.
*ALMOST every BBC exec on W1A is a caricature. They talk cobblers, agree to idiotic ideas and can’t create a single decent format between them. So finally we can understand how The One Show was created...
*W1A’s Neil on modern TV news: “One long avalanche of sh*t happening in real time with 24hour live shovelling.”
*ITV missed an open goal with After The News. They should’ve shown BBC2’s dismal Newsnight how unbiased current affairs analysis works. Instead they’ve settled for the same old Pushmi-Pullyu/Tweedledum and Tweedle-dumber political bull we get constantly. Nick Ferrari, a splendid broadcaster with forensic interview skills, is wasted in this pedestrian format.
SMALL joys of TV: Celebrity Hunted. XTC: This Is Pop. Milton Jones. The Apprentice. New Big Bang Theory. Brian Conley’s Bradley Walsh impression. Strictly’s Dave Arch Band. Rick & Morty (Comedy Central). Timewasters. Sir Bobby Charlton At 80.
RANDOM irritations: new Porridge – naff off. Louis Theroux’s cheap holidays in other people’s misery. The BBC’s obsession with soapy melodramas – the plots on Our Girl seem about as likely as Norris Cole having a Weinstein moment with Eva on Corrie.
SEPARATED at birth: Susan Calman as Wonder Woman and Bella Emberg as Blunder Woman? One funny, likeable and genuinely popular, the other is on Strictly.
WIG twins: Candy on The Deuce and Vera Duckworth? Two women walking very different streets...
TV mysteries: why is interior design now considered a necessary business skill, Lord Sugar? Where’s Alexis in the new Dynasty? How is Stacey still on Bake Off? Who and where is the brigade the Royal Military Police are supposed to be attached to on The Last Post? Where is Curly Simon hiding on Corrie? And why can’t the Hunted team persuade Lauren Goodger to go on the run for a year or ten and forget to film it?
OCT 8. Our screens were awash with prize chumps, deluded twits and schoolboy errors again last week. And as well as the Tory conference, The Apprentice was back. Hurrah! We never tire of watching big-headed berks crash and burn in the BBC boardroom. Yet bizarrely the contestants never seem to have watched the show before. They make the same clueless cock-ups every year. For example, when flogging burgers to the public, it doesn’t take a business Brainiac to realise that you should set up before dinnertime, in a busy location, and knock ’em out at a competitive price. Yet Danny Grant led men’s team, Vitality to a £114 loss.
Likeable Danny bravely/dumbly volunteered to be project manager but was never on top of the task. Pricing was not his business. He plucked numbers from the air. He was talked into setting up his stall in a deserted Brixton backwater. The team started late... They’d have shifted more meat at a vegan rally. Danny’s biggest mistake was making Charles his sub-team leader – the mutinous dog ignored instructions and seemed to be running on Brexit time. Any slower and he’d have gone into reverse. Danny also took Elliott the barrister into the board room. Great call, mate. Barristers are notoriously tongue-tied. Danny went and Charles survived by the seat of his pants to fail another day. Good! The real appeal of Sugar’s show is hubris and humiliation, not business acumen. Which doesn’t auger well for Jeff, who promised to throw people under buses, over buses, and then to drive the bus... well it’ll make a change from leaving in a taxi.
Harrison is so full of himself I’m rooting for him to make the interviews, just to see him get torn apart by Sugar’s jackals. The women called themselves Graphene, a substance as hard and slender as Claude Littner’s heart. Siobhan makes Middle East despots seem easy-going. Scary Liz is a proper clock-stopper. While Michaela is smarter than she looks but appears to be wearing Deirdre Barlow’s glasses. Those lenses are so strong she can probably watch the ISS in orbit. (About half of them wear bins, it’s like watching a SpecSavers ad.) The 17 remaining candidates aren’t “Britain’s brightest business brains” – they’re a motley crew of PR twerps, florists, and wannabes. Most of them couldn’t be trusted to sell bikinis in Barbados. That’s why we love it.
SLIPPERY Si was reduced to a pathetic wretch of man on Doctor Foster. His first attempt to top himself was the feeblest roadside suicide bid since Ian Beale’s. Then Gemma left him a handy death kit... so much for the Hippocratic Oath. He got to live, but only because the BBC don’t want to kill off the series. Why would they? It’s one of our most talked about TV shows... Even if some of us were saying “What a copout!” And asking how skint, car-less Si got about so quickly or how the head of a busy GP practice had so much free time... While Gemma went back to save him, son Tom did a runner from both of them. What took him so long? It’s hard to work out why he (or we) were supposed to like either of these creeps. Over this series, Simon lost his cockiness and Gemma her marbles. Writer Mike Bartlett was always in her corner, and tried (and failed) to make us feel for the loopy bint again. Now Si lives to cheat another day (Gemma’s new neighbour looked hot). And after she knocked up chicken pasta and broccoli from scratch in under 2 minutes, Suranne Jones must be a shoe-in for Celebrity MasterChef.
LARRY David began Curb Your Enthusiasm in a shower wrestling with a stubborn shower gel bottle. He ended the show in the same shower getting chinned by his manager’s missus. He’d had a lucky escape. In the course of one episode he upset two lesbians, had a mad mullah slap a bounty on his head (just for writing Fatwa! – The Musical!) and learnt all about the gentle art of “foisting”. Curb thrives on the comic consequences of petty grievances, as Larry negotiates the minefield of modern morality. Should a man hold a door open for a butch lesbian, for example? Will she be more annoyed if you do or if you don’t? And when she tells you she’s getting married but that she, rather than her femme fiancée, will be the bride isn’t a diplomatic silence more appropriate than arguing the point? Larry can’t help himself. He cheeses off more people than Pat Phelan, busting PC taboos with glee, but always suffers for it.
HOT on TV: Alexandra Burke, Strictly... Star Trek: Discovery (Netflix)... Curb Your Enthusiasm (SkyAt).
ROT on TV: Richard Coles, Strictly – he looks creepier than a Halloween party on a ghost train... Russell Howard – a bigger arse than Davina’s... Bobby Davro: In Therapy – a cringe-athon, stick to In Performance, mate.
THE Vietnam War began in the secrecy and ended decades later in abject failure. In the process more than 1.3million died and a generation lost faith in their political leaders. Veteran marine John Musgrove describes his comrades as “probably the last kids that believed our government would never lie to us.” Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s ten-part documentary includes interviews with 79 participants. It’s exhaustive, even-handed and utterly heart-breaking.
*THEY use breath scans to open doors on Star Trek: Discovery. Imagine if Doctor Foster turned up. Ship’s computer: “Pinot Grigio wine lake now entering sick bay.” Or Jo Brand. “Who ordered the fatberg?”
*RELLIK is a drama that starts at the end. So is it a dun-who-it?
*IN a neat touch, Rellik’s audiences have also gone backwards. Instead of starting low and building, viewing figures have withered like carnations rose in a kiln.
*HAVE you seen Escape To The Chateau with Dick Strawbridge? He looks like he’s turning into his own gargoyle.
SMALL joys of TV: Sex, Chips & Poetry. Anna Rampton, W1A – “yes, exactly, yes.” Classic Corrie, ITV3. New Modern Family. Tez Ilyas. Dice. Suburra. Anne Hegerty, talking about yoga on The Chase, announcing: “I like a bit of downward dog now and then.” Who doesn’t?
RANDOM irritations: Shirley Ballas’s nasal voice. Corrie’s grooming story, “inspired by Rochdale”, serving up an all-white gang and a jury cast like a Coke ad. Alan Sugar’s naffly delivered zingers. Morrissey singing “I spent the day in bed” repeatedly on Later – I wish he had.
SEPARATED at birth: Chris, The Apprentice and Mole from Wind In The Willows. One a dumb creature with limited vision, the other’s a good-natured character in a children’s book.
TV Maths. Poet Brian Patten + elixir of youth = Fred West.
OCT 1st. Dive bars, peep shows, pimps, Cadillacs... The Deuce takes us back to the seediest side of New York in 1971. With its street-walking hookers and sleazy sex hotels, it feels like you could catch a social disease just by watching it. But although the show lovingly recreates the Big Apple’s rotten core, it never attempts to glamorise it. This is no Kind Hearts & Private Parts rose-tinted nostalgia job. We soon see CC, a fast-talking pimp, callously use his switchblade on working girl Ashley to persuade her to work harder.
Created by David “The Wire” Simon and crime novelist George Pelecanos, the high-quality drama packs in more than 30 regular characters and multiple story-lines. It’s set around 42nd Street, AKA 40-deuce. James Franco plays identical twins Vinnie and Frankie (another deuce) – one a hard-working bar-tender, the other an inveterate gambler with the Mob on his back. Vinnie is a good man in a brutal world, working double-shifts to support his cheating wife Andrea and son. Leaned on by a Gambino family capo, he agrees to pay off his brother’s debts. When his boss pushes him too far, Vinnie quits to run Times Square bar the Hi-Hat, leaving Andrea in the process.
Maggie Gyllenhaal excels as single mum prostitute Candy who has Vera Duckworth’s wig and no pimp on her back. She wants more than the daily grind(s) of “30 and ten” – $30 for a “date” and $10 for the room – and moves into the relatively safer world of porn, an industry that’s about to explode like one of her virgin clients. It’s too early to say whether The Deuce will be as addictive as The Wire. The period detail is spot on, though, with midtown movie marquees showing long and rightfully forgotten films like Thar She Blows and Duck You Sucker. Other characters inhabiting this inner city Sodom include Abby who quits college to become Vinnie’s barmaid. But the drippers dominate the screen. There’s naive Darlene, Thunder Thighs and newcomer Lori straight off the bus from Minnesota, easy prey for CC whose fellow pimps include Vietnam vet Reggie Love – hip-hop star Tariq Trotter. These tough scumbags and their hoes share a decadent world of business, abuse and a strange kind of love where easy promises are always trumped by hard greed.
I’M rooting for my old mate Brian Conley on Strictly – if only because his hair appears to have been replaced by an alien life form. Perhaps (all together) it’s a puppet. I suspect the producers aren’t in Conley’s corner, though. Look at the big build up they gave this year’s joke contender Richard Coles. All Brian got was a pair of red shows. Aston and Mollie are the favourites but after Debbie McGee’s dazzling debut last weekend, she definitely deserves a memorial ten from Len.
*STRICTLY subtitle cock-ups included “laughter Yoko” for yoga, and “gawker” for Gorka. At one point Craig apparently told Davood “Kush” Ghadami “you certainly smouldered that is bushel”. He actually said “That’s for sure”, although I’m happy to confirm that dancing with Nadiya would raise my temperature.
*MOLLIE described her dance training as “hard and quick”, which by coincidence is exactly how she gets AJ.
BRITISH telly does for men what Ryanair does for carefree flying. Most soap blokes are either wet or wicked. Fellas in adverts are saps. And there’s rarely a break in the all-men-are-bastards message hammered out by our dramas. On the riveting Doctor Foster, wronged wife Gemma wrecked ex-husband Simon’s life and looked set to end it, apparently aiming her SUV straight at him. She’d seduced him and then let Kate know it. So his new wife jogged on, with their daughter, leaving him with nothing. Si lost his family, his home, and his job. There’s a result for the sisterhood. But he deserved it for cheating on her, or so writer Mike Bartlett would have us think. Even if Gemma’s revenge meant destroying another woman’s marriage, even if she kills him... On Liar, it turns out charismatic surgeon Andrew is a scheming creep who spiked poor Laura’s plonk and presumably assaulted her. No mainstream British TV drama would ever show a man as the victim of a false date-rape accusation, even though there’s one in the news every week, because that would send out the “wrong message”. The (politically) correct one – that men stink, and women are innocent victims – is the only one permitted in our gutless times.
HOT on TV: The Deuce (SkyAt) – top brass... Sonequa Martin-Green, Star Trek: Discovery (Netflix)... Electric Dreams... The Vietnam War (SkyAt)
ROT on TV: Celebrity Psych Test – Star Test without stars... Bad Move – Jack’s sitcom Dee-saster... The Child In Time – longer than Corbyn’s speech & just as dull... The Last Leg – it never is, though, is it?
SET phasers to stunning! Sonequa Martin-Green sparkles on Star Trek: Discovery. She plays the oddly named Michael Burnham, a steely human raised by Vulcans. Discovery takes us back to a different future – ten years before Captain Kirk. Naturally there are Klingons on the starboard bow. To be true to the Trek universe, Burnham should be beating blokes like Kirk off with the captain’s log. But sci-fi reflects the values of its time, which these days are too right-on and po-faced for that kind of, ahem, deep space nine action. The Klingon enemy are suitably fanatical though. Odds on Netflix won’t be the final frontier.
SMALL joys of TV: Jimmy Carr pointing out that his name is “Jamaica” if pronounced with a Jamaican accent. Cars That Rock with Brian Johnson. The “who’s funnier?” scene on I’m Dying Up Here. Room 104 (SkyAt). The Pub Landlord asking why, if the gluten’s free, the bread is so effing expensive.
RANDOM irritations: Laurence Llewelyn-Bellend. BBC 6 O’Clock News spelling December as “Decemeber”. Hughie Fury’s dismally negative boxing. The big X Factor stitch-up – if everyone who gets through to the live shows was hand-picked in advance why bother with auditions?
*WEEK two of The Russell Howard Hour and what did the bold satirist have to say about the Labour Party conference? That’s right, sod all.
CORRIE puzzles. Who’s trimming hostage Andy’s beard and cleaning his teeth? Is it the same guy who’s supplying Robert’s Just For Men in chokey? Where did Andy get that tan? Why haven’t the Connors grassed up Eva? How did Will’s neighbours hear Steve and Leanne moving about his massive detached house (and why didn’t they hear Michelle’s screams?)
SEPARATED at birth: Trevor Eve and Leon Trotsky? One associated with Waking The Dead, the other played Eddie Shoestring and seems to have had no known influence on Labour’s far Left.
TV Maths. Stephen from Googlebox + Michael Gove = Mark Walsh, Dragons’ Den.