EVERYTHING old comes round again – at least on ITV, where recent problems (chiefly the Simon Cowell juggernaut beginning to run down) mean they’re going back to the past.
Tomorrow, STV, 6:45pm
The Security Men
Friday, STV, 9pm
Wednesday, Sky Atlantic, 10pm
Any past. In drama there’s Downton Abbey, obviously, and the interminable Mr Selfridge. The Big Reunion brought us washed-up ’90s pop groups, tipped out of the dumper to plaster-over differences and strain ageing hips through old dance routines. In Ant & Dec’s Saturday Takeaway, they have the Tesco Value Morecambe & Wise presenting a variation on The Generation Game. And now it’s back to the 80s week.
First, there’s the return of Catchphrase, the game show which throughout that decade united the nation in occasionally happening across it when there was nothing else on (it was also revived a few times in the 2000s, but no one apart from Wikipedia compilers remembers that). It wasn’t the one where you won a bin for failing to solve baffling riddles set by variety acts: that was 3-2-1. And it wasn’t the one where you guessed the arbitrary prices assigned to consumer goods while everyone shrieked: that was The Price Is Right. It wasn’t even the one with Les Dennis: that was Family Fortunes, which ITV has already revived. No, it was the one where contestants attempted to identify common phrases represented by simple animated illustrations. “Say what you see” was its mantra, in an almost profound invocation of the existentialist doctrine of phenomenology, or something. A clip in which a partially-revealed cartoon robot seemed to be doing something disturbing frequently turns up on TV’s Naughtiest Blunders.
“I know what you’re thinking: is he still with us?” beams chirpy new host Stephen Mulhearn. Roy Walker, the original presenter, who perfected the art of sympathising with people no matter how stupid their guesses were? No, it’s good, but it’s not right: he means Mr Chips, the cartoon robot, who is indeed still appearing in the animated clues which are now computer-generated. That’s about the only modernisation, other than an on-screen hashtag urging us to Tweet about the show.
The ultimate desirable prize is still a cruise. The contestants are still guilelessly enthusiastic and slightly wacky: Hazel comes from Essex (woooh! cry the crowd), James displays his huge Fulham tattoo and Sophia once held the world record for the longest kiss (31 hours: no, I don’t know how either). They still make odd, desperate guesses: “Money makes the world spin around?” “Let sleeping pigs lie?” at which Mulhearn makes exasperated faces. Of course that’s the point: yelling at the dopes, or perhaps posting “LOL can’t believe they didn’t get that, so obvious!!! #Fail #Catchphrase”. Maybe it’s not so far from Simon Cowell’s shows after all.
Ah well, each to their own. I only ask one thing: please don’t bring back 3-2-1. Just, please don’t.
The Security Men is not a revival, being a new one-off comedy written by Caroline Aherne and Jeff Pope (who together wrote The Fattest Man In Britain). But it does star Bobby Ball – of Cannon & fame – continuing his unlikely career renaissance after turns in Mount Pleasant, Last Of The Summer Wine and Not Going Out. And the thing is, Bobby Ball is still basically doing the same act as he did with Tommy Cannon every Saturday on ITV in the 80s. OK, not the bit where he pinged his braces and yelled, “Rock on Tommy!” but the naughty boy stuff is basically unchanged. He even, alarmingly, does the moonwalk at one point.
Here he plays one of four security men who are nominally guarding a shopping centre which – further compounding the sense of déjà vu – features a Wimpy. Their nights are filled with banter and bets, chiefly on how many cones the jobsworth boss will put out to guard a small liquid spillage on the floor. One night they turn off the alarms and sneak out while he’s on his break, so they can watch a boxing match. Unfortunately, when the alarms go back on, they realise they’ve missed a robbery (not of the Wimpy, but a jewellers). They’re in trouble. “And where,” cries Ball’s character Duckers, “are we going to find another job that’s mostly sleeping?”
Amiable, harmless antics ensue as the team try to cover up their mistake. There’s nothing here that would frighten your great-grandma – not even the running joke about Duckers’ wife posing for nude pictures (“it’s not often you see a 60-year-old woman with piercings”). It also stars Brendan O’Carroll – better known in female garb as Mrs Brown, from the critic-defyingly-successful sitcom Mrs Brown’s Boys, itself an unashamed throwback to the age before alternative comedy. Don’t worry about Tommy Cannon not being here though: he and Ball are still mates and tour churches with a religious show. Really.
Mad Men, returning for series six, is an actual period piece but in its cool, TV-as-art way, feels very contemporary. Unfortunately no previews were available as the episodes now screen promptly after they do in America (Sky’s way of trying to outflank downloaders), but it should be interesting to see if the show can recover from a fifth series which for the first time was not uniformly deliriously received. Don’s second wife Megan’s attempts to become an actress seemed out of place, while the storyline about the magnificent Joan prostituting herself to get the firm a big contract was disturbing. But as the show moves to cover the turbulent late 60s, hopefully it can retain its focus on the shallowness of conformity – and keep displaying some beautiful costumes.
The King’s Speech ****
Tomorrow, Channel 4, 9pm
This patriotic 2010 British blockbuster which won Oscars for best picture, director and actor certainly shows the Queen’s dad in a rosy light for stepping up in wartime and learning how to control his stammer, with help from an Aussie speech therapist.
At heart, though, this is simply a well-made, old-fashioned drama in which it’s impossible not to root for this privileged underdog, thanks to a solid script by David Seidler and sympathetic performances from Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter. Tom Hooper directs.
Today, BBC2, 9:45pm
An excellent, tough-minded adaptation of Shakespeare’s play about a military man who goes into politics but refuses to make nice with the electorate to win votes. Ralph Fiennes directed and plays Coriolanus as a seething general in modern Eastern Europe, unable to settle to life outside war.
Tomorrow, Film4, 9pm
Liam Neeson has a particular set of skills in this kidnap thriller… he’s a botanist. But CIA background aside, this isn’t too dissimilar from his action film breakthrough, Taken, only here it’s his identity that has been suddenly nabbed in Paris, when he wakes from an accident to find no one recognises him – not even his wife. Puzzling thrills ensue.
How To Train Your Dragon
Tomorrow, BBC 3, 8:35pm
Animated fun about a teenage Viking who finds he can communicate with dragons, which leads him into adventures. The CGI flight scenes are impressive.