And there’s a very real possibility ITV won’t be able to make any murder mysteries, set in quiet and unsuspecting English seaside towns, for at least another 18 months.
With so many things going right for viewers, in lockdown, it was inevitable television’s revenge would be fairly prolonged and unforgiving when it came, on Thursday evening.
BBC1’s The Big Night In, a 7pm-10pm collaboration between Comic Relief and Children In Need, where they were keen to observe the Government’s social-distancing rules and the BBC rule that states there can never be fewer than three presenters at a charity event, no matter the size of the catastrophe or studio (tiny).
LOT OF SELF-PROMOTION
It started then with Matt Baker, Lenny Henry, who was often left heckling off-screen, and Davina McCall, who was over-selling absolutely everything.
All three of them, plus Zoe Ball and Paddy McGuinness, who turned up to relieve the 7-8:30 shift, had a list of threats as well.
“The cast of EastEnders quiz each other.” “Greg James brings us viral videos.” “The return of Miranda.” “Gary Barlow sings with special guests,” and “David Walliams, is here with a money-can’t-buy prize,” which turned out to be a namecheck in his next book and a lot of self-promotion.
“But first up,” Davina continued, “a song that’s more poignant than ever.”
China In Your Hand by T’Pau? No, worse. It’s the patron saint of snowflakes, Sam Smith singing Lay Me Down.
Once that was done, the sheer scale of The Big Night In’s assault became clear.
Because the viewers never escape undamaged on these occasions. For every Peter Kay, who you want to see, there are three members of The Mash Report team, who you really don’t. There are also corporate sponsors to satisfy and a surprise appearance from Prince William, in a Blackadder spin-off sketch, with Stephen Fry, asking: “Have you seen anything good on TV?” (Don’t tempt me, son).
On the face of it then, it looked impossible to separate the wheat from all that celebrity chaff.
In reality, though, it was surprisingly easy, because lockdown TV has already taught us song and dance can still work, even on Skype, if the artists are as good as Dave Grohl and the others, who collaborated on Times Like These, or as talented and attractive as the Strictly professionals.
Just as obviously, we’ve learned to rely on the internet for laughs this past month, because television comedy isn’t anywhere near funny enough to see us through a crisis. Thursday night wasn’t ever going to change that opinion, but it did highlight a divide.
Even if they were phoning in the performances, there were a group of comedians some viewers will have been excited to see, like Coogan, Brydon, Dawn French, Little Britain etc, who all had careers before 2010. And there were a group of comedians who’ve been forced on us, since then, who aren’t comedians at all. At best, they’re pub-funny show-offs — at worst they’re political propagandists trying to bend us to their will.
The contrast could not have been better illustrated by the segment where modern Mash Report types and old-school stand-ups were given about ten seconds to make us laugh and the only one who could nail it was Tim Vine, who appeared with a placard reading “Bad” and a punchline: “That’s not a good sign is it.”
An actual punchline! On the BBC! It’s one of the many things that’s been missing from the network, for years, though I was glad long-suffering viewers didn’t punish TBNI for past failures. Thursday was hardly the time for mass recriminations.
At some point in the future, though, someone has to try to explain to the BBC that we prefer comedians who make us laugh rather than tell us off, and if there was a reason why The Big Night In seemed less wearying and slightly more uplifting than the usual Comic Relief slog then, beyond the extraordinary circumstances, it was a very obvious one.
It only lasted three hours. Less is more, guys.
TV astrologer Russell Grant made this uncanny 2020 prediction, for those of us born in the star sign Cancer, late last year, in the Mirror.
“Travel is on the cards in the spring and as much as you enjoy your home life, you will appreciate this change of scene.”
Yeah, the Sainsbury’s queue was a blast, thanks Russ.
Kumar’s beyond a joke
THE Dave channel has been attempting to ease the nation’s ever-present mental health worries via the gift of laughter.
A noble cause and a good idea.
Unfortunately, they’ve given the all-important job to some of the worst comedians in Britain.
Last week, it was the turn of Nish Kumar, Suzi Ruffell, Seann Walsh and Darren Harriott, whose attempts to end Britain’s silent suffering were divided into two separate and contrasting segments.
In the first, backstage, they discussed their own experiences of mental health issues, which sounded more like a lot of really bad hangovers, egotism and self-pity, while making the usual heartfelt pleas for tolerance, understanding and a constructive dialogue.
’Cos, you know, they’re alive to the fact they’re meant to care.
Then Kumar and Ruffell went out on stage and spewed vile, angry foul-mouthed hatred about Boris, Trump, Top Gear, Richard Hammond (Ruffell: “This p***k is a w***er.”), fellow comedians and anyone who’s got what Ruffell calls “lazy opinions”.
That is to say, anyone who has the temerity to hold a different political opinion to her own.
Not a single word of it was funny, let alone healing.
Darren Harriott, the least worst of them, though, did at least have the decency to provide the necessary cue.
“I struggle to give people all of me ’cos I’m always worried they’re going to go, they’re going to disappear and . . .”
He’s got a point, hasn’t he.
Jack is playing it smart
IT was mild-mannered Jack Maynard who summed up John Fashanu’s many foibles best, after the former footballer had tried throttling DJ Locksmith on Channel 4’s Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins.
“Number four,” he said, with some feeling, “is a t**t.” He is indeed. He’s not the only one on that show, either. There’s strong competition to be the biggest one from Bluto-ish oaf Tony Bellew, the former world cruiserweight boxing champion, who’s got an even shorter fuse than Fashanu.
Both have already been called in for fairly urgent “questioning” by the SAS instructors who always hold the whip hand during these interrogations as, at the first hint of vanity, derangement, pretension or self-delusion, Ant Middleton can shout “GUARD!” and Billy bundles them off with a hood over their head.
If it was just a hardman staring contest, of course, the show wouldn’t work. But it’s not. Sometimes the Special Forces team are staring at contestants like “YouTuber” Jack Maynard, trying to get their heads around what the hell it is he actually does for a living.
“I will come up with some video idea and I direct, film, edit and present the thing myself.”
Billy (arms folded, tipping head slowly to one side): “So you’re actually a smart f***er.”
There are also emerging friendships, hidden tensions, a lot of honest endeavour and a simmering feud between Paralympian Lauren Steadman and Joey Essex, which erupts on next week’s show (Channel 4, Monday, 9pm).
SAS: Who Dares Wins will have to proceed, though, without Katie Price, who quit after a feeble two-day effort, and Anthea Turner, who tried getting all philosophical just before she threw in her armband. “I feel I am in what the Japanese call my second spring.”
Fetch the hood, Billy.
C4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins. Brilliant Diane “Kath” Morgan providing the one believable newspaper office character on After Life.
Race Across the World’s only likeable pair, Emon and Jamiul, beating “highly strung” Jen and Rob by just 20 seconds in the show’s final leg. Vintage Britain’s Got Talent eccentric Bhim Niroula getting the entire London Palladium singing along to Every Day I Love You. And Sophie Raworth’s fitting One Show tribute to the great Lynn Faulds Wood.
To her absolute core, a journalist who improved people’s lives.
- Emailed in by Bailey Maguire.
- Picture research: Alfie Snelling.
Random TV irritations
BIG Night In host Davina McCall claiming “We’re presenting this in the safest possible way,” while flanked by two other presenters, in a very small studio.
The second series of Ricky Gervais’ Netflix series After Life trying far too hard to push our emotional buttons and shock us. The entire Amsterdam police department speaking fluent Mockney on ITV’s new version of Van Der Valk.
Angry young comedians still failing to understand they’ll never say anything funnier than whatever bats**t crazy thing Donald Trump has just said. And Nish Kumar actually wondering out loud, on Comedy Against Living Miserably, if: “Periods of depression are linked to my career?” Yes, directly.
ON the first episode of ITVBe’s Gemma Collins: Diva On Lockdown, the Brentwood Morlock split her dress at a Prince’s Trust gig, troubled mum, Joan, showed worrying signs she was developing “a bad pain in the butt area”, after giving birth to another one 39 years ago, and on a visit to her local bathroom supplier, Gemma asked: “Is there a machine that can dry me getting out of the bath?”
Not this side of the Humber Gateway wind turbine field, there isn’t, Gemma. But give Boeing a call.
They’d be grateful for the work.