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TV review: Grace and Comic Relief

Benjie Goodhart / 12 March 2021

John Simm and Richie Campbell star in new ITV police drama Grace, and on BBC One a star-studded Comic Relief returns to bring some much-needed smiles.

Grace, Sunday 14th March, 8pm, ITV

What do we not need more of in 2021? Quizzes on Zoom. Royal upheavals. Queues outside shops. Piers Morgan. Rain. And police dramas. Definitely police dramas. You can’t switch on the TV these days without being confronted by a sad-eyed maverick cop in a mackintosh having a sudden, crime-busting epiphany.

So why am I so excited about the arrival of a new addition to the genre? Is it because it’s a long-overdue adaptation of the Roy Grace novels, written by Peter James, who was named Best Crime Author of All Time in a 2015 WH Smiths poll? Not really. Is it because it stars the brilliant John Simm as the titular hero, or because the TV adaptation has been written by Russell Lewis, who worked on Inspector Morse? Well, partly. Is it because it is taut, clever and filled with twists? That’s definitely part of it. But – and I am aware this won’t be a source of excitement for most people – it’s also a thrill because it’s set in Brighton. The town wot I live in.

I love watching dramas set somewhere I know well. There is nothing more fun than being able to pause the TV and scoff knowingly with one’s (increasingly irritated) family and say things like “Of course, in reality, that journey would have taken him half an hour” or “He’s driving the wrong way up a one-way street!”

Also, though, it will be nice to see Brighton properly represented on screen. Most people just think if my hometown as a seaside party venue, a resort for stag and hen weekends and copious drinking. Hopefully this drama will show some of the town’s antique charm, its unique culture, and its faded beauty.

Right, so, here we go. A couple of scenes to establish that Roy Grace is a maverick copper with a tragic backstory. We didn’t need to know that. We could have just assumed it. All TV cops are maverick, and all have tragic backstories. It is the written in the Bible of TV cop dramas. So, now, on with the plot. What are those funny men up to? Oh…

It’s a stag night. Brilliant.

I actually loathe stag nights with a passion. Or, more accurately, stag fortnights. Time was when you just went to the pub, drank to many beers, told some bawdy jokes and woke up with a jackhammer in your head and sandpaper mouth. Now you have to commit your annual leave and six months’ salary to go to Antwerp for a fortnight, where you commit atrocities against your body and psyche, and come back a husk of yourself. And there’s always some idiot who takes things too far.

In this instance, too far turns out to be waaaaaay too far. The groom ends up missing. Nobody knows if he is alive or dead. His bride is beside herself. His best man is shattered. Roy Grace is… well, sad and maverick, obviously. At one point, he announces that they believe the missing groom to be somewhere north of Brighton. That’s a fair bet, because anywhere south of Brighton and he’s likely to be very wet indeed, and distinctly dead.

And so unfolds a plot that is at times genuinely disturbing, but also enormously good fun. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep the viewer guessing. Brighton looks lovely in the sunshine, even if absolutely everyone in the show seems to inhabit a luxurious flat on the seafront. I have lived here for 15 years, and have never even seen inside a flat in the seafront. Maybe I’m moving in the wrong circles.

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Comic Relief 2021, Friday 19th March, 7pm, BBC One

In some ways, I feel rather sorry for myself at the moment. I have a blister on my left foot. I’m currently sitting, hunched up like a chimp on a tricycle, at my daughter’s little desk, because there is too much noise for me to work in the kitchen. It is absurdly windy, and the heavens are about to open. And I worry a lot – about work, about the state of the world, about Covid, about worrying too much, about my kids, about whether I’ll remember to tape Bake Off.

But, fundamentally, I’m okay. I don’t really have much in the way of real concerns. I have a roof over my head, a warm home, food on the table, a healthy family. There are many for whom this is not the case. It’s been a doozy of a year. Homelessness, hunger, domestic abuse and mental health problems have all been exacerbated by Covid. But even for the lucky ones among us, it’s been an undeniably rubbish time.

Thank heavens, then, for Comic Relief. It’s never been more important or more relevant – both in terms of raising money for valuable causes, and also for raising smiles. This year’s show will, inevitably, be a little different, but it looks enormous fun. Hosts Alesha Dixon, David Tennant, Davina McCall, Paddy McGuinness and Sir Lenny Henry (of course) will preside over an evening of entertainment, sketches, live performances, comedy specials and music.

In a packed schedule, stand-out moments include Dawn French returning as Rev Geraldine Granger in a special version of The Vicar of Dibley. Still socially distancing and communicating with parishioners on Zoom, she’s taking on a fundraising challenge that will involve her lip-synching to her favourite song of the last year, Juice by Lizzo (I hope that means more to you than it does to me…) She will be joined by special guest star Rev Kate Bottley, originally of Gogglebox fame.

There is a chance to watch the greatest disaster movie never made, as 2020: The Movie is brought to life by a cast including Keira Knightley, Anna Friel, and Michael Sheen, and a host of special guests. Meanwhile, in Comic Opera, five comedians will team up with the English National Opera to learn how to be opera singers in just 24-hours, under the expert mentorship of Charlotte Church.

Jack Whitehall will be hosting a meeting online, in what promises to be the most chaotic Zoom session since the Handforth Parish Council meeting captured the nation’s imagination. Mel Geidroyc and some special guests will record a parody of Bridget Jones’ rendition of All By Myself, and David Tennant and Michael Sheen will star in a special episode of their brilliant comedy Staged, where they will be joined by none other than Sir Lenny Henry.

The Top Gear presenters Freddie Flintoff, Paddy McGuinness and Chris Harris receive the toughest grilling of their career… from a bunch of kids. Tim Vine will be brining joy to the men and women of the armed forces by hiding in a box… it’ll make sense on the night. And there’s a mash up of two of the biggest shows of recent years, Normal People and Fleabag.

After the news, Jason Manford and Amanda Holden will host The Great Comic Relief Prizeathon, where viewers can win fantastic prizes, interspersed with more sketches and special guests. Throughout the evening, music will be provided by the likes of Gabrielle, the Proclaimers, and the cast of Back to the Future: The Musical. And, of course, there will be the appeal films, from the UK and around the world, showing just what the generous donations of the British public go to fund.

But this year, perhaps the most important aspect of Comic Relief is that it will unite us all in comedy, and bring a smile to some careworn faces. Bravo.

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 13th March

When the Spencers Met the Monarchy, 9pm, Channel 5: Feature-length documentary looking at the impact of Charles and Diana’s marriage on their respective families. The resulting controversies were devastating for the royal family. Luckily, they seem to be controversy-free these days…

Billie: In Search of Billie Holiday, 9:45pm, BBC Two: Another feature-length documentary, this time a profile of the legendary jazz singer, featuring contributions from Tony Bennett, Count Basie, and even the FBI agents who arrested Holiday.

Sunday 14th March

Top Gear 1/4, 8pm, BBC One: The likeable trio of Freddie Flintoff, Paddy McGuinness and Chris Harris return with more vehicular hijinks. Tonight, they head to the Lake District, for an emotional reunion with their dads’ old cars.

Happy Campers: The Caravan park 1/6, 8pm, Channel 5: Documentary series following two West Country holiday camps through the summer of 2020.

Monday 15th March

Fawlty Towers 1/6, 8:30pm, BBC One: Not a new series, sadly, but it’s always worth having another watch of something this good. The first ever episode of the classic sitcom sees John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty trying to attract a better class of clientele to his seaside hotel, with predictably disastrous results.

Tuesday 16th March

Bear Grylls Wild Adventure Specials, 8pm, ITV: The outdoorsy hard nut with a cuddly side gets up close and personal with rugby superstar Jonny Wilkinson in the wilds of Dartmoor, and Wilkinson opens up about his career, his mental health problems, and that drop goal.

Roman Kemp: Our Silent Emergency, 9pm, BBC One: In August of last year, radio presenter Roman Kemp’s best friend, Joe Lyons, took his own life. In this sobering documentary, Kemp questions why increasing numbers of young men are plagued by mental health issues, and what can be done to alleviate the situation.

2020: The Story of Us, 9pm, ITV: Feature-length documentary from Oscar-winner Kevin Macdonald, telling the story of coronavirus in the UK, from the viewpoint of some of those hospitalised and the heroic staff who treated them.

The Circle 1/21, 9:15pm, Channel 4: Emma Willis hosts the reality show that sees young people move into flats on their own, where they communicate with others only via social media. Much like real life, then.

Wednesday 17th March

Caroline Flack: Her Life and Death, 9pm, Channel 4: A year on from the TV presenter’s tragic death, this documentary looks at what drove her to take her own life, and examines the real person behind the lurid tabloid headlines.

Thursday 18th March

Billy Monger’s Big Red Nose Day Challenge, 9pm, BBC One: In 2017, the young professional motor racing driver lost both of his legs in a crash. Now aged 21, this fundraising challenge sees him walking, kayaking and cycling 140 miles for Comic Relief. Impressive doesn’t begin to do him justice.

The Secret Science of Sewage, 9pm, BBC Two: Scientists explore all things faecal from a base camp deep in the bowels of one of the UKs most advanced sewage works. Perhaps not one to watch with your tea on your lap.

10 Years Younger in 10 Days, 9pm, Channel 5: Cherry Healey returns with the show where experts transform how people look using non-invasive cosmetic techniques.

Rob Brydon’s Now That’s What I Call Comic Relief, 10pm, BBC Two: The comedian and actor looks back at some of the funniest musical moments in Comic Relief history.

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