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 They have been replaced by increased balding and a widening of the face which give him a compensatory cherubic appeal.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.