Shooting Stars, BBC2
In just three gossip-riddled, shock-studded weeks, Leslie Ash’s lips have become as much a fixture of Merseybeat as big truncheons and visibly uncomfortable extras. Indeed, so omnipresent are the freshly collagen-pumped smackers that it’s now impossible to concentrate on the new series of this cop drama without thinking of waterbeds and subsequently feeling rather queasy.
The most fascinating aspect of the actress’s ill-advised transformation, however, is the Lon Chaney-esque versatility of the resulting enormo-gob. It’s remarkable. At times it looks as if she’s slid orange peel under her top lip, la Marlon Brando in The Godfather, possibly in an attempt to impress a young child.
At others she looks uncannily like a Tweenie. And before you start pounding the page in anger and accusing me of heartless cruelty, I’ll wager you’ve tuned in to Merseybeat to witness the horror for yourself. Or at least snorted in disgust/mirth/pity over the latest Homebase ads. You have, haven’t you? Thought so. Such morbid captivation is understandable.
After all, there’s nothing that’ll set our excitement nodes aflutter faster than the prospect of our favourite celebrities making prize Pritt Sticks of themselves. Especially when vanity is involved. Auntie must be rubbing her mitts with glee over the resulting ratings meltdown.
Anyway, we shouldn’t be haranguing Ash, we should be congratulating her. Anybody/thing that manages to distract us from the shoddiness of this bafflingly popular show is worthy of our undying gratitude. And Ash’s lips lure our attention away from the "action" like a box of puppies.
As ever, Merseybeat is lettuce-limp and predictable as pie. Storylines are wrapped in layers of sly, middle-brow moralising. Most of the actors have been airlifted in from Really Bad Actors’ Island. Worse/stranger still, Ash (as PC Charlie Eden) appears to be on some sort of lone wolf/Chuck Norris-style mission to rid the Merseyside streets of scum.
Last night she had it in for anyone who dared stand between her lips and her role as Merseybeat’s resident ass-busting slag-catcher. "Grow a spine," she spat at an undercover journalist who’d been hiding his investigations from his girlfriend. "Bit late for a conscience," she snapped, pointlessly, at a contrite scientist who’d tried to frame an eco-warrior. Daft as a brush.
Still, we’d best make the most of the fun. Once Ash’s lips return to their normal size, Merseybeat can bid an oversized kiss goodbye to its sole point of interest and get back to its day job. Namely, being constabulary-based telly’s answer to Doctors (ie rubbish).
Shooting Stars has been running for so long it could rename itself Sebastian Coe and lose a by-election. Here we were granted ringside seats as the lunatics took over the asylum. Vic Reeves hid behind a bin Laden mask and sang: "I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts". A visibly tipsy Johnny Vegas thrashed around the studio floor while dressed as a giant turtle.
Meanwhile, panellist Magnus Magnusson, adrift in a sea of surrealism, looked as if he was about to drown. "I’m so banjaxxed by the whole thing," he said sadly, "I’ve gone into neutral". Though ringmasters Vic’n’Bob’s brand of super-smart puerility may have been shunted into the junior league by a rash of recent, more substantial hits, Shooting Stars is still one of the few comedies worthy of our hard-fought time.
Mind you, it’s not as if they’ve muchcompetition at the moment. The Office has ceased trading, Alan Partridge is on a one-way trip to obsolescence and Chris Morris is probably holed up in a shed somewhere, plotting his latest satirical TV strike with military precision. When the cats are away, what else can we do but watch the mice play?