Saturday, 30 May 2015


A version of this review was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 30th May 2015.

SunTrap: Wednesday, BBC One

When Pop Ruled My Life: The Fans' Story: Friday, BBC Four

Paul Whitelaw

Very occasionally a sitcom comes along that's so unremittingly poor, it seems inconceivable that it ever reached our screens at all. SunTrap is one such turkey.

Here's what we're lumbered with. Kayvan Novak stars as Woody, a smooth, wise-cracking undercover journalist who flees to a Spanish island after exposing an establishment scandal back home. There he shacks up with a roguish ex-colleague (Bradley Walsh), with whom he shares a supposedly sparkling odd couple relationship. Dismal escapades ensue.

Common sense dictates that SunTrap was written by humans, but it feels more like the result of an alien study into the earthling concept of humour. It's superficially bright and breezy, yet oddly robotic. The actors deliver self-consciously “funny” performances, as if desperately trying to compensate for the mediocre script. Every tortuous line sounds like an off-key cover version of an actual joke, e.g. “Something smelled fishy at the vets. But it was a vets, so it could've been fish.”

Even as a deliberately corny gag, that doesn't work. The whole sorry enterprise clunks and groans like a knackered laughing policeman, dying a death before your very eyes.

The executives who commissioned this? They have no business being anywhere near comedy. I'm not exaggerating for comic effect. This isn't ha-ha-hilarious comic hyperbole. These clueless execs - W1A is barely exaggerated - don't have a slack-jawed clue. Register your protest by never tuning into insulting crap like this. Bother them on Twitter. Irk them on Facebook. Don't let them off the hook. Fight the power.

This misbegotten drivel is obviously intended as a mainstream vehicle for the versatile Novak, hence why Woody is a master of disguise. But the sight of him flailing through his armoury of accents – Russian, Scottish, outrageous French – recalls one of those sad, later Peter Sellers films. Funny voices are no substitute for solid material.

Despite being a timid, uncertain actor when divested of his disguises, Novak deserves better. As does Jack Dee, who turned up in a thankless cameo. How was he roped into this? Presumably by accident and with immense regret.

It doesn't help that Woody, far from being a charming scamp, is a searing pain in the rump. Like SunTrap as a whole, he's undeservedly pleased with himself. Continually it mistakes “talking quickly” for witty repartee, while forgetting that silly, threadbare plots only work when supported by clever gags. Of the two main female characters, one is a monstrous battleaxe, the other a blandly glamorous moll. In terms of gender politics, it makes On the Buses look like His Girl Friday.

Even the scenery looks embarrassed. How much money was wasted on this shite? That BBC One have buried it in a graveyard slot speaks volumes.

Whenever TV turns its gaze towards avid fans and collectors of pop culture, they're usually treated as figures of fun to be sniggered at. Thankfully, When Pop Ruled My Life: The Fans' Story took a more affectionate tone.

A documentary hosted, without a hint of cynicism, by the music journalist Kate Mossman, it was an elegant and sometimes bitter-sweet celebration of the ongoing relationship between pop fans and their idols.

Original Beatlemaniacs, teenage One Direction fans, a former Boy George lookalike and a snowy-haired rocker with a shed full of Iron Maiden treasures, all were treated equally. Though separated by taste and generations, they were united in a common understanding of what it means to care so deeply about an artist.

Mossman, whose teenage diaries devoted to Queen drummer Roger Taylor formed a charming through-line, clearly empathised. She also spoke to objects of fandom such as Les McKeown of The Bay City Rollers, a former teen-scream idol whose gratitude towards his loyal fans felt hearteningly genuine.

Hero worship cuts both ways. Here, for once, was a tender tribute to that complex mutual dependency.

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