TV Review – Tour de France, Victoria Pendleton: Cycling’s Golden Girl, The Race That Shook the World

Not At The Olympics

Onto the final day of the Tour de France (ITV1) and Bradley Wiggins’s parade about Paris, having effectively won it the day before with another storming time trial. Only being run over by one of the many media cars could prevent him from winning, which you can never quite put past the sometimes hot-headed French press. That a rosbif could win something so ingrained into their national character – it was not a happy time for France.

The man chosen to lead the riders onto the Champs Elysees was not Wiggins or anybody on his team, but one George Hincapie, for this was his 19th Tour. That’s right, 19. 19 times he’s cycled a hundred miles each day, some of them up actual mountains in the Alps and the Pyrenees.

His efforts took me back to the first time I watched this unique event; 1987, the year Irishman Stephen Roche appeared out of a cloud at the top of a mountain when everybody thought he’d been long dropped. He went on to win. Then there was Laurent Fignon losing on a last day time trial to Greg Lemond by seconds in 1989. There followed the crushing inevitability of Miguel Indurain’s five victories followed by the even weightier seven victories of Lance Armstrong.

In between these two behemoths,‘The Pirate’ Marco Pantani leapt over mountains for one win in 1998, later found to have been off his head on performance-enhancing drugs. As was his unapologetic mountain rival Richard Virenque, who seemed to regret being caught more than anything. More apologetic was Floyd Landis in 2006, who needed a miracle to beat Oscar Pereiro in the last mountain stage and got one in the contents of a syringe. Now, there’s doubts concerning whether Lance Armstrong won all those Tours completely unaided. This will affect how you view the end of Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, for one thing. For another, cycling as a sport will be massively affected for a whole generation.

Drugs was a subject that floated around this year’s Tour, not least because of the comprehensive way Wiggins and his team beat the rest of the field. After such a long history of drug use, it’s somewhat understandable that questions are going to be asked and it’s also understandable that a narked Wiggins would answer with copious use of the ‘c’ word.

If Bradley is on drugs he’s hiding it well. He didn’t triumphantly sprint away from the rest of the field like Armstrong did year after year, rather he was towed around by his willing (and sometimes unwilling) teammates, not once having to defend his lead by himself. But then he’s a time trial specialist, having once been, and may yet be again, an Olympic gold medalist.

And so we come to the Olympics, which has been previewed exhaustively, mostly on the BBC. The news programmes have been full of bellyaching Londoners, bemoaning the massive inconvenience. This is a bonus for Northerners like me who intend to go nowhere near it and watch it all on the telly.

A lot of these previews have come in the shape of documentaries which usually hove to the algorithm, sport + music = awesome. Victoria Pendleton – Cycling’s Golden Girl (BBC1) featured the gold medal-winning and multi-syllabled sprinter (not to be confused with swimming’s similarly named Rebecca Adlington) talking about her life in the sport over a sweeping soundtrack more used to backing Mel Gibson or Russell Crowe rousing the troops for battle.

We also took in her cycling-obsessed  – and jealous – dad (“I’d love to have worn one,” he says, gazing wistfully as one of the many World Champion jerseys his daughter has given him), her not really having much ambition (“I haven’t grown up dreaming about this at all. It just happened”), her first Olympics resulting in failure (“I felt I was still in the primary school stages”), her eventual triumphs (“She blew everybody away. She literally did”) and her relationship with her boyfriend (Australian), who was controversially her coach. “He broke protocol. You don’t get involved with the athletes,” says Team GB’s manager Shane Sutton (Australian).

A lot of the programme is devoted to the warm up races for this year’s Olympics, wherein she was consistently beaten by her arch-rival Anna Meares (Australian). The music reflected that Victoria was in a bad place. Her constant crying did it better. Then came the World Championships, set a mere three months ago in Melbourne (Australia).

In a best of three races, Adlington, sorry Pendleton, faced up against Meares in the semi-final. In the first race she crashed. She recovered enough to lose the second race by miles, but Meares was disqualified for straying outside of her line. So it all came down to the third race which Pendleton won by the smallest of margins, going on to grab another World Champion jersey to make her Dad jealous.

Cue more tears from Pendleton, who’s an equal opportunities bawler (“I’m going give up crying after the Olympics”). This was the high point of the documentary and the music soared and swelled to reflect this. However, I’d seen this race when it was broadcast live and it was just as exciting and nerve-wracking without the music. Recently there’s been a concerted attempt to shoehorn as much music into live sport as possible, but much like the England football team’s touring ‘band’, it’s not needed.

Despite the music, the documentary had moments that reminded you how genuinely exciting the Greatest Sporting Show on Earth could be. The more Tour de France side of the Olympics featured in The Race That Shook the World (BBC4) which went into detail the notorious 1988 100m Men’s Final in Seoul, wherein Ben Johnson won by miles, and fell by miles as he was later proven to be as chemically assisted as The Pirate. Remarkably, all eight participants were tracked down for interviews – remarkable as six of the eight have been implicated in drugs. One was found to be a dealer.

The roots of the trouble came in an athletics meet between Canada and East Germany in 1979, where the Canadians got soundly thrashed by the unregulated and decidedly pasty Eastern Bloc state. They came to the misguided conclusion that it was better to join them rather than beat them. So a shady character called Dr. Astaphan was brought in to ‘consult’ with the athletes.

Despite this, the USA team, as in many things, was already well ahead. Before the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the US authorities decided to do some discrete random tests on its athletes. The rationale, put forward by a Colonel in the US administration, was, “I do not want to see an American test positive for drugs in the Olympics.” Note that ‘how to achieve this’ was up for grabs. When most of the samples looked more like water than urine, they went mysteriously missing.

Carl Lewis won the 100m in 1984 but thereafter he was constantly battling an up-and-coming Canadian athlete called Ben Johnson. Since there were only drug tests at big events, “avoiding a positive involved little more than consulting a calendar”. Lewis was not liked by his fellow runners – mostly because of the astronomical sums he commanded thanks to his star power – but Johnson really didn’t like him, especially his singing. “He can’t sing,” sniffed Johnson today, whilst footage of music videos he made proved that Lewis actually could, but he was no Michael Jackson.

Johnson got revenge for the assault to his sensitive eardrums by beating him consistently. Lewis knew what was up and took to that noted forum, Terry Wogan’s chat show, to call out ‘people on drugs’. At the time it looked like sour grapes. Turns out he was far more right than anybody knew.

Johnson’s fatal mistake was to twang his hamstring four months before Seoul, then, whilst recuperating, to lose to Lewis two months later. To the worry of his team, he went to the good Dr. Astaphan. As a teammate of his bemoaned after he was caught and disqualified, “how could this happen? You shouldn’t be on drugs. Not at the Olympics.” The implication being you did it when you weren’t getting tested, or else you hid it better.

Lewis was later found to have taken something dodgy at the time but it was something far milder and not quite illegal. The implication throughout the show was the pinnacle of athletics was whatever you could get away with. The Canadians just had a more ramshackle outfit, and a star athlete who couldn’t lose. A scientist went back to those eighties American samples with the benefit of some new technology and didn’t like what he found. So he stopped, opting to let lying dogs lie.

The final word went to Brazilian Robson da Silva, who came fifth and is one of the two runners never to have been implicated in drugs. “I didn’t lose,” he drawled from a Brazilian beach. “I lost a million dollars, but I sleep very nice, every night.”


TV Review – Bank of Dave, The Angelos Epithemiou Show, Walking and Talking, The Hollow Crown, The Nation’s Favourite No. 1 Single

The Number One’s Number One

It’s hard enough to set up a bank account, but how difficult is it to set up your own bank? Do you go over to the Dark Side or do they come to you? This is something that cheerful self-made millionaire Dave Fishwick clearly hasn’t thought through, as documented on Bank of Dave (Channel 4).

Ever since 2008, everybody has been forced to show some interest in economics. Despite it all being hideously complicated there’s one thing we can all agree on: bankers are bad. And the people who regulate bankers are bad. Usually they’re the same people. “Bastard banks. All they’ve done is shit on people,” says Dave, who owns a fleet of minibuses in Burnley and knows.

In revenge he wants to own his own bank. Dave has got good altruistic reasons – he wants to help the local community, lending money at low rates and not letting the casino side of things get out of hand. There’s just one problem: the Financial Services Authority won’t let just anyone do that sort of thing. The banking business is “tightly regulated” by the FSA, which is news to everybody.

Dave heads down to That London to get advice. One advisor advises that Dave would need to raise at least £30 million. Despite owning a bright red Ferrari, Dave hasn’t got that sort of change. “I need to find a way around some of the regulations.” Well, there are plenty of people who’d say that is exactly how we got into the mess in the first place, but Dave seems unaware of this.

The main advice is that calling yourself a bank without a banking license will get you thrown in prison (a jolly nice one obviously), but he can start out as a Credit Union or Building Society. This is how most of those 500 banks that were all eventually bought by Santander got started. A problem with this show already is that it’s not that anyone should be able to open a bank, it’s just that lots of people have and a lot of them got into trouble precisely for the lack of oversight that Dave is attempting to get round here.

Despite this, he goes ahead and gets a property on Burnley High Street – lucky for him, there’s plenty of empty spaces – and gets round the whole can’t-call-yourself-a-bank problem by having the sign above the shop say, “Bank on Dave!” and, as the voiceover says, in super fast terms-and-conditions style, “but really it’s called Burnley Savings and Mutual.” He’s well on the way to being yet another Santander acquisition. Bank of Dave tries its best to shed light on the murky world of banking but it seems to be illuminating how we got into the current mess in the first place. The Dark Side is just around the corner for Dave but I’ll bet he gets a good pension out of it.

Channel 4 once broadcast a show called Vic Reeves Big Night Out, a befuddling yet brilliantly original comedy show that changed British comedy and spawned hundreds of imitators. Problem was Channel 4 was more happy with the boozy juvenilia of The Word, so Reeves and Mortimer quickly decamped to the BBC, along with acolytes like Higson and Whitehouse and Matt Lucas. Now, a mere 20 years on, Channel 4 may be thinking that they missed a trick there. So welcome to The Angelos Epithemiou Show (Channel 4), as another Reeves and Mortimer alum gets their own show.

“The man who invented modern entertainment,” Epithemiou is the lantern-jawed, grease-haired creation of Dan Skinner, a welcome presence on Shooting Stars as he was always ready with a surreal quip, to the delight of the hosts. Put centre stage he seems a bit lost. This is partly because Channel 4 don’t really do original comedy anymore – this is very much a typical Friday night, back-from-the-pub variety show, featuring an interview segment with “the lord of the genital close-up” Dr. Christian Jensen and an actual performance by “teenage pop sensation Conor Maynard,” who is about as exciting as his name. Although enlivened by his mate Gupta “who doesn’t give a shit” firing stuff out of his arse for Maynard to catch, this is the Big Night Out twenty years on and as stale.

By contrast, if there is a better series than Walking And Talking (Sky Atlantic) this year, I haven’t seen it. The premise is simple: 14-year-old Kath and her mate Mary walk around where they live and talk about all the things teenage girls talk about. The brilliant bit is that Kath is a young Kathy Burke and all she’s worried about is music, acting and, a distant third, boys. By contrast, Mary is going out with Larry, who has now asked her to marry him.

“I was really flippin’ stonked, it was just out of the wotsit.” Mary is looking for counsel from Kath. Larry wants to marry because his dad told him all girls are slags, and Mary is less slaggy than the rest. “This is a massive flippin’ disaster.” Like good Catholic girls, they never swear.

Kath agrees. “You’re better off with the ones in your head. I’ve been going out with Paul Weller for over a year now and he’s no trouble.”

Mary wants Kath to split up with Larry for her. “I’m not as good at lying as you are.”

“What you gonna give me?”

“Bag of chips?”

Kath agrees, rationalizing that lying is just like acting, her ambition. Briefly diverted by the local drunk (Jerry Sadowitz, the first time I’ve ever liked him) ‘guarding’ the phone box, Kath phones Larry. “It’s Kath. Kath. Mary’s mate. Yeah, Fat Kath yeah.” The job done, they discuss what was said in that breathless way of young girls who have to go into minute detail about everything.

“He said ‘hello Fat Kath how are you’ and I said ‘I’m alright and how are you’ and he said ‘I’m not very well today got a bit of the flu.’” Larry takes it badly, but the deed is done. “Better off out of it.”

But Mary’s already been asked out by the boy from the key cutting stall at the market. “I noticed him looking at me but he’s never said anything, apart from that time he said ‘nice bum’ when I had my cords on.”

As Kathy says to camera over Mary’s babble, “Don’t know about you, but I reckon we’ve got a whole flippin’ lifetime of this.”

Walking And Talking is an absolute joy. Set in that version of the seventies when every day was golden bright and there wasn’t any traffic so kids could wander around happily (I grew up in the seventies and it was just like this), it’s hilariously funny and quite poignant in equal terms. Kath (both the character and the writer) is quite nostalgic about what to others would be an unhappy childhood. Burke has always been amazingly honest in her acting and so it proves in her writing. A shame young Kath never did get to see Quadrophenia, though.

Less funny was The Hollow Crown: Henry IV Part II (BBC2) in which Shakey responded to the good reception Sir John Falstaff got in part one by shoe-horning him irrelevantly into this story of kingly death, and trying to get yucks out of character names Mouldy, Feeble and Wart. Shakespeare would additionally have Falstaff travel nearly 200 years into the future to appear in the contemporaneous Merry Wives of Windsor – he was like a 16th century version of the Fonz.

Aside from having to present Shakespeare’s notoriously shaky way with comedy, The Hollow Crown has been a triumph. By actually presenting the history plays as history, they’ve gone to the heart of why these plays are so good. Maybe a sequel could be in the offing – Henry VI parts one to three then Richard III. Why not?

The world still can’t get enough of those ‘I Love the 80s’ list shows. The Nation’s Favourite No. 1 Single (ITV1) is inevitably hosted by Fearne Cotton, and features a ‘public ballot’ that‘s suspiciously free of One Direction block voting. The absence of teenage girls influencing the vote means it’s just a matter of counting down until Bohemian Rhapsody’s inevitable victory.

Still, this is a cut above these kind of shows, with decent talking heads of people who were actually involved rather than the usual ex-NME journalists. Marc Almond loves the fact that Jack Duckworth covered Tainted Love. Mel C disparages Wannabe: “We wrote it in 15 minutes. What’s zig-a-zig-ah? It’s not even English is it?” The wacky video for Ashes to Ashes; wherein Steve Strange walks in front of a bulldozer, touching every other rock. Phillip Oakey not really caring anymore, “Bryan Adams is so underrated as a singer”. His mate Susan still annoyed that people think she worked as a waitress in a cocktail bar. And, of course, Queen at number one. The number one’s number one.

Brian: “It’s very evocative of the time. A bit like smells.”

Roger: “Yeah, they never go away do they?”

TV Review – The Tipping Point, Twenty Twelve, Classic Albums: Paranoid, Blackout

Study The Machine

Ever since Children’s TV got relegated to Freeview, the slots once occupied by John Craven’s Newsround have to be filled as cheaply as possible. Endless versions of quiz and antiques shows are regurgitated, each with a different twist to try to stave off boredom.

The twist in The Tipping Point (ITV1) is that it’s a quiz show based on those seaside arcade novelty machines where your 2p bounces onto a moving platform and you somehow think it’s going to knock out far more 2ps. I’ve always wondered what those machines are called. Maybe this show will tell us. Anyway, onto “the quiz were our players live on the edge of their nerves whilst you live on the edge of your seat,” as bubbly, bland host Ben Shephard puts it.

In the first round, four players answer questions in order to decide who gets to put their over-sized 2ps in first. Only these 2ps are worth £50 and they come out surprisingly easy, thereby confirming the long-held suspicion that those 2ps in seaside arcades are largely made of glue. Whilst Shephard tries to inject excitement (“Have you been studying the machine? She’s looking generous”) the contestants are urged to fill the time waiting for the coins to settle by commentating on their ‘tips’. Even John Motson would struggle at that, but the contestants gamely give it a go. This mostly consists of going, “ooooooohh” or “aaaarrhh” or “whoooooaaa” with the odd “looking good” or “come on”. Shephard cheerfully ignores this embarrassment. “See you after the break!”

Twenty Twelve (BBC2) returned for its final few episodes now that the actual Olympics have arrived to spoil the joke. As with writer/director John Morton’s similar series People Like Us, it’s the voiceover that contains most of the fun (David Tennant here, as opposed to the unfortunate Chris Langham on People Like Us), especially when recounting everyone’s job descriptions in a dry-as-dust monotone. So in the Headquarters of the Olympic Deliverance Commission, Head of Deliverance Ian Fletcher has organised a breakfast meeting with his staff, Head of Sustainability Kay Hope, Head of Infrastructure Graham Hitchens, Head of Contracts Nick Jellet and
Head of Brand Siobahn Sharpe.

Head of Sustainability Kay Hope has the job of getting rid of the stadium once it’s all over. Since, as in the real world, Tottenham and West Ham have pulled out of Sustaining the Legacy, Hope is reduced to hawking a 60,000 seat stadium to the likes of Dagenham and Redbridge, whose home gate is more around 3,000, and the already shut Walthamstow Dog Track, whose biggest fan, “lifelong Irishman” Brian McLoughlan boasts about how Madonna once racked up there with Guy. “It was a long party”.

Meanwhile, Head of Brand Siobahn Sharpe (“ya, totally”) is meeting with her Senior Trend Analyst Coco Lomax, Information Architect Barney Lumsden and Viral Concept Designer Carl Marx, “breaking out the magic dust” on the Travel Advice Pack for visitors to the Olympics. This mostly involves coming up with a slogan (“Way To Go”). She presents the pack to the rest of the team.

“What’s she talking about?” asks Head of Infrastructure Graham Hitchens.

“Don’t ask me,” says Head of Contracts Nick Jellet.

Elsewhere, there is a meeting of the Special Catastrophical Unit, headed up by Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Rachel Crane, looking nervous in a job that clearly lots of people have run screaming from. They welcome their American counterparts, who have all taken an interest in a rumour that someone is converting starting pistols to fire live rounds. One killed a seagull whilst starting a 400m race. The Americans are naturally very interested in guns of any kind, so a very nervous Deputy Assistant Commissioner Rachel Crane takes back an example of the starting pistols and accidentally shoots Head of Deliverance Ian Fletcher.

Only one episode to go and “there are still a lot of things to get through if July 27th is to happen on time, as originally planned.”

“Come on!” “Aaaaarrrrr,” “Stay where you are!” How are things going back on the seaside arcade? They are down to three players and the tension is ratcheting up. There are even replays after a particularly exciting ‘drop’. “There are plenty of juicy overhangs in the machine,” says Shephard. ‘Machine’? What’s the thing called Ben!

I first heard of Black Sabbath back in the eighties, when they were an aging, desperately trying to keep in touch, bloated, over-the-hill band with a revolving door policy of members. These days they’re four affable brummies/national treasures who can afford to look back at their earliest work with fondness, when they accidentally invented a whole new genre of music: heavy metal.

Classic Albums (BBC4) focused on Paranoid, their second album and a time when they were getting on. They’re still not, as Bill Ward’s pulling out of the recent reunion tour reveals, but they’ve got nothing but fond words for the time when they didn’t get out of their heads every night and severely disappoint each other. There’s Ozzy, who loves Bill’s drumming. There’s Geezer, who loves Tony’s guitar playing (“He had the incredible knack of knocking out riff after riff after riff. It was the magic of the band”). Tony, in turn, loves Geezer’s bass playing (“Bass players don’t seem to exist like that”). And everybody loves Ozzy. “I don’t think he gets enough credit for what a talent he had. Ozzy was always great at interpreting. It sounded like it was coming from deep down in Ozzy’s soul,” says an awestruck Geezer.

The Classic Albums series is not a place for criticism. Even the truly terrible Electric Funeral (sample lyric: “radiation minds decay”) is commented on without horror, although an engineer is allowed to say “all the verses are like this” in apology. Paranoid was hated by more vocal critics at the time, hardly surprising given some of the subject matter (Ozzy on lyric writer Geezer: “He was always into that sci-fi shit. I didn’t know what the word meant”). But elsewhere, Paranoid stands the test of time, whether it’s the nihilistic riffs of War Pigs and Iron Man, which had simply never been heard before, or the Vietnam lyrics of Hand of Doom. Unlike a lot of their protest singer contemporaries, Sabbath had played at US Army bases and discovered the GIs were taking heroin to get through their experiences. The critics were wrong and the kids who bought Sabbath in their millions were right. Sometimes, music should just be an unlovely howl of rage.

“Aargghhhh!” Is it Ozzy interpreting from the bottom of his soul? No, we’re back on the Tipping Point. “Come on, push!” “Will it settle?” “Stay where you are!” With the reduction of contestants, the commentary is getting more sparse and desperate, not helped by Shephard joining in. “Is that where you wanted it?” “It’s not where I wanted it.” In the end, Renee wins it, simply because she answered more questions right than anyone else. The nameless machine is entirely irrelevant. “Join us next time when four more players hang in the balance.”

This week’s effort to do The Wire a la Angleterre features the knockabout Blackout (BBC1). In the first episode Christopher Ecclestone was a binge drinking corrupt council officer who kills a friend. Only he can’t remember, because he drinks so much he gets blackouts. Feeling his life has hit rock bottom he goes to see his lawyer sister (Lyndsey Marshal) at the high courts, but he achieves redemption when he leaps in the way of a drive-by meant for a supergrass. Acclaimed a hero, colleague Ewan Bremner urges him to run for mayor, because that’s a really important job that can make a difference and not a job usually reserved for the likes of Boris Johnson or a guy dressed in a monkey suit.

In this week’s episode, Ecclestone is now mayor after a presumably speedy election. But he’s got more monkeys on his back than his colleague in Hartlepool. Aside from the aforementioned drinking and drugs problem, corruption and possible murder, he’s also got MyAnna Burning, a part-time prostitute who witnessed the murder and has somehow fallen in love with him, Andrew Scott of Moriarty fame as her ex-husband, who also happens to be a police officer looking into the death, Rebecca Callard as the daughter of the dead man, who wants his help in solving the murder, his wife Dervla Kirwan, who has found out about the corruption, Bremner and Marshal, who are seeing each other and separately mucking up Ecclestone’s plans to turn the unnamed city into a socialist paradise, and a secret cabal in the police who may be fitting up people to take the fall for Ecclestone.

You remember how Lester Freeman said all the pieces fit? What happens if you’ve got too many pieces? This won’t end well.

TV Review – Line of Duty, The Exclusives, Euro 2012, Tour de France

Take A Shot At The King

Is it too much to ask for a British equivalent of The Wire? You know, just a little something with the equivalent of the scope, quality and sheer awesomeness of what people call the greatest TV show ever made? Hey, here’s the latest from the always underwhelming Jed Mercurio. Line of Duty (BBC2) finds him finally attaching himself to a subject perfect for him, the police procedural.

Set in the exciting world of police corruption, the first episode presents us our equivalent of hard-drinking, womanising and annoyingly intelligent McNulty, the anti-hero of The Wire. He’s played by a twelve-year-old called Martin Compston and the entire breadth of his character is to look constantly pained. He refuses to cover up an Anti-Terrorist Unit cock-up. “You’re finished,” snarls his boss Owen Teale, taking five minutes off from saying similar things on Game of Thrones.

But he’s not finished because our honest-for-no-good-reason hero winds up at the Anti-Corruption Unit (or AC12 to use the lingo, on which Line of Duty is steeped) under the over-enthusiastic care of Adrian Dunbar. “I’ve got a very special case for you.”

That case is Lennie James, a seemingly perfect copper. We first see him briefly getting up from breakfast to bust a couple of muggers on the street. This doesn’t impress Dunbar. “He’s got the best crime figures in the job. Nobody’s that good.” Compston looks slightly more pained than usual. He’s not so sure about James.

Whereas something like The Wire would have unlikely scenarios, they felt right because they were usually based on actual things that happened. Here, we just get contrived coincidences. So, just as AC12 is turning its attentions on him, James’s girlfriend Gina McKee hits what she thinks is a dog whilst drink driving. She’s got previous for this sort of thing and will go to the Big House if caught, so she begs James to help her out. Reluctantly, James makes it look like joyriders nicked her car. Then he goes home to his wife.

So James is willing to bend the law but is he corrupt? You get the impression this may take some time, as Mercurio is going to some lengths to keep the is-he-or-isn’t-he plot strung out. The set-up of James’s office is all male and stuffed with Sweeney-like characters played by the untrustworthy likes of Neil Morrissey and, especially, Craig Parkinson, a go-to guy for this sort of role. He even played Tony Wilson in one of the several thousand films about Joy Division and out-oiled Steve Coogan. With a team like this, James must be dodgy.

The obviousness of the casting is about as subtle as some of the writing. Mercurio is determined to show that modern policing is admin-heavy and no point is left un-hammered home. For example, another copper played by Vicky McClure has to deal with a poor guy who has been regularly burgled. She knows full well they don’t have the resources to deal with him and, with her boss ordering her to massage the figures in the report, it’s getting her down. She works in the same office as James but in lowly CID. “We get all the crap no-one wants. Every week it’s a new initiative or a new audit.”

Compston meets the lovely McClure as he’s on his way to meet James. Their meet-cute is short-lived. “Are you with AC12?” she asks, with the frostiness of Mr. Freeze sucking a Magnum.

Compston later tries to pursue her again. “We seem to have got off on the wrong foot,” but she’s wangled her way into James’s elite unit (called TO20) and wants nothing to do with him. Plus, Dunbar has also laid the charge of ‘laddering’ on James, (trans. to only go after the sexy cases and pile on extra charges to beef up figures). Is that corruption? Compston looks pained about the whole thing. “I thought anti-corruption was about getting blokes on the take.”

Nevertheless, James’s unit is going after corner-level drug dealers, and for a moment you get happy memories of The Wire, swiftly dashed when you realise it’s Neil bloody Morrissey running the stakeouts and not Kima, Carver and Herc. Compston tries to make peace with James, but the latter is not happy. “You take a shot at the king, make sure you kill him son.”

Whenever Line of Duty threatens to turn into a mature and engrossing study of modern policing, Mercurio can’t help putting in more unbelievable coincidences. McClure was working for AC12 all along! And McKee didn’t hit a dog but a man. And he was her accountant! And James deletes all the files on the hit-and-run just as Compston is looking at them. Unbelievable! as Chris Kamara would say. And that’s just the first episode. Line of Duty has the lingo, but the stories are pure hokum.

We need an authenticity palate cleanser and there’s nothing more realistic on TV than reality TV. It’s there in the title people. The Exclusives (ITV2) has largely snuck under the reality radar because it’s a show where would-be journalists try to get a job on a celebrity weekly, and there isn’t much scope for screaming morons and deluded no-talents which would normally get the attention (think The Apprentice or The X Factor before the real tools have been weeded out). The people competing have to be quite intelligent and talented from the start. But this is celebrity culture so, you know, not that much.

“Red carpet glamour, film premieres and celebs galore,” introduces the narrator, legally stipulated to be Lauren Laverne. In the final show, the six contestants had been whittled down to three. Felix is posh, has floppy hair and is effortlessly confident, even when he clearly hasn’t got a clue. Ellie is blonde, driven and usually so stressed out she could power her own laptop. Stuart wears lots of gel, has a nose stud and doesn’t seem to actually like journalism. However will they decide who will win?

The task is to produce an eight page mini-magazine in three days. They are obliged to look terrified at this prospect but old hacks like me will tell you that’s a piece of piss. Try writing a 48 page magazine and design it yourself in a week, lightweights. Anyway, each contestant is given a z-list celebrity to interview and photograph for the mini-mag.

The only innovation the contestants are allowed seems to be the theme and the name of the mag. Stuart still struggles (“My mind’s blank. That’s what it feels like”) and Ellie needlessly takes on the styling of the shoot as well, driving her further into stress (“I hate them more than life itself,” she sobs, regarding a pair of pink shoes). Of the exclusives of the title, there seems to be no sign. The celebs involved have long since given away every last fact about themselves.

But this is a reality show, so we get all the usual stuff that somehow seems to pad out these shows. Every incident is foreshadowed by a chirpy voice over (“Coming up, it’s judgement day!”) and then reviewed in a talking to camera bit. And because this is the last show of the series, we get lots of flashbacks to previous episodes, reminding us of an embarrassed Felix asking Kerry Katona what her favourite sexual position is. Kerry, by now a veteran of this nonsense, doesn’t blink but looks thoughtful. “Der’s so many ter choose from.”

So who wins? Stuart, with his dislike of talking to people or even phoning them up, was a no-hoper. In the real world Felix would win it because he’s posh and they always seem to get these jobs. But in the end Ellie got the job, simply because she actually went beyond the tame celeb she was assigned and got a brief interview with Tinchy Stryder by hanging out on a red carpet for three hours. Even the bosses of More magazine seem to recognise this as actual journalism. Ellie won because she got an actual exclusive, no matter how miniscule. But no exclusive is too miniscule for this world.

As Euro 2012 fades into memory, let us once again appreciate Mark Lawrenson, observational stand-up comic. “Take him off,” he sarked, when Pirlo missed an early long shot. “What is that for goodness sake,” he wearied after a dive. “Sniper’s had him,” he mocked when a player unfortunately went down with a hamstring injury. There are many who don’t like ‘Lawro’ but I say keep him. We need his Jerry Seinfeld take on life whilst everyone else is hopelessly trying to apply statistical analysis to understand why Germany didn’t make it to the final.

For the time being, there’s always the Tour de France (ITV4). There are two commentators; Phil and Paul. Paul says twice as much as Phil and has half as much to say. His pronouncements are train wrecks of inarticulateness. “The rider is sitting at the back there, turning his legs over very nicely indeed.” He says things like that every five minutes. Private Eye’s Commentatorballs would be inundated every summer, but luckily for Paul nobody watches the Tour de France.

%d bloggers like this: