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 17. CHEAT expected us to care whether or not an oddball university student had fiddled her sociology essay. Every sociology course in the country could be closed down by plagues of locusts tomorrow and few viewers would give a monkey’s. So to spice it up, ITV tossed in murder and tacky sex. In the opening minutes lecturer Leah had a joyless romp with husband Adam and then pleasured herself in the college loos while fantasising about bedding her boss... which naturally left her flushed. She wasn’t feeling herself after that though.
Weird Rose set out for revenge after Leah humiliated her in class. The plot was unlikely, absurd, and totally unpredictable... and yet stripped over a week like a Geordie Shore slapper, the psycho-thriller gripped like Mary Berry on the back of a Vespa.
The story advanced via flash-forwards so we knew Adam was going to end up brown bread, although viewers were more upset about Rose killing Leah’s cat (a clear case of Tom-icide... sorry). The time-jumps showed that one of the two women ended up in prison – but which one and would it be the right one?
Here’s how it went: so-so sociology student Rose handed in a strikingly good essay. Leah didn’t like her attitude and failed her. So Rose made herself busier than an umbrella seller at Cheltenham. She bumped off Betsy the cat, nicked Leah’s engagement ring and conned Adam into sexting her. No points for guessing who she forwarded the image to... (In fairness the best “dick pic” he could have sent was of his own face).
On Wednesday we learned that Leah’s father Michael was Rose’s dad too, the result of a six year affair with his researcher. Rose seduced Adam – roughly as hard as coaxing Jo Brand into a patisserie. And then someone killed him. But who? Rose? Her love-sick porter Ben? Leah? Rose framed Leah then admitted murder to Michael (who was conveniently wearing a wire), lying that it was self-defence. Ben killed her step-father’s dog, and probably her step-father, and finally Leah’s family were reunited. We never did find out if she’d copied her essay. I feel cheated.
PS. Someone really should pitch Adam’s miraculous cat-tracking app on Dragons’ Den.
WHILE Katherine Kelly was strumming away like a caffeinated busker on Cheat, another Weatherfield graduate was serving up Coronation treats of a different kind on Stand Up To Cancer’s Bake Off special. Michelle Keegan easily out-baked Rylan, Russell Tovey and James Acaster, whose Bakewell flapjack was “like soup”. Her 3D meringue ski slope was faultless but not quite as breathtaking as the erotic way she gently massaged her baking cone. “That’s probably something I won’t see again for a while,” gasped Noel Fielding. The air was thick with innuendo. Rylan’s salacious “I’m coating the instrument with lubricating butter” was obviously intentional. Others involved bad cracks, “elegantly greasing the unicorn horn”, Michelle’s contention that “You can’t go wrong with a gooey flapjack” and Rylan’s “I’ve never greased a horn before and I’m pleasantly enjoying it.”
BAD sex is spreading across TV like an STD on Love Island. I’d pay good money to have all memory of the “racy” scenes on MotherFatherSon permanently erased. The deeply dull BBC drama has served up two cringe-worthy encounters, the worst being unlikely newspaper editor Caden’s toe-curling encounter with a call-girl. They had mother-son incest too. Talk about rolling your own. This series with Richard Gere at his fish-faced worse is so bad it’s funnier than Warren. Not hard.
WHO’D live in Midsomer? The murder rate in these tranquil English villages is like a bad week on Game Of Thrones. They make the mean streets of Walford seem safe. The latest caper involved the strange death of a local ghost-writer who was boiled alive in a brewery mash kettle – mimicking the execution of a rogue monk five centuries before. TV drama is full of potboilers but monk-boiling was a first. Spiky new pathologist Fleur Perkins told DCI Barnaby “I’ll need to consult a specialist... and possibly a cookbook.” The monastery was now the site of a microbrewery flogging Cursed IPA, run by two sisters – one a drunk who was the next victim, stabbed to death with a double pronged mattock. Red herrings stirred into the vat included a reformed East End gangster, a bolshy Real Ale society chairman and Elaine Paige as a washed-up but waspish stage actress. And the killer was of course a famous face who seemed utterly blameless, a care home nurse played by Corrie’s Angela Griffin. Barnaby bumbled through, turning a blind eye to lesser crimes – including the unforgivable sin of selling cheap supermarket bitter bottled as craft ale.
HOT on TV: Annette Badland, Midsomer Murders... Sonia Gerhardt, Deutschland ’86... Helen McGrory in anything.
ROT on TV: This Time with Alan Partridge – make it the last time... Turn Up Charlie (Netflix) – turn off immediately.. MotherFatherSon – wetter than Storm Gareth.
ROISIN Conarty plays a prostitute on After Life, which is apt as she rather resembles a blow-up doll that’s been blown up too much. Like many men of a certain age, I find her strangely alluring even if she does have the acting rang of a blancmange. I wasn’t so struck on the show until I watched every episode back to back. It’s more tragedy than comedy with Ricky Gervais as grieving widower Tony. It has poignant scenes, tender moments and not as many laughs as you’d expect from Britain’s boldest taboo-busting comedian. The best jokes feel borrowed or recycled. Jimmy Jones has been doing the small hands gag since the 70s, while the “paedo” response had a distinct whiff of Chubby Brown.
LUTON cops collared a scumbag rapist on 24 Hours In Police Custody. Good job. But while they had plenty of time and manpower, in the Met it’s likely that only two officers would handle a stranger rape case, which is frankly worrying.
*THE toughest question all week on The Chase: Celebrity Special: who the hell are they?
*THIS Time with Alan Partridge is washed-up and ruined – a huge disappointment. After the highs of Knowing Me, Knowing You (A-ha), this is more: (Nice) Knowing You. Ta-ta.
SMALL joys of TV: Ronnie Sullivan’s 1000th snooker century on ITV4. Will Smith’s Bucket List (Facebook Watch). Maria Schrader, Deutschland ’86. Linzey Coker, White Gold. The Legend Of Leadbelly (Smithsonian). Cheers re-runs. Australia’s Magical Kingdom.
RANDOM irritations: American Gods going off the boil. Trailers that give away endings. Fashion shows pushing skeletal chic. People who think of awards in terms of diversity rather than quality – the only measuring stick that matters. BBC One’s all soap and cooking Thursday.
SEPARATED at birth: Harry Kane and Adam on Cheat, but only from the side... and Adam did love a bit on the side.
TV Maths. Ben Gorman, Cheat + brown hair dye = Lee Evans.
MARCH 10. CELEBRITY Apprentice made last month’s Man City v Chelsea clash seem evenly balanced. The teams had to stage a fundraising cabaret night. The girls booked Robbie Williams, the boys had... naked balloon dancers. To add insult to injury one dancer’s balloon burst three feet away from the face of their biggest auction bidder exposing his embarrassment. He was just lucky it didn’t go under the hammer. Talk about lop-sided! The contest I mean – mercifully we didn’t see what Lord Sugar called the poor bloke’s “three-piece suite”.
The men had such big dreams too. Team leader Rylan wanted Taylor Swift. Omid Djalili repeatedly promised to deliver superstar Cher. (Not to mention Fleur East, Clean Bandit & the Rolling Stones... ) Cher was “trying to get out of a personal engagement” he assured his teammates who pinned all their hopes on her. “If we could turn back time... ” Richard Arnold noted ruefully in the boardroom. Of course it didn’t help that Ayda Field is married to Robbie – Sugar called her his “carer” – giving the girls a massive advantage. This charity spin-off is more about who you know than business skills.
The Comic Relief two-parter was the format’s first run since 2009, when they had better bookings. 2007 was the vintage year, memorably serving up the clash of the monster egos – Piers Morgan v Alastair Campbell who got on like India and Pakistan. The nearest we came to fireworks this year was football veteran Sam Alladyce accusing Rylan of panicking and being self-serving (surely not?). Omid messed up twice – first with Cher, then the disastrous balloon dancers. Russell Kane rescued the auction, holding the night together. But Big Sam barely broke sweat. He turned up late, swerved the team leader role and was reluctant to call on minted footie mates to donate. Maybe he was dazzled by Rylan’s choppers. In contrast Amanda Holden pulled in £25K from Simon Cowell, and the women romped home raising over a quarter of a million for charity. Joy-vacuum Kelly Hoppen unintentionally got the biggest laugh of the show by calling Argentina’s most famous footballer “Mara-Donor”. What could possibly connect Diego with a kebab? One is too fatty, has seen better days and is infamously associated with over-handling... the other’s a meat dish.
RUSSELL Brand was the unexpected star of Bake Off’s celebrity spin-off, despite his unhygienic Ayatollah whiskers. He urged Paul Hollywood to “take a bite” out of Sandi Toksvig, adding “you’ve been dying to do it since the big move”. And when Prue Leith criticised the off-claret colouring of his West Ham inspired Footballing Idols brownies, Brand snapped “I’m focusing on helping people with cancer, not icing sugar love. “How are we going to find a cure at this rate?” Thesaurus-sprouting Brand can be irritating, juvenile and pretentious, often all at the same time, but at his best he’s almost like the hippy love child Derek & Clive never had. Few other contestants would have attempted to bake a biscuit-based “cosmic vagina” based on his wife giving birth to their youngest daughter. “The portal to all life,” he said. Crumbs. As soon as Prue called it “a celebration of womanhood”, the jammy dodger’s Star Baker apron was nailed on. Likeable John Lithgow came unstuck in the technical. He’d never heard of a Swiss Roll. His result, he said, was more like “a Swiss guard’s discarded underwear”.
THE first series of Fleabag was filthy, funny and fearless. Phoebe Waller-Bridge has raised the stakes for the second. The show is more tragicomedy than sitcom now, and getting darker by the minute. It started with Fleabag’s nose gushing blood – the result, we learned later, of a right-hander from her creepy, alcoholic brother-in-law Martin. In fairness, she’d punched him first. The setting was a hellish family meal to “celebrate” her loaded dad’s impending wedding to her detestable Godmother – a sadistic, controlling nightmare played by Olivia Colman. Their priest swears like Schofield. Fleabag’s sister Claire had a miscarriage in the bogs. And passive aggression soon gave way to the real thing. Fleabag may be greedy, perverted, selfish, cynical, depraved and morally bankrupt but she’s a beacon of honesty compared to her family. Let’s hope she careens off the rails soon.
HOT on TV: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag... Deutschland 86... Martha Canga Antonio, Baptiste... Endeavour finale... Elena Lietti, The Miracle (SkyAt).
ROT on TV: Chelsee Healey, Celebs Go Dating – the worst date since 9/1... Rig 45 (AmPrime) – there’s more tension in crown bowls... After Life (Netflix) – as cheery as an open grave.
COCKNEY comedian Jimmy Fagg pitched up on an old Minder last week, telling a packed pub: “I had to go and see the doctor the other day. He said ‘I haven’t seen you for two years’. I said, I know, I’ve been ill. ‘He said, ‘Your nose is swollen up’. I said, I know I’ve got seenus trouble. “He said ‘Do you mean sinus?’ No I said, I was out with a boxer’s wife and he’s seen us... ” A lost world.
MICHAEL Jackson: superb songwriter, brilliant performer, expert child molester? The men who said the late star had groomed them as small children on Finding Neverland seemed utterly credible. One question was not explored enough, though: why on earth did the parents allow Jacko unsupervised access?
*BBC Two’s MotherFatherSon? WatchedYawnedDeleted.
*SOAP lesbian Tina said of EastEnders new girl Iqra: “If she wants a war, we’re gonna give her one.” Not before the watershed, surely?
*ALL of Jane McDonald’s Channel 5 shows are made by a company called Elephant House. How unnecessary. She’s not that chunky.
SMALL joys of TV: Derry Girls. The Secret Spike Milligan (BBC4). Still Game. Masterful misdirection on Baptiste. Nigel Lindsay as Tony Walsh, White Gold. Free Solo (NatGeo). The Equaliser, Callan & Space 1999 all repeating from scratch.
RANDOM irritations: Celebrity travelogues where celebs show little or no interest in the countries they visit. Alan Partridge going off the boil after just one so-so episode. Virtual-signalling adverts. The dismal soundtrack on Leaving Neverland.
TV Maths: David Potts + white wig = Ursula the Sea Witch
SEPARATED at birth: Emma Appleton in Traitors and Momo? One a fictional character associated with something truly awful, the other is Momo.
MARCH 3. WHAT the hell has happened to our sense of humour? New BBC sitcom Warren stinks like Rick Stein’s fish bins. It’s poorly written, under-developed and totally witless. Yet they’re spinning its lead character Warren Thompson as the new Victor Meldrew. That’s like comparing a botched tattoo to the Mona Lisa or a mouldy meringue to a Bake Off show-stopper. Meldrew, in David Renwick’s sublime One Foot In The Grave, was a decent man caught in life’s great downpour without a brolly. He’d lost his job, his existence felt empty and he was plagued by endless indignities, misunderstandings and jobsworths. No wonder he was ratty.
In contrast driving instructor Warren (Martin Clunes) is just a charmless waste of DNA. The first episode saw him fly-tipping asbestos, thieving from his next door neighbours and treating his stepsons like serfs. Cantankerous characters can be the bedrock of great comedy of course – think of raging fools like Basil Fawlty or Alf Garnett. Deluded nitwit David Brent and envious inadequate Rigsby in Rising Damp had us in stitches too. But grumpiness and bad attitude aren’t enough. They have to have redeeming qualities – even aggro-magnet Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm is well-meaning at heart. And crucially the script has to be funny. One Foot had inspired sight gags, surreal twists and lashings of black humour. Warren served up a lame, half-baked clairvoyant and not a single credible character. Meldrew’s catchphrase was an exasperated “I don’t be-lieve it”, Warren gives us “bollocks”, “you prat”, “tit”, “tosser” and “tight bastard”.
I can believe someone as self-centred and joyless as Warren Thompson can exist but how would he get through life without getting chinned? He’d have to borrow a Knight Fight suit just to survive a day unscathed. Why would anyone book a second driving lesson with this charmless berk? And why would his dippy wife stay with him? John Cleese and Connie Booth polished their Fawlty Towers scripts until they were faultless. Not a word was wasted word. Warren feels like a first draft which not one of the over-paid berks attached to the production either at the Beeb or at Hat Trick felt the need to send back for a re-write.
ROB Beckett’s sarky running commentary makes Celebs Go Dating the funniest show on TV. It helps that he’s working with more dummies than Jeff Dunham. David Potts (obscure Ibiza rep) comes over like the love child Jeremy Spake and an oompa loompa version of Joey Essex never had. The bloke is thicker than a stalker’s photo album. Typical quotes included: “What’s linguine?” and “I like my men like I like tea – big and beefy” (Beef tea, anyone?) Potts went potty when someone said he looked 26. “26? Are you joking?” he fumed. “I’m 25!” Of course that might have been his neck measurement. Chelsea Heeley treated her dates appallingly. You’re from Hollyoaks, love, not Hollywood (as the classy burping and re-chewed gum proved). Love Island’s Georgia Steel asked date Max what a dumpling was! He somehow resisted the temptation of replying: “That lump of fried dough between your ears.” A nervous Kerry Katona was sweating like R Kelly in the dock. “If this was scratch and sniff TV you’d be able to smell me,” she said. “It’s like a river down there.” Even Beckett didn’t pursue that image for filth. Three-times-married Kerry “hasn’t had an easy ride in love”. No but you suspect she’s been one. While Megan McKenna revealed “I want that oomph and I want it in my mouth.” Was she talking about kissing? You have your dream and I’ll have mine. Megan cops stick but there’s nothing wrong with the woman that couldn’t be cured by a complete personality bypass.
ALAN Partridge is a classic sitcom monster and Steve Coogan is a cracking comedy actor – that isn’t just my opinion, it’s his. But This Time with Alan Partridge isn’t a patch on Knowing Me, Knowing You. The series puts Partridge in a spoof version of The One Show (already way beyond parody) with Susannah Fielding sparkling as co-host Jennie Gresham, conveying her mounting horror with her eyes. But some scenes, particularly the “no-handed ablution”, went on way too long. The jokes are either strained or recycled – the Fluck/Clunt gag was nicked. Diana Dors, real name Diana Fluck, was once introduced as Diana Clunt in her hometown of Swindon. Besides we know the BBC would never employ a Partridge today. The best line was Alan’s loyal long-suffering assistant Lynn saying of Jennie: “That’s twice she’s pinched your joke... She’s trying to rob you of your strength – like Delilah, the slag from the Bible.”
HOT on TV: Susannah Fielding, This Time... Miracle (SkyAt)... Olivia Chenery, Endeavour... JK Simmons, Counterpoint (AmPrime).
ROT on TV: Warren – War & Peace was funnier... David Potts, Celebs Go Dating – the absolute pits... Traitors – laters... The Junk Food Experiment – super sighs, me.
REASONS to be cheerful: Game Of Thrones is back April 14th, Line Of Duty returns late Spring, new Peaky Blinders is due soon and Killing Eve starts again on April 7th. Season two of American Gods hits AmPrime this month. A Sopranos prequel movie, The Many Saints Of Newark is in the pipeline. There’s a new run of Star Trek: TNG coming. Marvellous Morven Christie plays a family liaison cop with a compromised private life in The Bay (imminent). And Bergerac is being revived... which should at least do wonders for Jersey tourism.
RANDOM irritations: BritBox – a chance to pay to watch stuff we’ve already paid for... great. Dan Wootton on Lorraine – how can a grown man get so excited about trivia? The sheer unjustified length of Dancing On Ice, it’s pumped up like a supermarket chicken.
*TV bosses think the Oscars worked well without a host. Watch your back Joanna Lumley!
*DID you see Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper at the Oscars? That’s real Celebs Go Dating.
*WHAT a world. Jeff Bezos plans to colonise space and we can’t even leave the EU...
*SHAKESPEARE & Hathaway? Much ado about nothing.
*TV is educational. Luther taught us to avoid the top decks of London buses, Baptiste shows you should never open the door to a meter reader... Baptiste’s missus could be the killer’s next victim, but seriously when do meter readers turn up after dark?
*NEW research shows that watching too much TV in middle age rots your memory so I... no, it’s gone.
*CALLING telly lovers, Comic Relief is almost here but you’ve still got time to book a restaurant or tickets for a show or a movie...
*BRITBOX will charge viewers to watch old BBC and ITV shows. Isn’t that what ITV3, ITV4, Gold and Drama do already for free?
SMALL joys of TV: Rob Beckett’s mocking voice-over on Celebs Go Dating. The Umbrella Academy (Netflix). The Japanese version of Ninja Warrior. Isaac’s betrayal on The Orville (Fox). James Corden’s Spill Your Guts (clearly “inspired” by I’m A Celeb). The Circus (PBS).