Review: Peter Kay’s Car Share, Wednesday, April 29, 9:30pm, BBC One
Those of you who read last week’s blog (gold stars all round) will be aware of the fondness I have for my commute. For sheer, unadulterated misery, nothing beats embarking on the daily grind sitting squashed up next to a marketing manager from Hassocks with questionable personal hygiene, watching the rain hammer against the windows of your train that is running late for the 417th day in a row. Occasionally, the oppressive silence is broken by two people having an argument about table space, which makes everyone else on the carriage want to die of embarrassment because, well, we’re British. The only thing worse than witnessing an argument at close quarters is sitting near two people who actually like each other, and want to (I can barely bring myself to write this...) talk. I KNOW!
Actually, there is one thing worse still. People who you know. I’ve not read it, but my suspicion is Dante’s Inferno concludes in the very centre of hell, with the devil himself: someone you vaguely know, who is chirpy and cheerful, and wants to chat non-stop all the way to London.
So I have sympathy for Peter Kay’s character, John, in his wonderful new sitcom Car Share. John is a taciturn 39-year-old man who has reluctantly agreed to participate in a car share scheme run by his supermarket employers. He wants a quiet life, a gentle ride into work with a nice, silent – ideally mute – passenger. What he gets, instead, is Kayleigh (Sian Gibson), and irrepressibly chirpy 36-year-old who is over-familiar, prone to singing along to 80s' hits, and desperately in need of some verbal Immodium.
Kayleigh gets into John’s car and immediately irritates him by sticking on Forever FM, a brilliant satire of the worst, most bland local radio stations you’ve ever encountered, with the naffest music combined with chat so banal it’s like aural sleeping tablets. Matters are not improved when she manages to cover him in her own urine sample. Don’t ask.
The comedy is wry and observational rather than particularly daring or cutting edge, and there is something pleasingly old-fashioned about it. The genius is in the detail – the permanently filthy rear windscreen, the radio adverts. Meanwhile, Sian Gibson, an actress so unknown even the ever-trusty Dr Google appears to be bamboozled, is absolutely stunning as Kayleigh, making her potentially irritating character not just sympathetic, but utterly delightful.
What this show has by the bucketload is warmth. You don’t need to be a genius to guess what’s going to happen next. If romance doesn’t blossom between these two, I’ll travel to work in a tutu, performing a song-and-dance routine at every station along the way. But, unlike commuting, it’s the journey that’s really fun here. I finished watching the first episode – and indeed the second – on my commute home, grinning like the proverbial village idiot from ear to ear. It was a double-win – nobody’s daft enough to strike up conversation with a beaming fool sitting opposite them.
Review: The Game, Thursday, April 30, 9pm, BBC Two
It’s London, 1972. Somewhere amidst the kipper ties and power cuts, my mother is busy giving birth to me – an incidental fact criminally ignored by this otherwise excellent spy thriller. There’s a chap called Joe Lambe (Tom Hughes) who, with his angular features, piercing eyes, and espionage nous, is like a scouse Sherlock. Except unlike Sherlock, but like roughly 60 per cent of heroes in thrillers, he is haunted by an incident in his past. A beastly KGB-type who likes peeling apples shot dead his girlfriend in Poland in 1971.
Joe’s coping, though. He’s in bed with a beautiful woman, back in 1972 London. Oh, it’s for work. He has to bed a lot of women in his line of work. Hey, perhaps he’s my dad? Actually, no, I think my dad’s my dad, and anyway, I don’t think MI5 agents had to go to bed with history teachers much. Beautiful Russian diplomatic staff was more their thing. Nice work, if you can get it. It would tempt me into becoming a spy. Only I could do without the danger. And the travelling. And I’d prefer to work office hours. I don’t expect to be tapped up by the security agencies after this blog.
Anyway, things are about to get interesting for Joe and his fellow spooks. A KGB sleeper agent wants to defect. He’s been won over by the glamour of the West. He’s an academic, in Reading. Lawks, things must be bad in the Soviet Union. Anyway, he’s got sketchy information about something called Operation Glass, a massive plot that threatens national security.
To keep the information under wraps, only a few agents are told. They form a committee, including a brilliantly oleaginous Bobby (Paul Ritter), a husband-and-wife team of agents (prediction – one of them will die), the always-watchable Shaun Dooley as police liaison, and the head of MI5, known with Freudian weirdness as Daddy (Brian Cox, almost de rigeur in an espionage thriller).
Following up a lead, Joe finds himself hiding in a flat when two KGB agents arrive. One of them peels an apple! This guy must seriously like apples. We’ve seen him for two minutes in the episode, and he’s peeled two apples. Extrapolating, and allowing for eight hours’ sleep, he gets through 960 apples a day. No wonder the Soviets are taking an interest in the UK. Their first assault will be on the orchards of Somerset.
There is something gloriously evocative about the 1970s as they are recreated here. Everything was a bit dark and a bit ugly in the 70s, and everyone smoked furiously (apart from me, what with, you know, being a baby and that). It lends itself superbly to a cold war thriller, and the result is an hour of taut and atmospheric drama. What’s more – and I cannot say this with enough gratitude – the plot, while sophisticated and nuanced, is not so absurdly labyrinthine and complex as to be almost incoherent. Recommended.
Preview: The Stranger on the Bridge, Monday, May 4, 9pm, Channel 4
My feelings as to young, attractive, eloquent and fashionable men on TV are well documented in this blog. I despise them, with their fulsome hair and their decency and talent. They are grotesquely clever and brilliant, and I curse them all with their flat stomachs and bright futures. And Jonny Benjamin may well be the worst of the lot. Not only is he personable, intelligent, sensitive, generous and talented – he’s also overcome remarkable, almost intolerable adversity to get where he is today. So I suppose you have to add durable, brave and resilient to the list.
The worst problem with Jonny is he’s so intensely likeable. He’s ruddy lovely. You just want to cuddle him when you see him. Even more so when you hear his heart-wrenching and ultimately uplifting story.
On the freezing morning of 14th January 2008, Jonny climbed over the side of Waterloo Bridge and perched on the edge, ready to throw himself into the icy depths below. Such was his agony that to him, at that moment, taking his own life seemed like the only rational course of action. As he readied himself for his final seconds, a young man in his twenties emerged from the morning crowds, and spoke to Jonny. He told him that this wasn’t the only way out. That things would get better.
Miraculously, Jonny listened, and came back from the brink. His hero simply melted back into the crowd from whence he came.
Six years later, Jonny is living proof of the sagacious advice he took that day. To say things are better is an understatement. Jonny is back on Waterloo Bridge, again being driven by a plan. But this time, he wants to find the man who saved him. He wants to let him know the difference he made. He wants to thank him.
This hour-long documentary is about Jonny’s search for his saviour, whom he has named Mike in lieu of a real name. Armed with the hashtag FindMike, he takes to the airwaves of the nation, doing a publicity blitz of TV and radio shows that would make your Milibands, Camerons and Cleggs blush.
The public response is extraordinary. One sequence that is simply too moving to do justice to, sees Jonny, filmed by an unseen camera, handing out fliers on the bridge, while members of the public who have heard his story come up and interact with him. If you ever, ever feel like you’re losing faith in humanity’s inherent goodness, watch this three minutes of unbearably beautiful footage.
What follows is an affecting journey that takes some unexpected turns. Far be it from me to reveal what happens at the end. But the voiceover (beautifully done by Sophie Okonedo) leaves us with a thought, and one that is worth remembering. “Any of us could be Mike.” True enough. But any of us could be Jonny as well, which is precisely why we all need to be like Mike when fate demands it.
Preview: The General Election, BBC One, ITV and Channel 4, Thursday, May 7, from 9pm
I love an election, me. I didn’t used to, mind. Both my parents spent the whole of the 1980s taking part in elections – unsuccessfully, I might add. The night of the count generally involved hours and hours of standing around looking at exhausted ballot-counters making piles of voting slips, with the smaller ones generally belonging to mum and dad.
But by 1997, they’d stopped all of that nonsense, and I was instead able to park myself in front of the telly with several gallons of booze and a colour-as-you-go map of the UK. Ever since then, I have invariably woken up at some point on the day after the election with a sore head, a furry tongue, felt tip on my face, and the news that even Ross, Cromarty and Skye had declared while I was snoring.
This year will be no different. It’s going to be a rock’n’roll extravaganza of a night. I’ve planned the alcohol, the late night party snacks, the works. I’m, um, going round to my mum and dad’s. It’ll be great to have some family election time together where nobody is being defeated. Except my sister, who’s standing in the council elections, proudly carrying the family’s mantle of consistent defeat and electoral disaster before her. Or is she?
Anyway, here’s how the broadcasters are covering the election, so you can read about it all before deciding to watch it on the BBC anyway.
The Beeb will, of course, be bringing out the big guns. David Dimbleby, Huw Edwards, Nick Robinson and the like. Presumably they’ll have Jeremy Vine standing in front of some bizarre interactive graphics that will eventually make sense after that fifth glass of wine. And they’ll have a studio filled with guests all claiming that it’s a victory for their party in spite of the fact that they have garnered only 3 per cent of the vote and are reduced to part-control of Sidcup Borough Council. And everyone will use the words “hard working families” too much.
ITV will be much the same, but with less familiar faces, and ad breaks. Tom Bradby will chair proceedings, and there will be a key role for the marvellous Julie Etchingham, who did such a good job in the Weakest-Link-like event that was the seven-way leaders’ debate.
My mum suggested she might like to check out Channel 4’s Alternative Election Night, what with it featuring Jeremy Paxman on it. I had to break it to her that the programme would feature comedians, and something called Gogglebox, wherein we’d get to watch other people watching the election campaign on telly. I’ve not seen her display such open-mouthed horror since the count results came in at Kettering in 1987.
Anyway, it looks set to be the most exciting, hotly-contested, bizarre, historic, game-changing election in recent political history. I’m going to need more colours than ever. Bring it on.