Tuesday, May 30

World Cup Warm Up

We've got Johnny Motson, we've got Johnny Motson, la la la la, la la la la. The BBC was as lousy as ever, says Mark Lewis

If last night's team was the one we are going to see come World Cup time, we may be in trouble. That had to be the verdict after the first half at least, when BBC sports dons watching Match of the Day’s coverage of England vs Hungary (BBC1, 7.45pm) must have feared we would defect en masse to ITV.

Motty was at his Richard Whitely in a commentary box worst, chuckling and bantering with all the confidence of an ugly teenager ; beside him sat a strangely sober Mark Lawrenson. Not only did his near silence mark the absence of his worthless analysis, but Lawro eschewed almost entirely his baffling jokes, which used to be signalled on Football Focus by his grinning fucking face. (Man, I’d like to smash his face with a club: yeah, a club made out of Kate Thornton’s severed head.) But watching BBC football commentary without the added excitement of working out when Lawro might be cracking a gag is like grazing your knee without being allowed to pick the scab.

Oh, there were flashes. When invited to enlighten us on what Wayne Rooney’s absence meant to the England team we enjoyed this exchange:

Lawro - ‘It’s the ability to make something out of nothing’

Motty - ‘Adds a bit extra doesn’t he.’

And Lawro tried weakly to make fun of Tony Christie’s England version of Amarillo. But it was all as half hearted as England’s first half performance.

Back in the studio, things were little better. Gary Lineker was steady, if unspectacular at the back, Ian Wright was lively but ineffective up front, Lee Dixon was practically anonymous. Only Alan Hanen played well, breaking up play, and interrupting Lee Dixon whenever he was probably about to say something stupid.

By the second half, the team showed ITV why the BBC was still good enough not to completely negate the commercial broadcaster’s adverts disadvantage. Lawro cackled about how footballers often had attractive girlfriends; Lineker became so smug he almost turned into Kevin Spacey; Wrighty went through the post match analysis without once pronouncing a ‘t’, and Hansen kept Lee Dixon so quiet he may or may not have still been in the studio.

He would have been better off trying his luck on the other side, where ITV’s Celebrity X-Factor (9pm) had Kate Thornton (with body still attached to head, unfortunately) inviting Dr Gillian McKeith to sing Cher’s It’s in His Kiss.

‘Can you actually kiss McKeith without picturing her poking through your turds,’ he could have said.
Big Breakdown

Day 12: that's the same as the number of months in a year. That spooky symbolism makes this the perfect time for Richey Nash to run down what's happened in Big Brother. In his car of journalism.

A girl ran up to me in the street and screamed hysterically: “Oh my God. Isn’t Big Brother 7, like, the best ever?” I said nothing. And then pushed her in front of a 281 bus. Why? Because BB7 (C4/E4, all the time) isn't great. She's wrong. Even if you think I'm a 22-year-old crotchety old man, screw you: you know I'm right. But it's what the yoof of today are watching so, if you want to keep up with what they're on about, here's the story so far:

Shahbaz leaves: He went on BB7 to show how normal a gay Muslim can be. Then he went mad and pledged to commit suicide on TV. Sadly, he left before he did. Shame.
Dawn leaves: Kicked out for getting a coded message in oh so cryptic ‘English language’. Now MI5 beckons. Or is that MFI?
‘Bonner’ evicted: She was an idiosser – a cross between ‘idiot’ and ‘tosser’ – who’ll do a couple of photo shoots then get washed back into the sewers. Probably.
George leaves: He didn't want to be famous so left, though most of the housemates will achieve the same by staying. “I don’t want to be on TV,” he told the world. “Then why go on Big Brother?” the world replied. Oh, give me strength. Posh knob'ead.

So what else? Well, we've got to see reptilian Sezer the sleazer (aka BB7's Syed) morph into King of the Twats. Or should that be Emperor? Whatever, he's not as clever as he thinks he is and I’ve already bought a special gun to shoot his face off. Unless auntie’s evil cat Imogen stabs him in the back first. Like that Shakespeare play. Yes. And talking of drama, two more 'people' have gone into the house. Whoop-di-doo. You know what that means? Yes, it's the return of the Richey Nash Animal-O-Meter. Hooray:

Speaks white ghetto patois but worries you might think she’s posh.
Animal: Swan rolling in mud, chewing gum and dog poo.

Sam (aka Samuel)
Quite convincing Scottish transvestite. Oh God... I need new eyes.
Animal: Hedgehog in telltale slightly-too-thick make-up.

There have also been the boring bed-hopping shenanigans. It's the kind of thing you'd expect from the yoof of today and I won't dignify it by writing about it. So that’s that. For now.

Monday, May 29

Now that isn’t what I call music television

Helen Parton laments the decline of a suitable TV outlet for today’s burgeoning music scene

Considering the dynamism of the music business as a whole at the moment – northern whippersnappers t’Arctic Monkeys on the verge of taking America, mad death metallers Lordi kicking Eurovision into touch and tracks being downloaded quicker than Janet Jackson can whip out a nipple, why then is its representation on terrestrial television such a damp squib?
Like an awkward teenager nobody really wants to make any effort with, Top of the Pops (BBC2 Sunday 7pm) is still hanging around at the fag end of the weekend at officially THE MOST DEPRESSING TIME EVER. These days, the show is presided over by Fearne Cotton, the Beeb’s Davina-McCall-in-waiting, chirpily signalling the death knell for this musical institution. Week after week now seems to consist of former boy band soloists doing some R&B pap, Euro pop hits using samples from bad 80s ballads (most recently First Time by Robin Beck!) and Gnarls Barkley doing their Crazy thing, and in the process becoming perilously close to 2006’s answer to Bryan Adams or Wet Wet Wet in terms of No1 spot hogging. Last time I tuned in they had even roped in gardener Diarmund Garvin to co-host, presumably hoping for a bit of chemistry in manner of Paula Yates and Michael Hutchence on that famous episode of The Tube.
Aaaah, The Tube , revered by music lovers almost as much as Captain Beefheart and the ratio to people who go on about it compared to people who have actually experienced it is probably about the same too. But it did spawn Jules Holland, who’s still in the post pub slot on BBC2 with his Later With… show . Still the worst interviewer on television, still the only person who thinks boogie-woogie impromptu jams are a good idea and still no clue about which word to emphasise in band names but still one of the better music shows around. Granted you couldn’t get more of a mixed bag were you to place Stevie Wonder in charge of the sweets section in Woollies but, hey! Some weeks will be bumper episodes, chock full of Franz Ferdinands, Snow Patrols, Martha Wainwrights, Zutons et al. Other weeks though it’s miserably slim pickings - Interchangeable Bearded Jazz Musician in A Trilby and warbling oldies like Paul bloody Simon, presumably waiting until Rick Rubin comes a calling to sprinkle some breakthrough magic as he has done with Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond. And will someone please tell Jules that everyone flicks over when the world musicians come on and that it is as tokenisitic as the jazz nominee in the Mercury Music Prize. Ithangyew.
Other pretenders to the throne – Orange Playlist, Popworld - have become victims of their own success as original presenters leave to go on to bigger, if not necessarily better, things. Newest kid on the musical block is The Album Chart Show (Fridays and Saturdays, midnight-ish Channel 4). This has all the essential ingredients of a good music show – annoying presenter, live music, reasonably good choice of acts but it is too knowing: without that unwittingly maverick quality Top of the Pops used to have in spades – where else would you have Bing Crosby and David Bowie duetting, a picture of Jocky Wilson for Dexy’s performing ‘Jackie Wilson Says’ or JayZ performing with the chorus line from Annie? Move over Stuart Maconie, maybe it’s time for me to give up music TV viewing and take my place as a voxpop on a retro-mentary instead.

Thursday, May 18

Big Bovvered

Moorhen? Biscuit-faced bear? Auntie's evil cat? Richey Nash gives his first impressions on the inmates in TV's favourite asylum...

Being on Television Review’s Big Brother unit makes me feel like Martin Sheen at the start of Apocalypse Now. I know covering BB7 will be long and painful, I know I’ll see horrors, but I’m committed. Hell, I’m a professional. But three months? That’s rough. So what will we see? Dull lipstick lesbianism? Drunken late-night fingerings? Idiots conspiring as if they’re intelligent? Stupid people doing stupid things in a bid to become infamous? Davina McCall being annoying? It’s a big fat ‘yes’ on all counts. And some violence, if we’re lucky.

You see, I have no sympathy for any of the inmates - sorry, housemates - and here’s why:
(1) They want to be in there.
(2) They know what to expect.
(3) They get what they deserve.
Period. That’s it. Case closed.

But there’ll be plenty of time to discuss how awful it all is. Big Brother launch night (Channel 4, 9pm) isn’t about that. It’s our chance to revel in the foul pieces of humanity who’ll be polluting our minds and burned into our retinas until the middle of August. Glory be! Now, remembering each person in this filth parade is a big job, but fear not: I’ve included the Richey Nash Animal-O-Meter. A what? An Animal-O-Meter. Y'know, so you can identify them by an animal at a later date if you can’t remember their name. Kind, eh? Well here goes:

Bonnie (20)
Will eat, sleep and get kicked out early for looking like she’s scheming.
Animal: Koala in fake tan

Dawn (38)
Cut her open and you’d find coal where internal organs should be.
Animal: Psychotic people-hating panther

George (19)
Tossy public school posh boy with, like, Royal connections, ya.
Animal: Preening Shetland pony

Glyn (18)
Nudist Welsh kid who says he’s a lifeguard but ain’t David Hasselhoff.
Animal: Dopey giraffe

Grace (20)
It Girl wannabe who creams over Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing.
Animal: Bush baby

Imogen (23)
Looks fit and friendly. Then she destroys your genitals for the hell of it.
Animal: Auntie’s evil cat who’d scratch your face as soon as look at you.

Lea (35)
So much plastic surgery she only moves her face to slag off the fat.
Animal: Scraggy old dignity-dodging moorhen.

Lisa (27)
Massive tool who thinks life is a nightclub. Shut up, just shut up etc.
Animal: Brown bear with a biscuit-shaped face.

Mikey (23)
Ladies loved him. Then his mouth opened and spewed pure misogyny.
Animal: Scouse orangutan with Italian stylings.

Nikki (24)
Pathetic little poor girl who wants to be a spoilt little rich girl.
Animal: Stupid rabbit on a trampoline.

Pete (24)
Wideboy with Tourette’s and a Keith Richards complex.
Animal: ‘Gor blimey’ peacock in a pork pie hat.

Richard (33)
Canadian tosspot. Sees every guy as a, err, toss pot. Mmm… lovely.
Animal: Dog in heat that humps your leg before you’re in the front door.

Sezer (26)
Thinks he looks like an r&b star. Actually looks like a boyband off-cut.
Animal: Chameleon, snake… whatever, it’s reptilian.

Shahbaz (37)
Gay Muslim who’ll start crying within three days and never stop.
Animal: Middle-aged gerbil on MDMA.

Tuesday, May 16

Swinging crime

With the run up to the World Cup in full flow, Helen Parton really rather enjoys re-living one of its most famous shaggy-dog stories…

Crime was so much more fun in the 1960s, and almost always accompanied by a swinging bossa-nova beat, at least that’s what the makers of Who Stole the World Cup (Channel 4, 9pm) would have us believe. This was the tale of the theft of the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966 and as endearing British as crap weather, warm beer and hurling white plastic cafĂ© chairs at riot police when abroad (surely the white plastic chair’s dominance in Continental eateries should be of some concern for the EU’s competition commission, given that no other material or colour seems to get a look in).

Anyway, yes, only here in Blighty could a security lapse be due to someone taking a tea break – a bit like the theft of the Scream paintings being down to an ill-timed trip to Norway’s answer to Costcutter to stock up on pickled herrings and Aha’s Greatest Hits. What followed was something even the script-writers of Heartbeat would probably dismiss for being too much of a twee-olde-60s version of policing – ransom notes, code words, slow speed chases and finally the cry of ‘You’re Nicked!’ – for the middleman anyway. The man behind it all was apparently a shadowy figure by the name of ‘Joe the Pole’. Forget the retro revival of haircuts, music and hemlines of that decade – when are criminals with nicknames going to make a comeback I say! As if you didn’t know through a million pub quiz questions already, the Cup was recovered in time by a dog called Pickles, who we learnt later met his maker in another uniquely British bit of bathos – choking on his own lead while chasing a cat.

The rest of this documentary focussed on whether the Queen handed Bobby Moore the real recovered trophy or a secretly commissioned replica – the answer ‘no’ despite all the rather half hearted build up at this ‘exclusive’ new part to the tale.

Admittedly this was Channel 4’s flagrant attempt at World Cup bandwagon jumping but hell the station’s usual sports coverage consists of racing pundit/Diet Coke fan John McCririch shouting and superbikes. Aside from John McCririch shouting on a superbike, I could scarcely think of a pleasanter, if not particularly challenging, way to spend an hour watching TV.

Monday, May 15

Laugh, I nearly tried

David Cook ponders the future and finds it to be alarmingly Denis Norden tinged.

Denis Norden’s Laughter File (ITV, Saturday, 9.10pm) inspires lots of questions, the biggest being – how old is Denis Norden, actually? Think back to your earliest memory of ‘loveable’ old Denis. Did he look the same then as he does now? Of course he does. Ask your gran – she’ll say the same. He doesn’t age. Denis Norden defies time. You can practically hear Death standing in the wings of the Laughter File set, tapping his foot, checking his watch and tutting loudly.

The other questions Laughter File raises are: what the hell is the difference between this and It’ll Be Alright On The Night? (Answer: there isn’t one, it’s just another label to stick on a bunch of clips of regional TV presenters accidentally swearing and wetting themselves with laughter as if they’ve come up with a spot of ribald commentary to rival Bill Hicks). Also, why does Denis hold a clipboard when he never looks at it? And why, on a website supposedly aimed at vaguely fashionable people who’d be out at vaguely fashionable bars at the time on a Saturday that Laughter File airs, are we reviewing it? It’s because, when we all grow up and get families and stuff, we’re going to be stuck in every Saturday night. Every Saturday night. And we’re going to be watching Denis Norden present another ‘chortlesome’ array of TV bloopers each and every week, until we’re dead. That’s the future. Kids, Denis Norden, death. So we just thought we’d warn you. Think on, everyone. Think on.

As is well documented, the BBC never has a clue what to do with US sitcoms. They either stick them on at midnight on a Thursday, or – if they think they’re really good - on BBC2 opposite Coronation Street. Except How I Met Your Mother, (BBC2, Sunday, 7.30pm) which really should have been in the midnight slot, because it’s toss. All told in from a retrospective viewpoint, this tells the ‘hilarious’ ‘tale’ of how Ted – a man more unmemorable than a GCSE physics lesson - met his kids’ mother. His best friend, Barney, is practically a photocopy of Chandler from Friends and Alyson Hannigan reprises the same ‘drippy girly-girl’ character she’s played ever since Buffy, but without the magic stuff and the endearing [cough] lesbianism. It’s all about blandly-beautiful people and their tedious ‘will-they-won’t-they’ romantic dilemmas and reeks, with less than zero justification, of that special US-sitcom style brand of chirpy smugness.

There are more laughs to be had by slowly detaching your retinas with a safety pin. Trust me, I know. It’s still better than My Family, mind you, so well done on that.

Sunday, May 14

A schedule with disaster

David Davies looks at the near criminal under-appreciation certain shows suffer at the hands of the enemy of the telly devotee, the schedulers

I asked for a Seinfeld boxset for Christmas. It's definitely one of the greatest sit-coms ever made. I would have asked for the same present, probably on VHS, if I'd caught Seinfeld on terrestrial TV instead of coming across it on the Paramount Comedy Channel. Maybe I missed it because I'm lazy, but I think the main reason was that the Beeb, in all its wisdom, consigned one of the great American imports to an after eleven slot, which is a bit like Jack Nicholson turning up at your local cinema and being told to get in the line.Then there are all the other great American shows that have languished, and are currently languishing, in late-night BBC2 slots. Off the top of my head I came up with Arrested Development, The Mighty Boosh and American Dad. These are great shows. Curb Your Enthusiasm doesn't even get a place on the Channel 4 schedule, relegated instead to E4 and, recently, More4. It gets primetime billing on that channel along with The Daily Show, another priceless overseas show marooned on the Hardest Channel To Find In The World (all I know is it's somewhere between FX and UKTV People, though I could be wrong about that).The thing is, these shows aren't an acquired taste. We know people love comedy of embarrassment because The Office was huge - so what's wrong with Larry David's masterpiece? Brits are renowned for satire - Have I Got News For You now has a coveted Friday night segment - so why are we letting the superbly funny Daily Show pass us by? Jon Stewart hosted the Oscars, it's not exactly cult TV we're talking about. Yes, you could make a case for the Mighty Boosh keeping late night company because, I don't know, it's a bit weird. So are Reeves and Mortimer though, and a few years ago Shooting Stars brought them, and Matt Lucas, to the attention of the British public. As Neo said in the second Matrix film (congratulations to those of you who made it to the end) 'the problem is choice'. As the number of channels increase, the proportions of viewers decrease. The days of reeling in over 20 million for Auntie or ITV are long gone - Doctor Who is considered a hit with just over 8 million tuning in on a regular basis. Couple this with DVD recorders taking over where VHS left off, the ease of hard drive recorders, and even the beginnings of iTunes as TV provider in America, and it's easy to see why channels are more reluctant to take risks with their scheduling. The BFI lays it down thus: 'Scheduling programmes is a fine art, a process of careful selection and combination. Audiences are given a menu of programmes that often have a relationship between them - hence a current affairs programme is usually scheduled after a news broadcast. Broadcasters aim to hook their audiences by enticing them to stay with their channel. In order to do that the scheduler makes assumptions on the nature of the television audience and what they are likely to watch. Some channels, for instance will have a comedy slot where two or maybe even three shows are played in a row to encourage the viewer to stick with the channel.' It's easy to see why broadcasters are so reticent when it comes to testing out unknowns on the fickle viewer. Introducing newness into the mainstream schedule attaches variables to shows around it. For instance, with a Friday night line-up of Little Britain, The Mighty Boosh and The Office, the chances are most people would skip the Boosh in favour of what they know, and may not return to watch The Office if hooked by another channel. It's ironic that two shows now considered mainstream were at one point in the position the Boosh now finds itself, yet to place it between those two hits would still get the majority of viewers to turn over. It seems that it's up to students and TV critics to decide which minority shows get promoted to the big league, and in the grand scheme of things that's a small demographic. You can't really blame broadcasters though. Channel 4's FAQ section highlights the problems of a multi-channel audience, justifying their announcers talking over end credits by saying, 'It is an unfortunate reality that television audiences fall dramatically when credits start to roll and in the increasingly competitive multi-channel environment, all channels are under pressure to retain viewers. We have to use every opportunity at our disposal to let our viewers know what is on offer in subsequent schedules. An announcement over the end credits of a programme is an effective means of keeping our viewers informed and reduces the likelihood of their switching over. When we do schedule announcements during credits, we try to ensure that they are appropriate to the programme and remain sensitive to the context of the programme or film’s ending.' Well at least they're being honest. But it's not like the mainstream channels avoid taking risks anymore. The Beeb have flogged Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps to death, and they still don't understand it's as funny as using your bum for a bike saddle. Channel 4 launched the Friday Night Project, only to realise that most people interested in watching the Friday Night Project are actually out on a Friday night. Someone, somewhere, is making the wrong choices. Occasionally someone gets it right, and when they do we get The Office, or Have I Got News For You, or The Fast Show. These are great shows given a chance, and they paid off commercially as well as critically. HBO is churning out brilliant show after brilliant show, bringing us instant classics like The Sopranos and Six Feet Under. What do we do with them? We stick them on late at night on the fourth most watched channel. Over this side of the pond we have Sky One putting programmes like 24 in their primetime schedules, and it works as a primetime show, but the Beeb decides to dump it after two seasons on BBC2. It's frustrating to see so many would-be classics showing on secondary channels, especially now national institutions are closing down the ways in which shows can gain a buzz (the BBC's Cult website died last year, despite having over half a million visitors). It's even more annoying when a format like Deal Or No Deal is kept in a 4pm slot so Channel 4 won't lose the student audience to Neighbours. Put it on primetime weeknights, it'll be the next Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. Take a chance, you've got Noel Edmonds on board! And let's face it, if Noel Edmonds can't get a primetime slot for his show, what hope is there for the Mighty Boosh?

Thursday, May 11

Until ugliness do us part

Helen Parton discovers that when it comes to modern nuptials, love most definitely isn’t blind

We Brits used to sneer at plastic surgery programmes – just a few years ago Vanessa Feltz was introducing us to some hapless Valley Girl undergoing ‘anal bleaching’ on Cosmetic Surgery Live. Only in America, we sneered, would such self ‘improvement’ procedures be considered the norm. While I’m not accusing Tammy and Rob, stars of Bride and Grooming (Five, 8pm) of having their nether regions interfered with in such a way, what they went through was nonetheless shocking. They say a wedding’s ‘the bride and groom’s big day’ – well clearly we live in changed times and it now must conform to some insane aesthetic standards.

Three weeks before getting hitched Rob was to get a nose job, new pecs and straighter teeth; Tammy was to also get a new nose plus new boobs and a plumper top lip – so much for a teasmade, breadmaker and casserole dish. Apart from their desire to go under the knife, they seemed perfectly normal – thousands of Tammys and Robs are probably working in banks, electrical stores and insurance offices up and down the country. Or maybe being so obsessed with how you look that even though you’re with somebody, who supposedly loves you JUST THE WAY YOU ARE, you seem hell bent on messing with what nature gave you IS the norm these days. Was nature trying to tell them something though, when a hurricane destroyed their honeymoon resort, I couldn’t help but wonder?

If that wasn’t enough, even their lovely church got in on the act, clad in unsightly scaffolding for the proceedings – preparing for the inevitable ‘Ten Centuries Younger’ where a hybrid of Nicky Hambleton Jones and Simon Scharma knocks a few hundred years off a chapel or two. Anyway, our couple got their bandages off in time and all was well. “They can start their new lives together filled with new confidence and new love,” trilled Janet Ellis’ voiceover at the end. I’m not the first to say it, but when ‘Self Esteem Boosting Without Surgical Procedures Live’ comes on TV – now THAT’LL really be something worth tuning in for.
You're Hired, to erm...

If the The Apprentice job was to be a BBC executive, whoever commissioned Danny Wallace again would go in the first week, says Richey Nash

Forget X-factor. Any project featuring smug dullard Danny Wallace has a Y-factor. Like, why am I bovvered if you’re starting a country in your flat? Or, why do I care if stupid tossers join your stupid cult? And, why does anyone give a shizzle if you’re saying ‘Yes’ to everything? And now School’s Out (BBC1, 7pm), a show where Wallace plays the dull supply teacher and shows that celebrities can’t answer moronically simple school questions. Shocking! Why would anyone commission this drivel? It’s basically a celebrity circle jerk, soundtracked by the nervous laughter of an audience that’s just found someone in the row behind is a paedophile. Possibly. In fact, the only redeeming bit was when they wheeled out a young, strict-looking French woman in a suit to: (1) test foreign language skills and (2) look attractive. Fantastique!

And women in suits were centre stage in the final of The Apprentice (BBC2, 9pm), with Ruth and Michelle battling it out for a job at Sir Alan Sugar’s Amstrad. But being honest, that’s not the real reason I watched. No, the main event was seeing losers from previous weeks come back to mess it all up. Hooray! Enter stage left sleazy ‘East Ender’ Syed, Brummie fruitcake Jo and walking ego Paul. Pairing up Syed and Paul was a hilarious disaster, yet eventually they helped Michelle put on a James Bond 00Heaven party. And it looked dodgy for Ruth when Sir Alan Gissa-Job called from a Mediterranean yacht to rant about her ludicrous murder mystery theme. Still, why was he was holidaying with a camera crew? Almost like it’d been planned. Hmmm…

So who won? (drumroll) Michelle. Now she gets to work in an Amstrad dungeon, probably on a back scratcher with the texture of the boss’ stubbly nearly-beard. Lovely. And Ruth can console herself trying to find an answer to the question of the series: what does Amstrad actually do? I mean, aside from act as Sir Alan’s personality cult. Anyone? No? Well, I know I’ll be thinking about that for the next nine months. Or maybe I’ll give up when The Apprentice USA kicks off. Bring it on. Just remember this, Donald Trump: you’re nowhere near as successful as Sir Alan. And if you say you are, he’ll feed you to the pigs. Now shut it!

Wednesday, May 10

Human Interesting

Mark Lewis welcomes Tuesday night's return for the BBC's flagship human interest documentary series

It has not reclaimed its prime time 9pm slot, but the new series of ONE Life (BBC1, 10.35pm) is a welcome return for the series which follows unremarkable people living remarkable lives. My Life on a Post-It Note followed the lives of Christine and Fiona, a mother and daughter living with Christine’s Alzheimer’s disease. The programme was done with humour and sensitivity, and a lack of the mawkishness, which would have been inevitable on another channel.

For every ratings-slut recommissioning of imagination-redundant formats like Little Britain, the BBC is still capable of screening (just) primetime television focussed on non-headline grabbing real people. On Channel 4, this would have been called, The Woman Who Kept on Forgetting Stuff. And so she was, but this programme was more concerned with Christine’s increasingly futile attempt to retain her independence.

For anybody who has watched a close relative suffer a degenerative brain disease, these were familiar themes. There were flashes of the type of woman Christine use to be as she held court with fellow sufferers, and could recognise their conversation was more Who’s on First, than The Symposium.

But there was also the petulance as their roles are inevitably inverted; the paranoia, as even the journalist becomes a suspect in the disappearence of Christine’s lost diary; and the final shedding of her independence as she stops seeking even to retain control of her ultimate human right. The saddest part came when Fiona realised she could take her mother to swim in the sea without wondering whether she was atill planning to try to kill herself.

Tuesday, May 9

Last Night a TV Saved My Life

Hilde Ovrebekk discovers a digital gem for a drunken Monday night

You know when you get home late at night and you don’t want to go to sleep because you’ll instantly wake up and discover you’re already late for work? You’re two bottles of wine to the good, and just want the night to last for half an hour more…

In pre digital days you would have had to watch the still of that young girl and the scary clown, or worse still, the Learning Zone. Now you can happily spend ten minutes or more scanning the channels, watching shampoo and car adverts, before finally coming across I’m Alan Partridge (UKTV G2, 12.30am).

You don’t need me to tell you how good Alan Partridge is, and I would have to go on memory anyway, because there was a more after the break, but I forgot to watch it because I was making some food. (Suffice to say it was the one where he pitches Monkey Tennis and Youth Hostelling with Chris Eubank to the BBC Commissioning Editor). Much more importantly: here was a channel showing a genuine excuse not to go to sleep.

Usually that would have been enough to leave me gently snoring on the sofa, but I had to watch a least one more programme for the sake of this review, and thought I ought to have another drink and an interminable flick around more Herbal Essences adverts.

At 1am on a Monday night the most you can hope for is something, ahem, quite interesting. And, bugger me, if I didn’t, find QI. And, bugger me again, if it wasn’t on (UKTV G2). This possibly isn’t the first time I’ve discovered UKTV G2 on a drunken night. But it is probably the first time I’ve discovered it twice, and definitely the first time I’ve written it down.

I think it had Bill Bailey in it, but I really had to go to sleep.

Sunday, May 7

Harder than the Krypton Factor

Finding a decent new concept for an adventure gameshow is hard. David Davies laments their passing

You're on a plane. You're in the pilot's chair, but you've never flown before. The runway appears in front of you. Things are looking good; the landing gear is down, flaps are to full and you're coming in at the correct angle. Then - disaster! A tinny, robotic voice warns you of impending doom, the plane pitches to the left and the wing hits the tarmac. It's all over. You're dead. And on your ascent to heaven, you hear those immortal words: 'In fourth place, with a Krypton Factor of 12, it's Terry from Brentford.'

If TV genres were a family, the adventure gameshow would be the dumb son who never did too well at school, joined the army, left the army, and decided to work in IT. They're TV's dirty little secret, the shows that no one will admit to watching because, well, they're embarrassing. It's a shame, because it would make office conversation more interesting.

That was, if there were any left to talk about. It seems that the adventure gameshow is running its own gauntlet at the moment, teetering on the brink of extinction. Maybe, like Jeremy Beadle, its time has come to move on (though its debatable whether Beadle should be allowed to move anywhere, except into some kind of maximum security prison devoid of light entertainment opportunities). Or, perhaps, it's 'doing an Edmonds', biding its time until a golden format comes along. Whatever the cause, we're missing a bona fide primetime adventure gameshow.

Channel 5 made the last attempt with Fort Boyard, the television equivalent of a fart in a crowded lift. Any synopsis that includes Dirty Den, Melinda Messenger and midgets in the same paragraph should be kept locked away in one of those big wooden crates at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark. It's not even camp. The worst crime of all is Leslie Grantham's pantomime acting, which would be funny if it was any different from his serious acting.

No, better to camp it up Rocky Horror style with Richard O'Brien, host of The Greatest Adventure Gameshow Of All Time™. Teams of recruitment consultants would flirt with danger for the first time in their lives, crowding around doors whilst O'Brien cut them to shreds. His mid-game commentary to camera rivals anything Wogan has done on Eurovision. My personal favourites were the '3 mistakes and you're locked in' games, which basically meant they could consider themselves locked in. Then there was the sadistic glee of watching teams enter the Crystal Dome with only 10 seconds on the clock. Unfortunately it all went the way of the pear when 'Hello my name's Ed Tudor Pole but you can call me Ed' replaced O'Brien.

The Crystal Maze got it right because it never took itself too seriously. Recently (and maybe this is the reason for the current state of the adventure gameshow) there have been a series of programmes that commit this crime. Chief among them is Britain's Hardest, hosted by potato-headed uber-muppet Steve McFadden, also known as Phil from Eastenders. Somewhere along the line he took acting lessons off Leslie Grantham, because he seems to think it's all real, and that they will in fact find Britain's Hardest bloke. On paper, watching a guy beat the crap out of a car with a variety of hardcore implements sounds like fun, which makes it all the more disappointing when the actual viewing experience is akin to watching the 100-years War play out. In slow motion. What they needed was a quirk, something to make it a bit more interesting. Maybe get the guy off the Mr. Muscle advert to present it, or Mitch Pileggi - anything a little off-kilter. Why not search for Britain's Hardest woman instead? I'd buy that for a dollar.

The same can be said of SAS: Are You Tough Enough? Why not beat them with novelty-shaped foam sticks when they're blindfolded? Put a little more invention into the training. Have them jump over a sleeping Russell Grant a few times. Send them paintballing. Then there's The Mole, and Spy, two shows so serious they do post-production in the cabinet office. It makes you want to sigh.

If you are going to take yourself seriously, the format needs to be so colossally awful that anything you do within it can be taken as pure comedy. That's why the Krypton Factor worked so well. Gordon Burns, the illegitimate half-brother of Formula 1 guru Jim Rosenthal, hit the ground running by having the kind of haircut that could rival Melvyn Bragg's borderline offensive beehive. Then there were the challenges. Whoever conceived of such brilliance should have a statue in Trafalgar Square. Never has watching someone put coloured blocks together to form a square felt so intense, so important. Genius. Of course, there are only three things people remember from the Krypton Factor. The first is the plane simulation, the second is the zip lining into a ditch somewhere in the Midlands, and the third is the final round, inspired by the video for Bohemian Rhapsody, where it could all change around. Them were the days.

Speaking of the good old days, remember Knightmare? Four kids, one wearing a seriously Jamiroquai helmet, attempted to win the quest for the sword, the shield, the crown, or the cup. No one ever went for the cup. A dirty old man with a dangerous beard aided them on their quest with some top-notch waffling. He also seemed to have pimped himself an elf-bitch, who bounced around a lot and said nothing important except the cue for dangerous beard man to take us to the ad break. As a kid, it was innocent and total genius. Sidestep left! I said sidestep!

As an adult, you need something a little more sophisticated. Like a giant foam finger and a former Wimbledon footballer shouting 'Awoogaaaa!'. We'll spend the rest of our lives trying to forget Gladiators, only to be reminded by the constant repeats on Challenge TV. Hosted by Ulrika-ka-ka-ka and legendary football sticker John Fashanu, we'd tune in every week to see if Wolf would turn nice. For the men there was Jet, for Ulrika there was Hunter, and for the boys in the park battering each other with big, real sticks, there was Shadow. For a few years, getting up the travelator really meant something, and singing Another One Bites The Dust in public was considered acceptable. For a few years, we became America. Long after the tapes have faded and the names have been forgotten, someone, somewhere, will still remember: 'Contendrrsss - readddyy! Gludiatrrrsss - readddyy! Threee, tooo, one...'

TV misses the adventure gameshow. We need a really good one, one that can fight its own corner on Saturday-night primetime, a family format to slot between Strictly Come Dancing and Doctor Who. I'd go so far as to say bring back Anneka Rice, but I won't because that's crazy talk. No new episodes of Challenge Anneka is already too many. They tried with Treasure Hunt too, but that died on its arse like a rabbit in headlights, the headlights being Homer Simpson in shape. If TV does a new adventure show, it needs to be new, completely new, something we've never seen before. Most importantly, it needs to be something we never want to see again in a few years time.
How to Cure a Hangover in Just One Channel

Helen Parton finds Saturday on BBC1 is televisual plink, plink, fizz

Channel 4 thinks it has hangover TV sewn up – barely out of school presenters making sarcastic remarks to teeny bands; repeats of Friends etc. But instead of trying to beat them at their own game, the BBC has taken its ball home and come up with Saturday Kitchen (BBC1, Saturday, 10am), the TV equivalent of a damp flannel soothing a booze induced fevered brow. Presided over by everyone’s favourite sentient garden gnome Anthony Worrall Thompson, this gently paced cookery show has people phoning in who’ve been up for hours instead of slumped on the sofa; people who fret over how to make scones or what the best wine for beef Bourguignon is. Marvellous. And aside from Rick Stein inviting viewers to gaze into the mouth of a monkfish – and let’s face it we’ve all pulled worse on a Friday night, this show is not in the least bit nausea inducing – which is more than you can say for June Sarpong.

Even though football has had an unparalled makeover in the past twenty years, there still exists a great dichotomy - for all the glossy good looking Beckhams or armpit shaving Lampards, the game’s supporters still largely consist of an army of tattooed men called Les. The divide is perfectly demonstrated in Football Focus (BBC1, Saturday, 12.10pm). Five minutes in from the fiery footballs swooshing around in the sophisticated title sequence, we have Brian Barwick, chief executive of the FA and also, it seems, half-man, half-bulldog, announcing that the successor to the metrosexual Sven as England manager is going to be the ruddy cheeked Steve McLaren, who looks like he’d never be more at home than nursing a pint of mild in some back street boozer. Then it’s back to the studio with Maneesh Bhasin, whose aubergine satin number of a shirt would doubtless be the envy of estate agents the land over. As well as being a personality-free zone, Bhasin also has the cringe inducing habit of trying to be all matey with the studio pundits – in this case men at Ciro Citterio Lee Dixon and Mark Lawrenceson, rather like a prefect trying to get in with the tough older lads at school. ‘Lawro’ in particular treats every question with huffy disdain as if being asked what the offside rule to which Bhasin then responds with overcompensatory laughter. Not even a clip of the former Liverpool player in his prime could raise Lawrenceson’s spirits. Due to Sky’s dominance of football rights, there’s precious little actual football action to be had. Instead there’s interviews with the significant but phlegmatic Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry, Dermot O’Leary reminding us about some charidee thing and most bizarrely of all, a thirty second snippet of Ray Winstone describing his love for the ‘Ammers. I’d far rather have had more Winstone and less dross about Watford’s manager or any token reference to Scottish or women’s football, which frankly NO ONE cares about. And I’d like to hazard a guess that as filming concludes, Bhasin suggests they all go the trendy wine bar down the road for a ‘cheeky San Miguel’ to which Lawrenceson and Dixon nod solemnly before sloping off to the nearest spit and sawdust to ponder where football on the BBC all went wrong and plot this young upstart’s downfall.

Saturday’s episode of Dr Who (BBC1 7:00pm) continued the series’ good work, with David Tennant this week in the eighteenth century – in somewhat of a reprise of his Casanova role. “I’ve snogged Madame de Pompadour,” he gleefully shouted at one point. Aside from all the time travel guff, the one thing that has me stumped is the way Mickey (Dr Who’s assistant Rose Tyler’s boyfriend) seems quite happy to have been cuckolded by a timelord, whereas if he really had come from 21st century Peckham, surely he’d have given the Doctor a good kicking, filmed in on his mobile and shown it to his mates on the estate before Billie could pipe up ‘happy slapper!’.

Thursday, May 4

Is There Any Justice?

Deven Pamben questions the injustice of our legal system. Not to mention the injustice of paying his legal fee.

The BBC is officially taking the piss with Comedy Doubles, (BBC2, 7pm), a supposed comedy whose biggest joke was the fact I agreed to watch it.
This kind of thing pisses me right off and after initially thinking it would be some kind of light hearted doco comparing and contrasting two British comedies all this was, was narrator Mark Benton babbling some nonsense about how Fawlty Towers’ Basil and Rene from ‘Allo ‘Allo both have a moustache before presenting an episode of Fawlty Towers.
Then during the end credits of Fawlty, Benton’s voice once again addresses the audience babbling more balls before I had to sit through a whole f***king episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo.
The BBC had the nerve to describe this as a ‘New Series’.
After being left thoroughly peeved by the good ole beeb for pissing my television licence up a wall, I was nowhere near as angry as those in Bradford Riots (Channel 4, 9pm).
Such programmes can sometimes do more in bringing not only race but working class issues to the fore.
We see the drama through the eyes of Kareem, who has left Bradford to go to University where he now has white friends and a white girlfriend before he goes back home for the summer.
Set in the Manningham area of Bradford on 7 July, 2001 there are tensions ahead of a possible National Front March.
Based on real events, some of the scenes are quite disturbing as a Pakistani man gets beaten up in front of police officers who stand and watch.
As parts of Bradford burns down with Asians now attacking the police we witness too the racism felt towards whites.
The film goes on to illustrate the divisions not only between cultures but also within the Asian community and between Kareem and his family.
Forced to own up by his father for his part in the riotous actions Kareem gets hauled off to the cop shop.
With his brother also at the scene trying the protect Kareem the elder sibling fears he will also end up in the dock, even though he was left bloodied after being hit by a police officer as crowds dispersed.
Kareem breaks down in prison after hearing that his brother has also been charged for being in the wrong place and the wrong time. By the end of the programme we have seen international tesnions stoked in the most possible way, and a sense that people need some retribution.
At times a bit slow the drama left me with the questions, why did the police watch while a man was being beaten? And why was Kareem given five years for throwing a couple of bricks so soon after 11 September, 2001?

Does the Apprentice Make You Happy?

Richey Nash isn't happy about the state of British satire or Wednesday night's dull penultimate episode of the Apprentice

The makers of six-part series The Happiness Formula (BBC2, 7pm) got worried. They needed a celebrity for their first episode: “Hello?” said the producer. “Get me a star.”
“Okay,” replied some researcher.
“Which one?”
“Err… Midge Ure.”
“The one who did Live Aid.”
“Bob Geldof?”
“No, Midge Ure. He was in Ultravox.”
“Why him?”
“To spice up the show. And make a simplistic point about happiness.”
“Okay.” They got their man and wheeled him out to make this point: buying stuff like big cars doesn’t make you truly happy, but doing good stuff like helping starving Africans does. Wow! It’s true, but hardly the startling revelation I expect from BBC documentaries. After an hour wondering if I’d missed the point, I watched The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (More4, 8.30pm), essential TV that makes you wonder, ‘Why’s our best satire Bremner, Bird and Fortune?’ Then came the ‘special report’: about Deepdale Golf Course kicking out members. “If one is a concentration camp and ten is Hiroshima, how bad is being kicked out of Deepdale?” correspondent Nate Corddry asked a wanky-looking prick in a beige suit. “Well,” the guy pondered. “About five.” The show also featured an interview with former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, about her new book criticising George W. Bush’s dogmatic religious belief. Then I switched back to terrestrial for the most boring episode of The Apprentice (BBC2, 9pm), featuring the candidates at job interviews. Hot dang! That’s so exciting I almost rubbed my sexy self on the TV screen! What? Just like a normal episode without the interesting half hour? Fantastic. But two were kicked off, which made it better.
First was arrogant wanker Paul: “Just because you’ve won seven tasks doesn’t mean jack shit to me,” said Sir Alan Sugar, succinctly. And second was nice guy Ansell, leaving Ruth and Michelle to battle it out in the final. Lets just hope next week sees Sir Alan finally morph into the foul-mouthed gangster he thinks he is. What could be a better finale than seeing him nail his new employee to the frosted glass boardroom table? Y’know, to toughen her up. Just a thought.

Wednesday, May 3

Turn Back, Turn on and Tune Out

Channel Four’s Tuesday night of turning back the clock had sex, tears and tedium, says Danusia Osiowy.

Steve is a normal guy living a normal life with a fondness for lager, kebabs and his sofa. A father and husband, he boasts a squidgy gut, three chins and some quality man breasts. Enter Dr Una: an oriental petite pistol, who tells porky, fat-titted Steve why else one shouldn’t eat all the pies. In Turn Back Your Body Clock (Channel 4, 8.30pm) we learn that a typical night sees him polish off endless crisps, five pints of bitter, eight gin and tonics, and four whiskeys. But if ever the guy needed a drink it was now. Flipping out her pink tape measure and taking his bulbous stats Dr Una grimly delivers the verdict: Steve was in the first stage of alcoholic liver disease, his heart was beating "sluggishly", his sperm was abnormal and his estimated life expectancy was 65. Over an eight week regime he was going to have to give up booze, fags, sugar and caffeine, then pleasure his wife to orgasm. Small wonder he cried. He panted, he puffed, he hammered the gym and even made his wife cum. And by then end you just wanted to shake the poor guy’s hand. Over 30 minutes the sexy new Steve had lost four stone, had healthy sperm, and a satisfied wife. He had turned back the clock, and with a new predicted death age of 77, he had an extra 12 years in which to deprive himself of all those things he likes.
They were also turning the clock in That Will Teach ‘em – Boys vs Girls (Channel Four, 9pm). Sprayed quiffs, gelled spikes and 30 spotty faced teens were sent back to a 1950s grammar school to finally sit their O-Levels in the last of this tedious series. The boring build-up to the final five minutes is slightly eased by the deputy head master: a fantastically frog-eyed, chubby and rather pink character, whose persona was made for Hogwarts. Matron also had her moments, memorably when she tells one of the achingly cool teenage boys to stop playing with himself during a dorm inspection. By the end of the drawn out 57-minutes, it is clear that, even if the boys did excel at science, the girls have easily out-performed them all round. But what most distinguished the boys from the girls were the comments from the kids at the end. Asked what life lesson she had learned at the 1950s school, one girl looks forlorn as she recalls tough timetables and strict revision. Asked the same question, a boy solemnly replies, ‘I never thought I’d see a pigs bladder explode over my best mate, It was crazy shit actually, but kind of cool.’

Tuesday, May 2

Battle of the Dramatists

Paul Abbott and Russell T Davies are Britain's two hottest writers. Which one's better? David Davies asks the question

With the current onslaught of astonishing TV dramas Stateside, it's easy to forget that British drama has hit a purple patch too. This is thanks in no small part to the frankly embarrassing talents of Paul Abbott and Russell T. Davies. Between them they've rekindled one of the great TV programmes of all-time, turned a show about a Manchester council estate into working class poetry, broached the subjects of gay sex and religion in primetime slots, and crafted the kind of political thriller John Grisham wishes he still knew how to write. It seems churlish to try and figure out who's better. I'm going to be churlish.
I've graded them on pretty much anything worth grading them on. Some categories hold more points than others, because they're more important. See what I did there? Before you advise me that such an exercise is bound to lead to hair-tearing, sleepless nights and possible bed wetting, I should warn you that balding smelly insomniacs do not take well to criticism. Let battle commence!

Star turns - their best work
PA: Anyone who doesn't rank Shameless as Paul Abbott's greatest work should be sent into hell waving an ice lolly. It's beat poetry of a kind, the distillation of working class eloquence. Or, as Frank would probably put it, it's 'fucking great'. It would have to be to knock State Of Play into second place. Quite why this failed to become watercooler TV is something that will haunt those of us who tuned in. Oh, and did I mention Clocking Off? That did become watercooler TV. Calling Abbott's output an embarrassment of riches is like calling Anne Robinson a bit annoying - it just doesn't quite cover it.

RTD: 'Bring Doctor Who back? Are you mad? Let me take the window out of your office so you don't have to smash through it as you jump to your death when you realise what a massive, massive, massive mistake you are making, Mr. Davies'. Or so we all thought. It turned out to be the greatest turnaround in television history, keeping the fans happy with its season-wide story arc and the casual viewers gripped with a new adventure every week, whilst taking the indie-cred leap of casting Simon Pegg as a villain. Davies also has a proven track record in controversy, with Queer As Folk and The Second Coming both prompting armchair debates under the guise of quality storytelling. Yet overall, there's still nothing in Davies's canon quite as complete as Shameless, so he gets one less point. Sorry Russ.

Flops - oh dear
PA: Remember Linda Green? I do, but only the adverts, which ran on the BBC for what felt like the length of the cold war, before spluttering out in a hazy mist of bland storytelling and Liza (that's Liza with a 'z' folks, because she ain't no commoner) Tarbuck in the lead role. Whether this was Abbott's fault or not is a moot point; as soon as he heard she had the part, he should have burnt the scripts.

RTD: I have to admit, I never got through an episode of Mine All Mine. In fact, I'm not going to tell you what it was about, because I don't want to risk even the slightest chance of you being enticed by the dullest programme this side of a Panorama report on the risks of gardening. Actually, I might watch that. Anyway, less minus points for Davies, because no one can remember his show, and it wasn't marketed into the ground.

Critical darling? - who gets more salad tossed?
PA: The critics love Shameless. They also loved State Of Play. They also loved Clocking Off. In fact, Abbott is pretty much as far into the critics' good books as it's possible to get. He'll need at least two bad episodes of Shameless before they dismiss him as a has-been. Which is one more episode than any other writer working today. Apart from...

RTD: They're still waiting for it to sink in. Yes, Doctor Who was a good show. They all had their poison pens out, ready to dip into the pig blood and destroy a reputation carefully built on shows that were controversial because they were good, not good because they were controversial. It's this distinction that's also kept Davies in the black, so I can't separate 'em.

There's no doubt about it - Paul Abbott is by far the most interesting character. Apart from looking a little like Mr. Stay Puft, Davies has nothing on the man who grew up without a TV, was raped, and was able to base a show like Shameless on his actual life. There's nothing more appealing than a little scrapper unleashing the talent inside. To rest my case, I point you to the South Bank Show. There's one about Abbott. There isn't one about Davies. Having said that, if the second series of Who is as good as the first, Davies will have a lot more cachet come the next face-off.
PA: 5/5, RTD: 2/5

Battle of the ratings - who beats up who with what?
Sorry Paul, but Russ has you absolutely whupped in this category. There's nothing like a primetime show that appeals to all the family, mainly because there was nothing like a primetime show that appealed to all the family. Until Doctor Who came along. With the exception of the soaps, it will probably be the most successful work of fiction on TV for the next few years, so long as nothing goes horribly wrong (like casting someone from Liberty X or something). It's not enough to do well in the ratings when you're up against such a phenomenon. Sorry Paul, you had no chance.
PA: 7/10, RTD: 10/10

Final Scores
PA: 27/40
RTD: 26/40
Compare these writers a year ago, and Abbott would have comprehensively destroyed Davies. With the introduction of Doctor Who, though, Davies has created a TV phenomenon that really counts as something interesting against the glut of talent competitions and reality shows currently dominating the primetime television landscape. Sure, he has yet to craft a genuine all-time great TV show like Shameless, but with the power Doctor Who has now given him over producers, it's only a matter of time before he challenges Abbott in the talent stakes. Having said that, Abbott might come along and write a true work of art, a feat well within his grasp. We'll have to wait and see. For now, Abbott edges it on talent over popularity. Come back next week when I compare David Soul to Lee Majors. Only joking - that really would be too close.

Monday, May 1

Ross Kemp: Britain's Tom Cruise

The bank holiday weekend's television had more mavericks than you could shake a wand at, says Mark Lewis

There are sweeter phrases in the English language than, next up a feature length episode of Ultimate Force. But the programme does provide one of those riddles which brightens up an otherwise lonely Saturday evening in front of the box. 'Why does Ross Kemp continue to get work outside of Eastenders?' ranks alongside ‘how much longer is this going to go on?’ and ‘what the hell is going on in Lost?’ as one of the imponderable questions of our age.
Kemp, in case you don’t know, is the slimmer potato-headed brother in the BBC soap, whose burly good looks have faded somewhat during his long sabbatical from the programme. They have been replaced by increased balding and a widening of the face which give him a compensatory cherubic appeal. The only thing separating him from a pre-pubescent am-dram enthusiast is his ability to move his eyebrows independently of, not just each other, but his whole face.
So watching him play Henno Garvie in the start of this fourth series of Ultimate Force (Saturday, ITV, 9.05pm) is a lot like watching a primary school play. Only somebody has decided that instead of the nativity, they’ll do Top Gun. Kemp reprises Tom Cruise’s role of Maverick. We know this because early on, his commanding officer lets him know that he is being replaced as leader of Red Troop by telling him, ‘you can’t run this unit like a bloody maverick anymore.’
Cleverly, the script writer has packed this phrase with plenty of nuances. It tells us, for example, that a) we will be introduced to a new character (shall we call him Ice Man?) who will be loathed by Maverick, b) Maverick doesn’t play by the rules but he gets fucking results, c) despite being after the watershed, Maverick will only actually get ‘bloody’ results, and d) the dialogue will be blander than a whole packet of low fat Mini Babybels, and contain all the wit of a nativity play script.
To add to the nativity feel, Kemp has a way of delivering all his lines straight to the audience while standing beside his on-screen cohorts. ‘He was a bloody good soldier,’ he says to the audience, while standing beside the widow of a recently deceased SAS colleague. Maybe in SAS widow circles, this is a bloody fine consolation. It also shows us that Maverick is capable of the sort of sensitivity which used to make Grant Mitchell fans swoon.
But he’s tough too. Make no mistake about that: During the opening credits he’s strolling across an SAS runway, flanked by the rest of Red Troop, in black and white like Tom Cruise, holding a massive gun. He’s also clever: not only is he is able to give his troops an impromptu brief on Uzerbaikal (‘former Soviet state, ruled by an ex-communist hardliner, deposed in a bloodless coup’) but he also speak fluent Russian, and can spot a Ruski bad guy.
Perhaps this is what being in the SAS is all about. Perhaps soldiers do admire each other’s guns on airplanes. Perhaps commanding officers do warn ‘these people aren’t mucking around,’ and perhaps potato-headed soldiers do reply, ‘neither are we.’
But we are not really watching Ultimate Force for the dialogue or acting. The scene where someone trips a wire and a slow motion cascade of hundreds of ball bearings rips a Soviet-type scouting group to shreds, is good quality action fare. But the damn script keeps getting in the way. For the record, Ice Man leaves Maverick behind while he takes Red Troop off on a chase through an Uzerbaikal forest to rescue two young girls. Bad guys identify themselves by speaking in Russian accents and giving Britain backhanded compliments like, ‘so English, so noble, so sentimental, so wrong,’ and ‘I thought British special forces were supposed to be the best in the world.’ Maverick interrupts his constant sniping at Ice Man, with the occasional murder of a Russian bad guy. And, damn it, if Ice Man doesn’t prove he’s a bloody good soldier too, by rescuing the two young girls, and, better still, earning the respect of Mr Potato Head.
‘You can be my wingman any time,’ Kemp should have said. He didn’t, so he’ll never be a true Maverick.
But if Kemp was a poor man’s Maverick, then don’t let anyone tell Britain’s very own maverick magician that he is a poor man’s David Blaine. In the last in the current series of Trick of the Mind (Sunday Channel 4, 9pm), Derren Brown proved as much by going off to Europe’s wealthiest alcove of Monaco, and somehow pulling off his greatest trick yet.
The deceptions themselves are pretty old hat by the end of the series, so the most baffling feat is Brown somehow persuading the viewers to like him. ‘Sometimes I like to come down here to spend time on my big fucking yacht,’ he tells us over shots of Monaco, which somehow makes you like him for using his post watershed timeslot to be foulmouthed, rather than dislike him because you think it might be true. Then finally he shows you just how much of a maverick he is when he braves the wrath of the feared Magic Circle by showing you how he did one of his tricks.
And everyone likes a maverick. Unless, that is, he’s a maverick judge. ‘The one thing you don’t want a judge to be is a maverick,’ said David Mitchell on TV Heaven, Telly Hell (Saturday, Channel 4, 9.30pm). ‘It’s like a maverick surgeon.’
This was the last in the first series of the show in which celebs tell Sean Lock what they love and what they hate about television. The Peep Show star picked Judge John Deed to go along the Heaven and Earth Show, which he berates for having nothing to do with religion. ‘Religion is about saying I’m right and you’re wrong. But on The Heaven and Earth Show, they’re very nice. ‘What you want is an extremely angry Muslim cleric’
It would take a maverick, indeed, to commission something like that.