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.
Sept 26. IT WAS a heart-breaking true story, the kind that makes you feel sick, angry and frustrated. In a 17-year reign of terror, twisted Delroy Grant targeted hundreds of homes across southeast London. His victims were all elderly; mostly frail widows aged between 68 and 93. Many were raped or abused. Ten of them were men. Manhunt: The Nightstalker avoided graphic reconstructions to focus on the painstaking detective work that nailed Grant. DCI Colin Sutton, the cop who’d collared Milly Dowler’s killer, was sent to review a flawed police investigation that was going nowhere (and had missed Grant twice). Martin Clunes brought modest, methodical Sutton to three-dimensional life. You wouldn’t have thought it was the same man who played jug-eared clown Gary Strang on Men Behaving Badly.
In a moving scene, Sutton spoke to an elderly Polish war veteran, a former boxer who Grant had forced to perform depraved acts. It wasn’t so much what was said that hit home, as what wasn’t. This is the sort of drama ITV does best – realistic true crime, well-cast and tautly directed. Sutton thought outside the box, launching a massive Met surveillance operation to catch their man. It was soon apparent how stretched the investigating team had been. And this was before Theresa May launched her own “defund the police” campaign as Home Secretary. It’s fashionable to knock coppers, especially when they’re asking M25 eco-loons if they’re in any discomfort. But Manhunt reminded us that dogged, determined detectives still do great work. Colin Sutton was one of them and Clunes did him proud. Thanks to him, callous Grant was finally collared and banged up. In this age of cut-price celebrity where the talentless become “stars” and lazy virtue-signalling is the order of the day, it made a refreshing change to see a quiet hero get justice done.
HAVE they been at the funny mushrooms over on Bake Off? The riot of warm-hearted insanity included Mat Lucas serenading Jurgen, a German with eyebrows that looked like caterpillars, with a version of the Flintstones theme tune sung in his native Deutsche. Paul sang a corny baking version of Achy Breaky Heart – ‘Don’t bake my tart, my flaky pastry tart’ – with Prue sporting an absurd walrus moustache. And the showstopper round involved “anti-gravity cakes” – Amanda’s iced waves came crashing down right on cue. Contenders include Prue Leith-a-like Maggie, 70, 19-year-old Freya and Giuseppe, the Italian Lionel Richie. Not sure Prue was thrilled when Paul told her she could “take her teeth out and clean them later” during the malt cake tasting though...
NEVER Mind The Buzzcocks is back with a new host – the fresh young face of pop music, Greg Davies, 53. Presumably because Michael Gove isn’t yet available. It’s tame now though. The days when Huey Morgan stomped out in a huff and Lorraine Kelly gave Noel Fielding a good spanking are sadly gone. And despite fashionable comedy bookings, the best joke came from Little Mix’s Jade Thirlwall. Jay Aston suffered the biggest indignity – the women’s team didn’t recognise her on the ID Parade. Hadn’t they ever seen that oft-repeated Bucks Fizz skirt-ripping routine? That’s as iconic as Eurovision gets. The producers should get the teams tipsy again in the hope of another Bonnie Tyler moment – talk about total eclipse of the liver. I’d bring back Jamelia and beg Lorraine to spank some sense into the showrunners. Buzzcocks needs to finds its teeth.
HOT on TV: Prince Philip: The Royal Family Remembers... Martin Clunes, Manhunt: The Night Stalker... The White Lotus finale (SkyAt).
ROT on TV: Sex Actually – voyeur vision... Changing Rooms – no change, still dismal... Inside Culture – up its own pretentious arse.
Y: The Last Man is set in a world where every bloke has croaked... apart from Yorick. And Jo Brand is probably hunting him down with a pair of garden shears. We don’t yet know what mystery plague killed off all the men what New Yorker Yorick’s fate will be in a city full of soon-to-be frustrated females. It slightly recalled the 70s blue film Percy’s Progress where the hero had the planet’s only, ahem, functioning equipment and was sought out by the likes of Elke Sommer and Julie Ege. Alas, poor Yorick might not be so lucky.
MAGGIE Thatcher refused to privatise C4, fearing it would send them crashing down-market. Ironically, Sex Actually and Naked Attraction show they could reach the gutter perfectly well on their own. One couple streamed themselves shagging to just one online viewer. They’d get more viewers if they did it on their front lawn with a busker’s cap to collect loose change.
*IF you stream your sex-life is that technically a pop-up business?
*JOSH Widdecombe is on Who Do You Think They Are. Why do they think we care?
*BRITAIN’S Favourite Sandwich was on for 90 minutes. It was okay, but most of it was just filling...
*ONE good thing about running out of gas – fewer cooking shows. Why do we need so many? How many different ways can you cook a chicken?
*MAISIE Adams recalled a woman nicknamed “10-to-2” because of how she walked. Roxy Mitchell’s knees were often “20-to-4” for entirely different reasons.
SEPARATED at birth: Su Pollard and SpongeBob SquarePants’ gran? One an absurd cartoon, the other lives underwater.
Small Joys of TV: Y: The Last Man (Disney+). Queens Of Soul. Taskmaster – dafter than Bake Off. Light On Earth (PBS). Entourage re-runs, especially Ari Gold.
Random irritations: Silent Witness twisting the job of a pathologist out of all proportion. Actresses who use Botox, stripping their faces of all recognisable emotions.
Classic Clanger. Andrea McLean, starting a men’s bike race on GMTV, told the competitors: “When I give you the horn, you have to go for it.”
Sept 19. HE’S still young, but Morse on Endeavour is already up there with Taggart and Steve McGarrett as TV’s most miserable cop. Is he auditioning for EastEnders? The bloke makes Chris Whitty seem chipper. Glum Morse sipped Scotch from a hipflask, giving new meaning to ‘whisky sour’. What cheesed him off? The length of Reg Bright’s barnet? Or just a plot that seemed as swollen as Nicki Minja’s cousin’s friend’s nuts? Talk about over-stuffed and under-performing...
The main threads were the murder of an Oxford professor’s secretary, and threats on the life of star striker Jack Swift, who got his own This Is Your Life. Why would that have happened? No Oxford football club was in the First Division in 1971. The secretary was killed with a parcel bomb. The Angry Brigade and the IRA were suspected but the villains were... the Prof and Oxford Wanderers chairman, fashion boss Robert Fenner. They’d killed her because she was blackmailing them over a plan to sell the college-owned football ground to property developers. Bit drastic. Bombing your own office... But why did the device need a timer? It exploded on opening.
Elsewhere Protestant striker Jack was targeted by Loyalist terrorists... except the UVF barely existed in ’71 and didn’t kill on the mainland (Scotland) till 1979, five years after the Provos started bombing English pubs. Bah humbug. Writer Russell Lewis popped his traditional in-jokes into the script – Fenner’s Fashions was the name of the clothing company in The Rag Trade (ask your nan). The soundtrack misfired though. Three of the songs were from 1970 (including Max Bygraves’ abysmal flop Decimalisation). It was nice to be reminded of Eamonn Andrews, or Seamus Android as we used to call him, but none of it made sense.
*THE Sweeney started just four years after this, in 1975, with original Morse star John Thaw as Jack Regan, a proper two-fisted, thief-taking DI. Dear ITV. any chance we could have more “Get yer trousers on, you’re nicked” and a lot less moping?
WHAT’S the plan at GB News? They’ve driven out their top asset, Andrew Neil, and most of their content now feels like dull talk-radio with pictures. They didn’t launch as “a right-wing news channel” though, but as a much needed impartial one. If they want to be Fox News, they need to wind up snowflakes more. They’ve missed an open goal by not creating a hard-hitting weekly satire show with “a plague on all their houses” approach. Farage should give libertarian comic Dominic Frisby and ranting Andrew Lawrence a platform. They’d brighten up his Talking Pints. A Michael Gove Mock The Weak show might be a step too far, though.
GOOD to see Sam West’s Siegfried back on All Creatures Grunt & Smell. His curmudgeonly vet is more kind-hearted than Robert Hardy’s version. Gentle escapism made this remake of the 70s vet drama last year’s feel-good hit. It’s got the Yorkshire Dales, animals, vintage vehicles and nostalgia for a lost England. And don’t forget the romance. We know James Herriot will marry Helen, but could Siegfried get lucky this series too? He could face a tricky woo (sorry) but surely the great grouch deserves a little grumpy-pumpy?
HOT on TV: Jodie Comer on the heart-breaking Help, just superb... Zoe Wanamaker, Britannia... Roger Hallam as Fred Thursday, Endeavour.
ROT on TV: The Holden Girls – Holden blunder... The Cleaner – not much cop.
JACK Whitehall’s back for the last run of Travels With My Father, full of unlikely set-ups and staged hilarity. It’s incredible what one young comic can achieve with just 20 years of private education and an agent for a dad. Jack’s best line? Saying he was expecting their final trip “might be to Switzerland, to one of those clinics... ”
*JUST 650,000 watched BBC2’s Take A Hike. Viewers are walking away from it in droves.
*JAMIE Oliver made sure “every bean got tossed” on Together, although I’m pretty sure Nigella would have flicked hers.
*RIP Corrie’s top gossip Norris Cole. As Mary said, “I’m going to miss him dripping poison into my ears.”
*ASKED to name something that makes you scream, Family Fortunes contestant Carol said “Sex”. Uh-uh. “In Italy that would have been top,” quipped Gino.
*ONE way the Insulate Britain protestors could win over the public – block off both ends of Coronation Street to camera crews, and all of Albert Square.
*What’s happened to Paul Giamatti on Billions? He was a fat bloke with a beard. Now he’s clean shaven and two stone lighter. Whatever he’s on, I need some...
*VICKY Pattison said she’d “totally have sex” with a bloke who had elephant ears tattooed above his manhood. So a jumbo-dumbo-rumpo-combo... with bimbo akimbo.
*BRITAIN’S Favourite Pudding? That’s Alison Hammond, surely?
*ODD how little Vigil (aka Voyage To The Bottom Of The Ratings) resembles the cramped, happy crew on Submarine...
Small Joys of TV: One Foot In The Grave (Drama). Lolly Adefope, Ghosts. Gino. Bill Bailey: Larks In Transit. The Morning Show.Rick Stein’s Long Weekends.
Random irritations: Dramas about the military and cops missing the black humour that keeps ’em sane. The dumb, unwanted interview part of Question Of Sport.
SEPARATED at birth: Nine Perfect Strangers’ Napoleon and David Letterman? One was on a darkly comic mind-bending trip, the other one is micro-dosing on LSD.
Sept 12. IN A surprise twist Ant & Dec won the Best Presenter gong at the NTA for the 197th year running. That must have disappointed loveable Alison Hammond (or as Gavin Williamson knows her Queen Latifah). But that’s showbiz. Elsewhere Martin Compston and Adrian Dunbar dropped welcome hints that Line Of Duty could return. And Ricky Gervais rightly scooped the comedy gong for his poignant and heart-warming After Life. Ricky caught the mood when he said, “I’ll keep it short... it’s already interminable.” Too right. At a sloppy 160-minutes, this annual Groundhog Day ceremony felt more padded than RuPaul’s bra, and wasn’t helped by fluffed links, technical hiccups and dull acceptances speeches. Gervais praised Netflix, calling it “the best broadcaster”. It certainly delivered many of 2020’s most talked-about shows, including Tiger King, Bridgerton, and Cobra Kai. Although ITV had the controversial Meghan/Harry/Oprah debacle, which the O2 crowd enthusiastically booed. (Unless that was Piers Morgan with a megaphone... )
Comedy still gets a look in – just. There’s not much of it on mainstream TV outside of panel shows these days, and if light-weight host Joel Dommett is ITV’s idea of popular comedian, no wonder. The bloke’s as substantial as an empty suit. Netflix ‘dramedy’ Sex Education (where modern British kids oddly dress like 80s US high-school pupils) was an unexpected comedy contender. No sign of Curb Your Enthusiasm or Kate & Koji. Notable winners included Kate Garraway’s Finding Derek, but there were no gongs for the gripping Unforgotten and no mention of Mrs America or The Undoing. It’s A Sin won best new drama. This evocative 80s-set AIDS saga rated well for C4, but was it really better than ITV’s brilliantly gripping Des? At least David Tennant won best performance.
*THOSE missing gongs in full. Best documentary: Once Upon A Time In Iraq. Best revival: All Creatures Great & Small. Best drama ‘twist’/sex technique: The Singapore Grip.
THE White Lotus is a darkly comic drama about entitled Yanks on holiday at a swanky Hawaiian hotel. It’s four episodes in, out of six, and has already shown more satirical bite than a month of Ian Hislop diatribes. The smug, rich jerks include tantrum-throwing mummy’s boy Shane whose mother gate-crashes his honeymoon to tell his wife Rachel she should be happy as a bit of trophy bride fluff on his arm. There’s also needy nightmare Tanya and Olivia, the tediously woke/mean teenage daughter of the Mossbacher family who spends her time with pal Paula looking down on everyone else. The hard-working, low-paid staff cope well with the privileged hypocrites until manager Armond, a recovering alcoholic, helps himself to Paula’s drugs and falls off the wagon like “crystal Methodist” Paul Flowers with a month to live. Talk about outrageous! I thought the Pacific Rim was a geographical area until I watched this. A major character pegs it soon, but will things improve for diligent, likeable staff like Belinda and Kai (who’s been giving Paula the old Hawaii 5-O)? Don’t bet on it.
ON Ready To Mingle, blokes pretend to be single in order to pocket £25K, potentially breaking two hearts for the price of one. How romantic. Still at least it answers the question, how low will Katherine Ryan go for money?
*WHAT “dating” twist will come next? Will Viz’s Celebrity Blind Shag become a reality? ITV2 could cross Love Island with So You Think You Can Dance to produce... Gove Island! Or how about my 2010 suggestion – bondage meets ballroom on Come Strictly (dancing optional).
HOT on TV: Emma Raducanu... Colin Farrell, The North Water... Alexandra Daddario, The White Lotus (SkyAt) ... 9/11: Life Under Attack.
ROT on TV: Late Night Mash – gratingly light tosh... Vigil – piffle...Gareth Southgate’s annoying allergy to substitutes.
THE week’s big news was a “Tory” government raising taxes sky high. Oddly, it didn’t attract Nish Kumar’s attention until the second half of his naff Mash show when his poorly argued, laugh-free rant fell between more stools than a legless Peter Barlow. Is this really the best we can do? TV without comedy is as much use as a Nando’s without chicken. One brave broadcaster should create a nightly 11pm comedy show and (unlike ITV’s doomed effort) rotate host comedians, with different writing teams, to reflect different views. One night Mark Steel, the next Simon Evans. Laughter is the booster we need to see us through 2021. Brace yourself for Jim Davidson’s night though.
*NO Rachel Parris this week? Shame. Her breasts seem to have doubled in size. Unlike Kumar’s audience.
*CHANNEL 4 bosses oppose privatisation. They say selling off the channel would nobble their unique ability to recycle US sitcoms, nick hit formats and make quality TV like Me & My Penis – shame about the size... of the audience.
*I’M enjoying Nine Perfect Strangers. It’s basically Agatha Christie crossed with LSD and a just a dash of Gwyneth Paltrow... I’m not suggesting Gwyn secretly micro-doses her followers with LSD of course, but the same Goop-style mystic mumbo-jumbo pseudo-scientific drivel runs through ice queen Masha’s “wellness” centre in the Netflix drama. Besides, you’d have to be tripping to flog vagina candles and vampire repellents, surely?
Small Joys of TV: Only Fools & Horses, episode one (Gold). The Goodies (BritBox). Foxy on Celeb SAS Who Dares Win telling Saira Khan, “I’ve seen milk turn quicker than you!”
Random irritations: BBC1’s Question Of Sport reboot. It’s witless, it lacks chemistry, the theme tune’s naff, and Paddy seems to know sod-all about sport. Other than that...
*RUSSELL Howard’s self-righteous political routines wind me up. He used to do cock jokes! Can’t we send in Kamil Glik to shake him warmly by the throat?
TV questions. Why isn’t Maya Jama a Celebrity MasterChef contender, is it because her dumplings are always boiling over? Why don’t ITV show us the NTA voting figures? With multiple voting, pressure groups and presenters pleading for votes, you sometimes feel the results are as trustworthy as Geronimo’s Defra test.
Classic Clanger: Charlie Nicholas on Italy football manager Gianfranco Zola: “Zola can relieve himself now he’s 3-0 up.”
Sept 5. SOME TV images stay with you forever – the moonwalk, the ’66 World Cup final, Kennedy’s assassination. But there was never anything quite as ugly and unforgettable as 9/11. BBC1’s compelling documentary, 9/11: Inside The President’s War Room, re-told the 2001 al-Qaida terror attacks on America in the words of the key US players. The minute-by-minute memories of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, in the eye of the storm that black Tuesday, were interspersed with that familiar but still shocking TV footage: Hi-jacked planes flying into the World Trade Centre, the collapse of the twin towers, the fierce billowing clouds of dust and smoke, every-day New Yorkers fleeing through the streets of lower Manhattan... A modern nightmare.
President Bush was sitting with school children when his chief of staff whispered the grim news in his ear. He seemed paralysed, but recalled, “In a crisis, it’s important to set a tone and not panic.” The President was ferried onto Air Force One and flown, against his will, from bunker to bunker all over the States. His team thought they’d be blown out of the sky. Then came more bad news. Another plane had hit the Pentagon, United 93 had been hijacked... Paranoia kicked in. They suspected there was a double agent among them...
Unseen pictures and unheard anecdotes illuminated the tragic story. Bush came out of it well; folksy but not dim. Footage of him in New York with courageous rescue workers was powerful and moving. Bush defended his understandable desire to “kick ass”. He had to make world-changing decisions on the hoof. But did his “war on terror” make the world a safer place? It’s questionable, especially after Biden’s bungled retreat from Afghanistan. At home, Bush printed money, recklessly expanded credit and stoked the global financial crisis, making the West a whole lot weaker.
“LIKE the Taliban, despite popular demand, we are back,” said Nish Kumar as his axed Mash Report resurfaced as Late Night Mash. Many a true word... Nish compared himself to Geronimo “cos the government want to destroy us”. But I doubt that Boris gives a monkey’s toss about the show. In fairness it’s better than the limping Last Leg and the BBC’s tired “satirical” output. But it’s never been in the same league as US late night TV comedians. The clips of Leno and Letterman on The Story Of Late Night were hilariously anarchic. Mash’s funniest item is the fake news. But the show is over-long and its politics are too drearily middle class and on-message.
*Shouldn’t token Tory Geoff Norcott be angrier? He voted for a Conservative government but didn’t get one.
SUBMARINE drama Vigil felt half-decent, but dive down into it and it falls apart like the Gunners at the Etihad. Heroine DCI Amy Silva is sent to investigate the strange death of Petty Officer Burke on a nuclear sub, although why that’s a job for civilian plod and not the Royal Navy Police is never explained. English sailors are the bad guys. The good guys are the anti-nuclear protestors, who Burke was involved with – his activist girlfriend Jade is killed, apparently by sinister forces of the state... The sub is dangerously prone to reactor meltdowns, and accidental near collisions. It’s almost as if there’s a blatant political agenda at play in this BBC drama ‘supported by the Scottish government’. Surprise, surprise, the SNP are dead against Trident subs, as well as the UK in general...
*AMY’S boss sent her onto a claustrophobic sub knowing her husband had drowned when their car sank in a reservoir. What’s her next mission? Escaping Houdini’s water tank? A homicide in Atlantis
HOT on TV: The White Lotus (SkyAt)... Money Heist (Netflix)... Sharlene Whyte, Steven... 9/11: Inside The President’s War Room.
ROT on TV: Married At First Sight – as shallow as the Walford gene pool... Secret Spenders – save some money, C4, axe this.
ULRIKA did well in the gas room on Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins. All those years on Gladiator with nervous contenders waiting to take on Wolf and co must have left her immune to noxious fumes.
*IF Vicky Pattison can call Ant Middleton “a lovely bit of kit”, can I call her Geordie Corr?
*KERRY Katona may not be combat ready, but at least she’s brought the bouncing bombs.
*GAG of the week from Bill Maher: “Marriage is a lot like a hurricane. In the beginning you get blown a lot and at the end you lose your house.”
*DOES James Nesbitt know his eyebrows make him look like a permanently startled clown?
*BLURB for Dickinson’s Real Deal: “Today the team are at Cheltenham race course where Simon comes across a fireman’s helmet.” Blimey, you’d expect that kind of thing at Aintree, but Cheltenham? Never!
Small Joys of TV: Only Murders In The Building (Disney+). Gone Fishing. The Great Buster (Sky Arts). Code 404. Long Lost Family, which never fails to touch the heart.
Random irritations: Paget Brewster’s glib voice-over spoiling Behind The Attraction on Disney+. The One Show hosts asking the great Billy Crystal to chat about Alex’s baby.
QUIZ of the week: who or what was “Chilly Minge”? Was it a) A Chinese Paralympian, b) Mel Sykes’s MasterChef speciality, or c) What Kerry Katona complained of having in the outside bog on Celebrity SAS?