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?