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 25. MICHAEL Palin was in Iraq, “one of the most dangerous countries in the world” last week. Sure enough, the lingering devastation of war hung over Mosul like a fog that just won’t lift. Bombed-out buildings, bullet-scarred brick walls and kids playing in rubble made the city look as if it’d been liberated from Isis five days ago rather than five years. “F*** me,” the ex-Python exclaimed. Somewhere, the ghost of Alan Whicker raised an eyebrow. Yet Michael Palin: Into Iraq showed other sides to this tormented country too. Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, was like a love letter to US culture awash with neon strips, high-end motors and a full-scale replica of the White House. And in Akre, the mountainside was lit up with torches for a rowdy Kurdish spring festival. “The hills are alive with the sound of gunfire,” Michael quipped.
Palin, 79, is the best of today’s TV globe-trotters. He’s amiable, curious and engaging, a worthy successor to Clive James. At an age when most people’s idea of adventure begins and ends with a return trip on the Isle Of Wight ferry, Palin has trekked to North Korea and the Hindu Kush. He doesn’t lecture, but neither does he sanitise. He found one of Erbil’s few businesswomen, and stated that corruption and inequality exist there too (where don’t they, Michael?) Finding the new Palin is near the top of the BBC’s wish-list (ditto Dimbleby) but how did they ever lose him? Sadly, his success inspired endless, shallow, celeb-led travelogues. Few modern broadcasters are capable of making travel docs that aren’t all about them. But we don’t need more ego-trips or televised group-hugs. Just someone who can combine Palin’s innate decency with James’ wit and Whicker’s detached intelligence.
*WHICH war-torn hell-hole next, Michael, Leicester or Peckham?
CROSSFIRE started like an episode of Benidorm scripted by Tarantino – a blissful Spanish island resort was invaded by nutters who started gunning down sunbathers and staff. You don’t get that with Virgin Holidays. 72-Virgins Holidays, maybe. The horror unfolded against a backdrop of soapy shenanigans. Wet social worker Jason put wife Jo down in public cos she’d had an affair with “some knobhead from work”. And she was having another one with his old china Chinar, who they’re on holiday with... It was a toss-up what Jo would cop first – a bullet or chlamydia. With the attackers (disgruntled ex-staff) enjoying an all-you-can-shoot bloodbath buffet and Plod miles away, plucky ex-copper Jo got a shooter from the hotel manager. And Jason left Chinar a voice message hoping he’d been shot. He got his wish. The pacy action thriller had love-rat Jo in the John “Yippie Ki Yay” McClane role. Watch out for the sequel: A Wake In The Sun.
BLOODY Bloodlands is back and it’s still bloody bonkers. Bent cop Tom Brannick runs around Northern Ireland covering up his crimes and hunting down the stolen gold bullion that’s now been stolen from him. Keep up! In series one, dirty DCI Brannick turned out to be serial killer Goliath. He’s slaughtered at least two more – possibly just by glaring at them. That evil stare could freeze a leg of lamb. At least he doesn’t sing. We also saw how Tom looked in 1998 when all his hair was his own, using the same CGI wizardry that helps Kathy keep her bus pass Barbie looks on DeadEnders, probably. Victoria Smurfit promises much as widow Olivia but Jimmy Nesbitt’s eyebrows out-act them all.
*THE show’s romantic thought of the week: “He’d like to ride her like a stolen bike.” Fast, desperately, and praying for no punctures?
HOT on TV: Helen Skelton, Strictly... Andor (Disney+)... Milly Zero... House Of The Dragon (SkyAt).
ROT on TV: Suggs on pubs – flatter than a week-old pint... Rachel Parris... Cunk On Earth – laboured junk, a three minute sketch stretched beyond breaking point.
APOLOGY. Last week I may have given the impression EastEnders is improving. It isn’t. The writing is messier than King Charles’ fountain pen. Alfie’s boat raffle was predictably insane, but it’s even crazier that Phil wouldn’t know that Walford is a goal kick from Limehouse marina... I’d invite Honey to sit on my boat but your filthy minds would only twist it.
*PLEASE let Janine’s pregnancy be based on Rosemary’s Baby...
*LAST weekend Kevin O’Sullivan told his viewer: “It doesn’t really matter what I think” – the tragedy of Talk TV distilled into seven words.
*SINGING detective Ridley got shot. Harsh. His voice ain’t that bad...
*QUIZ twit of the week: Adrian on The Chase who thought the Anglo-Saxons were beaten in 1066 by “Norman the Conqueror”.
*BLANKETY-Blank is back. Good to see promising new boy Bradley Walsh get some rare TV exposure.
*I LIKE Suggs and I like pubs but his Britain’s Greatest Obsessions was blandly produced, lazily researched and swerved the crisis our battle cruisers currently face completely.
*IF someone faked footage of Nazis, sharks and aliens in a Las Vegas pawn shop it might actually make the Sky History channel explode.
SMALL joys of TV: Diana Dors clips (C5). The Boys From Brazil. Gaming Wall Street. Never Mind The Buzzcocks. Polar bears dancing on ice, Frozen Planet II.
RANDOM Irritations: Xmas ads already. Schofield and Willoughby – their inflated sense of self-importance was trumped only by their pathetic inability to come clean.
TV Maths. Fraser Crane + Niles Crane + beard = Agatha Christie’s Hjerson.
*TOP 7 warrior women: 1) Emma Peel 2) Wonder Woman 3) She-Hulk 4) Xena 5) Brienne Of Tarth 6) Queen Maeve 7) Lagertha (Vikings).
Classic clanger. ITV4’s Richie Porte was talking about cyclist Primoz Roglic when he said “I saw Primoz on the Col d’Eze this week and he almost sucked my helmet off on the way past.”
Sept 18. IN A week of sombre reflection and majestic grief, EastEnders did the unexpected – it made us laugh. As geriatric love machine Phil Mitchell got set to marry Kat, the writers scattered gags around like confetti. Big Mo burst out of a giant wedding cake saying, “I wouldn’t miss my grand-daughter marrying a Kray Twin, would I?” Like Bake Off on acid, it was. But at least no-one had to sample her soggy bottom. Kat telling Phil nothing would stop their marriage was funnier. Cue multiple disasters. Kat’s wedding car was “a broken-down slapper mobile” – apt, really. Alfie turned up wearing the same shirt he’s had since 2002 and got her stranded on his clapped-out canal boat, Nauti Buoy. He wanted a reunion but that ship had sailed... unlike the boat. Desperate fishwife Sharon made a play for Phil, calling Kat “a gold digger”. He owns a backstreet garage, luv, not Halfords.
The soap’s pet agendas were here – all men are bastards, yawn, Big Mo claiming that she’d almost got it on with Fat Pat tanked up on Babycham in 1963, an image that would turn Binnie and Della straight. Small joys included a well-judged tribute to the Queen, Mo giving odds on a Kat no-show and near-mute barmaid Tracey declaring Phil was “the best sex I ever had”. Hey Trace, you need to get out more.
Mitchell has been on a longer journey than Her Majesty’s coffin. A recovering alkie and crack addict, with four marriages and two close escapes, he goes in and out of chokey like a prison laundry van. Yet somehow Kat views Phil as “security” for her family... it’s baffling. The great stud has bedded Kathy, Denise, psycho Stella, Mel, Lisa, Rainie and Shirley, who still looks sweet sixteen – in dog years. So how come he’s never hit on Honey? Shazza’s gutted. Don’t fret, treacle. You’ll get him back. Give it till Xmas.
*SHARON now! Is she on Matt Lucas’s diet? She’s half-woman, half-pout.
WALFORD mysteries: Why does Freddie call Jean “nanny”? She wasn’t Little Mo’s mum! Is Kat’s “triangle choke” anything like the Singapore Grip? How was there a “downstairs” on Alfie’s Nauti Buoy canal boat? What explains 72-year-old Kathy Beale’s looks, monkey glands or sorcery?
HOUSE Of The Dragon wipes the floor with The Rings Of Power. It may have a smaller budget, but the Game Of Thrones prequel has bigger characters, more pace and bolder stories. On Monday, rogue Prince Daemon took Princess Rhaenyra, his teenage virgin niece, to a knocking shop and treated her to a quickie that stopped as soon as it started. Incest interruptus! Frustrated, Rhae shot home and played lance-a-lot with Ser Criston. Shocking? Maybe. But rolling-your-own was common in medieval Europe. Even Victoria married her cousin. For dragon sex, cast your mind back to Big Mo and Pat Butcher.
BRITAIN’S Greatest Obsessions kicked off with a frustating episode on humour that managed to miss most of the things that make British comedy unique. Harry Hill chatted to various bods about Punch & Judy, panto and Carry On films, but didn’t touch on Catford’s own Spike Milligan whose zany, surreal genius inspired Python and Harry himself and was inspired itself by the madness of war. Sitcoms were mentioned, largely so Liza Tarbuck could sneer at On The Buses – what ITV would give for Reg Varney’s ratings today! But not the folk circuit (Mike “The Rochdale Cowboy” Harding, Jasper Carrott, peerless Billy Connolly), Music Hall turns, variety comedians – other than Tommy Cooper – or working men’s club and stag comics. Harry noted our love of the underdog but quickly moved on. Surely that’s the golden thread from Charlie Chaplin on? You see it in Norman Wisdom, Charlie Drake’s The Worker all the way through Hancock, Harold Steptoe, Frank Spencer and Jim Royle to Lee Evans, Joe Pasquale and Lee Mack. We got lazy chitchat and clueless sociological waffle. It was all about as funny as genital warts.
HOT on TV: The Capture – more twists than Chubby Checker... Richard Pryor: Omit The Logic.
ROT on TV: Britain’s Greatest Obsessions – it had less depth than a Peppa Pig script... Late Night Mash – 11 writers, zero laughs.
SO many moving moments on the news... the pomp and pageantry, the swirl of kilts, the skirl of pipes... but the patient, respectful crowds impressed most. A shame the TV coverage was marred by subtitle cock-ups, like the Queen becoming “The Clean”.
THOSE emperor penguins on Frozen Planet II had it right. As soon as their chicks are fully grown, they jog on and never return. Imagine! No layabouts eating you out of nest and home, no bedrooms looking like the SAS have just raided... Bliss.
*HOODED seals woo females by blowing pink balloon sacs out of their nostrils. You don’t get that on First Dates. Surely time to revive Pets Win Prizes?
*THEY had house-shaped cakes on Bake Off. How long before Grand Designs hits back with a cake-shaped house?
*TSK. All those Bake Off Star Wars puns and not one Wookiee Monster...
*PETE Wicks knocked himself out on Celebrity SAS. Well, it saved someone else having to do it.
SMALL joys of TV: David Starkey on the monarchy, GB News. The Last Voices Of World War I. Louise Salter as Julia, Our Friends In The North (BBC4). Camilla Beeput, The Suspect.
RANDOM Irritations: Amber Gill quitting Celeb SAS so quickly, it was almost as if she should never have been booked. Talentless reality-TV berks reinvented as “celebrities”.
TV Maths: Erik ten Hag + some pies = comedian Andy Parsons.
7 Greatest Royal dramas: The Crown. Elizabeth I. Ray Winstone’s Henry VIII. The Last Kingdom. The Lion In Winter. Wolf Hall. By The Sword Divided.
Sept 11. JOE Lycett irritated the handful of people who watched Laura Kuenssberg’s new BBC show for different reasons. A few were outraged that he dared to mock Liz Truss. But most probably thought, is this all you’ve got, Joe? Some snidey sarcasm and cynicism? Where are the jokes? Where’s the bite, the satire? Gags are in short supply on the Beeb. Last week they treated us to Frankie Boyle quipping that a lot of people in Edinburgh “need stabbing”. So bold. So “radical”. They also wheeled out every pseud’s favourite anti-comic, Stewart Lee who spent a lengthy slab of his tedious Snowflake routine repeatedly saying the c-word. Now hugely fat and wearing a drape jacket, Lee said, “I know what you’re thinking, Ted Bovis has let himself go”, failing to add “after a year or two at a 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet”.
Private school, Oxford-educated Stewart managed one half-decent joke, involving a false leg and a false widow spider. He spent the rest of the time attacking Ricky Gervais and novelist Tony Parsons, with digs at John Cleese and, inevitably Brexit voters – most of them funnier or smarter than he is. No BBC comic ever mocked EU waste, red-tape or financial incompetence. Lee claims nothing is unsayable now. But that’s not true, is it Stu? Councils are still banning much-loved comics from their theatres, mad genius Jerry Sadowitz was silenced in Edinburgh. And a stand-up who mocked our useless leaders over say illegal immigration or the Blob’s endless jiggery-wokery would never be welcome on the Beeb. They prefer their rebels to be light, catty and gutless like Lycett, who, by the way, will profit enormously from the bonkers backlash.
*FOR decent left-wing vitriol, book Mark Steel. Like the late Linda Smith, at least he’d remember to make it funny.
THE BBC’s Huw Edwards made the announcement shortly after 6.30pm on Thursday. His tie was black; his mood sombre. We knew what was coming but didn’t want to hear it – the Queen, the glue in our family of nations, had gone. His eyes watered but Huw’s voice didn’t crack until he said the words, “She has left us”. A sense of shock spread across all channels as shows were scrapped, and the news extended. On ITV, Robert Peston changed his tie four times. Their royal reporter Chris Ship struggled with a statement “from His Majesty the Queen”. Try that again Chris. Nope, still wrong. Bile was spreading on Twitter but not on camera. At the London Stadium, thousands of West Ham fans burst spontaneously into the national anthem. The BBC scrapped their comedy shows. Who knew they had any? RIP Ma’am. God save the King.
THE kid who played 1979’s Phil Mitchell got him spot on. It’s just a shame they didn’t play Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick when young Phil gave his rotten old man a spanking. ’79 had plenty of apt chart-toppers for Walford: Tragedy, Heart Of Glass, I Will Survive... They couldn’t have the telly on, though. The Bruvs might’ve seen their mum pop up on Blankety-Blank and a re-run of Carry On Laughing. The décor looked years too old but Simon Ashdown’s script worked well, neatly tying in today’s DeadEnders with yesteryear – DCI Keeble’s father was the security guard Eric Mitchell shot. Unlikely Phil would forget the name of the man his dad murdered in cold blood... Eric’s “Let him have it” echoed the words killer Derek Bentley said in real life.
*WATCHING EastEnders is like walking through Detroit, you’re never five minutes from the scene of a crime. Given the death rate it’s a miracle Phil made it to sixty. Imagine him at 70. His voice will be so hoarse only dogs and Robert “Horse Whisperer” Redford could hear him.
*HOW about showing young Angie and Den in the 60s, or Mod tearaway Frank Butcher giving some rocker a dry slap?
HOT on TV: Mike (Disney+) – the original Tyson’s story... Fatima Whitbread, Celebrity SAS.
ROT on TV: Stuck – it sucks... The Suspect – well suspect... VAR... Send Nudes: Body SOS.
MARTIN Clunes is the best thing about Doc Martin. He has turned the grumpy GP into one of the great curmudgeons. Up there with Siegfried Farnon, or Charles Laughton as Sir Wilfred Robarts in recently repeated Witness For The Prosecution. Like Victor Meldrew, the no-nonsense Doc is misunderstood and eccentric but essentially good-hearted. Even retired he wore a suit and tie and diagnosed a passing Fay Ripley with “myasthenia gravis” – possibly a side effect of cold feet. The cliff edge ending was potty but at least Port Wenn got its doctor back. Until Xmas anyway.
*MEMO to David Dimbleby: the shocking thing about Jimmy Savile isn’t that a Newsnight report was postponed, it’s that the odious git committed his crimes on BBC property and was shielded by BBC bosses. Time to name and shame them.
*WE watch Celebrity SAS Who Dares Wins to see celebs we don’t like getting tortured. If we have no idea who half of the bookings are, why bother? Good luck to Fatima, she’s 61 and game as hell.
KICK Out The Jams: The Story of XFM recalled the talents who got their break on the indie radio station – everyone from Ricky Gervais to Gary Crowley. I used to go on the Mary Ann Hobbs show and wind up Billy Bragg to a state close to meltdown. Then we’d all go round the pub. Happy days.
7 great TV hardmen: Jack Reacher. Terry McCann. Billy Butcher (The Boys). Jack Regan. Jack Bauer. Vic Mackey. Rick Grimes.
SMALL joys of TV: Daemon’s charge, House Of The Dragon (SkyAt). Gone Fishing. The Capture. Mercy Ajisafe, 5 News. New Cobra Kai (Netflix).
RANDOM Irritations: The TV cookery deluge – too many cooks spoil the box. The bottomless money-burner that is Talk TV, it’s not “a British Fox News”, it’s just poxed.
*HAS rolling news ever seemed more ridiculous than the long, pointless build-up to Liz Truss in Downing Street?
*BEING Prime Minister is like being Leonardo di Caprio’s new girlfriend. You get attention, you get screwed, then you’re out – plucked, ****ed and chucked.
TV Maths. Cricketer turned commentator Nasser Hussain + liver spots = Mr Burns from The Simpsons.
Classic clanger. Ken Brown on golfer Nick Faldo and caddie Fanny Sunneson lining up shots: “Some weeks Nick likes to use Fanny, other weeks he prefers to do it by himself.”
Sept 4. WHEN Doctor Who started the budget was £2000 an episode. That wouldn’t pay the make-up bill for a single day on The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power. Each episode of this sprawling epic set Amazon back £52million – enough to turn even a blood-sucking UK energy boss green. It looks fantastic. It’s cinematic, stunning, jaw-dropping. Sadly, after a cracking start, episode one slows down to the pace of Tolkien’s talking trees. I liked elf heroine Galadriel, who commands the northern armies. She is the show’s X Factor, the Elvish Presley if you like, and she’s fearless. Most Elves think their war is over after dark lord Morgoth is defeated. But our Gala knows in her bones that his evil sidekick Sauron is still alive and up to no good. She also knows how to clobber angry snow-trolls with her enchanted sword and some Cirque du Soleil worthy acrobatics.
We meet harfoots, the cute multi-racial forebears of the hobbits (including Lenny Henry playing an elder), and then the script starts hobbling like a geriatric goblin. There’s forbidden romance between Elf Arondir and human Bronwyn but no sex scenes, so no chance of seeing Lenny in rude elf. Scottish dwarves arrive in episode two, improving it immensely, along with proper scares that suggest Amazon’s gamble will pay off – if they keep up the momentum. The booming fantasy market owes a lot to us. Tolkien was English, Game Of Thrones was heavily inspired by our history. It’s just a shame it’s the Yanks who are cashing in. Let’s hope they flesh out the characters, keep the action moving, and add wit. And maybe Gandalf’s great-grandad. Otherwise, we might end up bored of the Rings – an awful waste of Jeff Bezos’ eye-watering $1billion investment
*WE saw slow painful death by crabs on House Of The Dragon, quite different to how that worked on Harlots...
THERE’S A new singing detective! Hurrah! Retired DI Alex Ridley treated us to songs so mournful they made Hank Williams sound like Benny Hill. Ridley, played by Adrian “Ted Hastings” Dunbar, croons in the empty jazz club he co-owns. Talk about Inspector Morose. Only Shetland is grimmer. Alex is gutted because his wife and daughter were murdered, and just as understandably because he’s seen the scripts. Whiskey-guzzling ex-cop with tragic back story dragged back to work as a consultant on a crime that might just be linked to the case he couldn’t crack... if ITV are playing murder mystery bingo, they should call house. An old missing person case led to a second corpse, and a not-too-surprising twist. I’m not sure I can stomach another two hours; I might just fast-forward for the songs. Maybe Ridders will cheer us all up with a funeral-paced rendition of Hank’s They’re Hanging Me Tonight.
*HOW about spin-offs? Opportunity Cops, Chorus Line Of Duty, The Ex-Cop Factor...
7 most miserable TV detectives: Taggart. Morse. Steve McGarrett. Ridley. Monk. John River. Jimmy Perez.
ONLY the Beeb would have the brass neck to have one of their own make a documentary about their dodgiest moments. Cut David Dimbleby open and you’d probably find “licence fee” tattooed on his heart. On The Days That Shook The BBC, Dimbledore even played down Bashir’s infamous interview with Diana, blaming “a screw-up” rather than blatant fraud. But these scandals are nothing compared to the rocking the over-bloated, underperforming corporation have been taking since streaming services arrived. Only great programmes can save them – popular comedies, gripping dramas, and bias-free news would be a start. Don’t hold your breath.
PS. That title is a deliberate nod to Ten Days That Shook The World, John Reed’s book about the Russian revolution. We know how well that turned out...
HOT on TV: Morfydd Clark, The Rings Of Power (Prime)... Erling Haaland... The Capture... The Vietnam War (PBS).
ROT on TV: Days That Shook The BBC – not hard enough... The Masked Dancer – foxtrot Oscar... Married At First Sight.
ON The Capture, clever Chinese hackers replaced a live Newsnight interview with a deep-fake version where a minister pushed the exact opposite agenda. The sneaky gits! Imagine what these guys could do with VAR... They could make Liz Truss look human, and even give Game Of Thrones a better ending.
*IS Live At The Apollo deep-fake? The laughter we hear is rarely in sync with the audience shots, or the chronic quality of the comedy.
*DAN Walker tweeted about his new show, “Dogging For Treasure” – a spelling mistake for Dan, a must-commission pitch for Channel 4.
*IF Oti Mabuse married Professor T would the wedding be as extravagant as her new name?
*PLEASE note: House Of The Dragon is a lavish fantasy and not as some thought a Through The Keyhole Anne Robinson special.
*FASTEST Finger First? Middle finger best.
*THERE’S an urban beach just walking distance from Walford. Hold a shell to your ears and you can hear the screams...
*IMAGINE an EastEnders’ Baywatch – Kraywatch! They’d be pulling bodies out the Thames with their feet in cement.
SMALL joys of TV: Sid James clips. The Muppet Show (Disney+). Jane Fonda in Cat Ballou. Forged In Fire (Sky History). Sonoya Mizuno, the House Of The Dragon “whore”.
RANDOM Irritations: Trip Hazard. BBC News always referring to “asylum seekers” when the young healthy blokes they’re talking about are clearly economic migrants.
Separated at birth: Ridley’s lesbian cop Di Farman and MasterChef judge Grace Dent? One appreciates a nice fish pie... and so does the other one. Both are played by Bronagh Waugh, allegedly.