Saturday, 26 August 2017

TV Review: LEN GOODMAN'S PARTNERS IN RHYME + THE STATE

This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 26 August 2017.


LEN GOODMAN’S PARTNERS IN RHYME: Saturday, BBC One

THE STATE: Sunday to Thursday, Channel 4


I was saddened by the death of the great Bruce Forsyth recently. He was one of the finest talents in television history, the hoofing embodiment of light entertainment itself.

But I’m glad he didn’t hang around long enough to witness LEN GOODMAN’S PARTNERS IN RHYME, an atrocious new Saturday night game show in which his erstwhile Strictly colleague soiled the genre that Brucie helped to build.

Len’s corny rhymes are a popular, if minor, part of the winning Strictly formula. Basing an entire show around them is clearly a terrible idea, but that hasn’t stopped Radio 1 DJ Matt Edmondson, who devised this drivel, from doing just that.

The word ‘surreal’ is often misused, but how else to describe such an utterly bewildering misfire?

It announces its awfulness immediately. The opening theme song is a lethargic, unsettling rap from Len. It sounds like Hooky Street from Only Fools and Horses at half speed, the sort of sonic horror they tortured prisoners with in Guantanamo Bay.

It was followed by an introductory monologue delivered entirely in rhyme, in which Len claimed to have shared champagne with a Great Dane and a stew with a Shiatsu.


He then performed an awkward ‘street dance’ with a black contestant, while introducing a team of celebrity helpers including his old Strictly china Anton du Beke and Big Mo from EastEnders.

The contestants are shown a series of absurd images and have to guess the correct rhyme. It’s Catchphrase for idiots. These rhymes include: Anton Du Beke with a really long neck; a scotch egg with a broken leg; Jack Whitehall on a wrecking ball. Those are some of the better ones.

There’s also a Give Us a Clue-style round in which the celebs mime a rhyme (Tom Cruise looking for clues; Mel and Sue cleaning the loo etc.). At one point, ‘90s relic Mr Motivator turned up for no discernible reason.

The jaw-dropping weirdness is compounded by an unseen studio audience, who are audio-mixed so thinly and distantly, they sound like they’re responding sarcastically from another dimension.


This is the sort of show that people will dimly recall in years to come, while questioning whether it ever actually existed. Even while watching it unspool in front of you, it still doesn’t feel real. Naturally, it’s already been commissioned for a second series.

I’m a staunch defender of the BBC, but they don’t half make life difficult sometimes.

Len Goodman is an affable soul, but he’s no Bruce Forsyth. Brucie was such a gifted host, he could transform even the most unpromising format into entertaining TV gold. He wouldn’t have touched this garbage with a 50-foot bargepole.

Writer/director Peter Kosminsky is renowned for dramas based on controversial and complex subjects torn from the headlines. THE STATE was no exception.

Based on extensive research, it followed various young Brits as they travelled to Syria to fight alongside ISIS. Initially, their encampment felt like a friendly gap-year commune, albeit one based along extreme religious guidelines. Inevitably, the true horror of their decision gradually emerged.

This was, in typical Kosminsky style, a serious, unflinching, clear-eyed attempt to make sense of a disturbing contemporary issue. It offered compelling insight into the inner workings of ISIS from both male and female perspectives.

Only when we begin to understand why someone would wish to join a terrorist organisation such as this, can we begin to eradicate their reasons for doing so. The State won’t solve this problem overnight, but it’s a bold step in the right direction.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

TV Review: CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP + QUACKS

This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on Saturday 19 August 2017.


CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP: Monday to Friday, Channel 4

QUACKS: Tuesday, BBC Two


Noel Edmonds is a phenomenon.

A modern-day sage, seer and alternative thinker, he’s the most misunderstood multimillionaire maverick genius since Howard Hughes.

He’s also a frustrated comedian trapped in the body of a leonine entrepreneur, never happier than when he’s prowling around a daft fantasy world that’s broadcast on television for the delight of several. Crinkly Bottom was Noel’s Shangri-La, his safe retreat from a cruel, uncaring society.

Alas, CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP, a semi-scripted comedy quiz show in which our host plays the owner of a bonkers department store, fails to scale the dizzying heights of that Blobby-bothered wonderland.

“It is a very, very simple game,” explains Noel. He’s not wrong, although it is at least a slight step up from his previous vehicle/cult recruitment process Deal or No Deal, which had no rules whatsoever.


Noel presents the contestants with a variety of actual products – it’s okay, Channel 4 are allowed to advertise – and they have to guess which of them retails at the cheapest price. The more correct guesses they make, the more money they win. The grand prize is £25,000. But if they get just one wrong, they lose everything. And that’s it.

Or rather, it would be were it not for the presence of a bunch of jobbing actors playing Noel’s wacky staff. Without them the show would last ten minutes. Not even Noel, who did an undeniably stellar job of milking tension from thin air in Deal or No Deal, could keep this flimsy conceit going on his own.


These characters, these refugees from a bad children’s show, allow Noel to do his patented “What’s going on? This is crazy!” hapless straight-man act whenever they interrupt him. Which is often.

He also does a lot of fake giggling at risqué gags, another one of his key talents.

It’s all very knowing, of course. No one, not even Noel, thinks this is a clever high-concept game show. It’s just a bit of self-consciously stupid fun.

Except it’s not. It’s neither funny nor involving, and doesn’t even succeed – as we’d all hoped – as a bewildering orgy of must-see Edmonds madness. It’s just boring.


The lack of studio audience gives it a dead-air atmosphere that no amount of desperate Noel corpsing can cover up. It drags on forever.

If Noel Edmonds want to host a bad quiz show in a pretend shop, he’s more than welcome to do so. But did he really need to film it? He doesn’t need the money, he could’ve staged this in the privacy of his own enormous home.

Then everybody would be happy. Then we’d all be winners, cosmically ordered for all eternity. Isn’t that what you want, Noel?

It’s a scene familiar from so many dark 19th century period dramas: a dashing surgeon performs a grisly yet pioneering operation before an astonished audience of scientific minds and gasping women. QUACKS, a new historical sitcom starring Rory Kinnear and written by James Wood of Rev renown, takes that scene and runs with it.


It’s broader and sillier than the understated Rev, but similarly witty. Wood has fun mocking the violence, ugliness, prejudice, propriety and repression of Victorian society, but never in a sneering way. The tone is rather jolly.

It also looks like an actual BBC period drama, albeit one in which a surgeon accidentally amputates a patient’s testicles and an arrogant doctor refuses to examine anyone.

It’s the best new British comedy of the year so far.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

TV Review: TRUST ME + PAUL O'GRADY'S HOLLYWOOD

This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 12 August 2017.


TRUST ME: Tuesday, BBC One

PAUL O’GRADY’S HOLLYWOOD: Saturday, Channel 4


Jodie Whittaker, in case you haven’t heard, was recently announced as the first female Doctor in Doctor Who. This news passed without much fanfare or reaction, so don’t be concerned if you missed it.

In the new medical drama/psychological thriller TRUST ME, she plays a disgruntled NHS nurse who fakes her qualifications and poses as… a doctor. Nobody involved in this production, perhaps not even Whittaker herself, could’ve foreseen how jarring it is whenever she or anyone else refers to her job title in the show.

However, they might be pleased by the extra attention Trust Me will receive from millions of Doctor Who fans keen to see Whittaker in action before this year’s Christmas special. How does she move and talk? Will we pick up any hints of how she might play the Doctor?

The added interest is understandable, but of course we won’t.  She’s an actress, a perfectly good one, playing an entirely different role. In Trust Me she’s an ordinary human woman, albeit one who does an extraordinary thing.

And that’s the problem with this curious drama – the course she takes is so morally wrong and potentially catastrophic, it’s hard to believe that a diligent, decent nurse would ever do such a thing.


Writer Dan Sefton, who’s a qualified doctor, struggled to give her enough plausible motivation. She complains to her trust about gross negligence of patients on her ward. They don’t want to know, so they suspend her.

She’s understandably upset by this injustice, but would that really trigger the action she takes? She claims she’s doing it to build a better life for her daughter, but surely she must know that the girl will be better off without her mother in prison?

It’s not enough to say: people do crazy things in times of dire need. We need to believe in those crazy things. That’s why the intended suspense of whether she’ll be found out (and she will be) doesn’t work.

Whittaker is fine in this perplexing role, but the material is too unfocused to do her justice. I hope the Doctor Who team giver her something more substantial to work with.

Ever since cinema began, one of its primary goals has been to make audiences cry. That’s because people enjoy sobbing at sad, sentimental stories. It’s cathartic. 

In episode one of PAUL O’GRADY’S HOLLYWOOD, our jovially sardonic host – sitting, as per the rules of programmes about classic films, in an empty old-fashioned cinema – guided as through some of the greatest weepies ever made.


This being Saturday night on Channel 4, the tired and tested clip show format was out in force. That is: a torrent of brief film clips interrupted by famous talking heads telling us what they think.

In fairness, it did include some decent insight from film critics Richard Dyer and Jonathan Ross, psychologist Philippa Perry, and Celia Johnson’s daughter talking about her mother’s involvement in Brief Encounter. Jon Voight and Bernard Cribbins were also welcome as they actually starred in the films they were talking about (The Champ and The Railway Children respectively).

But has anyone of sound mind been seriously champing at the bit to hear Myleene Klass’ thoughts on Marley and Me? Or Richard E. Grant on Brief Encounter? Or some actress from Hollyoaks on anything?


Who are these programmes aimed at? Masochistic cineastes?