WHO remembers Stella Street? It was the comedy set in a suburban avenue where Michael Caine lived next door to Jack Nicholson who lived next to Jimmy Hill while Mick Jagger and Keith Richard ran the local shop.
Under The Dome - Channel 5, Monday, 10pm
Top Boy - Channel 4, Tuesday, 9pm
The Americans - STV, Saturday, 9.55pm
My favourite character was David Bowie played by Phil Cornwell and I’d almost given up hope of ever again being able to laugh at bad, trapped-in-a-glass-box mime. But then along comes Under The Dome.
This is the Steven Spielberg-exec-produced adaptation of the novel by Stephen King about a small American town which suddenly finds itself locked inside a giant upturned mixing bowl and the recipe seems to be equal quantities of thrills, schlock and pouting, which is fine by me. “Why Chester’s Mill?” said someone early on. Well, it’s the perfect location. Nothing ever happens here. The local sheriff, who answers to the name of Dook, was sleeping in one of his cells when the alarm was raised. “A bang like a car backfiring or a bang like Tommy Anderson finally shot his wife?” was his response. The local councilman doesn’t inspire hope either, being Big Jim the used-car salesman who may have caused the catastrophe by welcoming so many propane trucks.
Who can save the place, given that half of Dook’s polis were elsewhere when the bowl dropped and now can’t get back? I might have said Angie, the comely nurse, but she’s been locked underground – trapped twice over, poor girl – by her jealous psycho-boyfriend after she was spotted talking to the hunky bad-boy currently sleeping in the spare room of the attractive journalist who’s just discovered her husband had been having an affair, not in Chester’s Mill, so he’s cut off, too.
This scoundrel is a doctor so he would have been useful, given that pacemakers keep exploding, but then the bad-boy remembered dumping his body in a shallow grave in the opening scene. The local DJ looks like Lenny Kravitz rather than a hero-in-waiting, though he might be good for a few laughs. Just passing through when the weird forcefield went up was a mother ferrying her daughter to a “camp for screw-ups of rich parents”. All in all they’re rum bunch, or at least they seem that way to me. If you’re a Lost fanatic maybe Under The Dome is routine sci-fi group-jeopardy, but I’m only an occasional visitor to your world, easily impressed by small planes crashing and cows being sliced clean in half and continuing to stand on two hooves like some cheeky Damien Hirst rip-offs. Oh, and I hated Lost.
Another dome loomed in the background at the beginning of the second series of Top Boy. This was the 02, the former Tony Blair folly, which only started to achieve a modicum of credibility when Led Zeppelin agreed to reform there. In the foreground, in a part of London doubtless neglected to pay for the giant recreational plook, polis dug up the skeleton of a drugs-war casualty who last time out wanted to be top boy, but that gig and the designer trainers which come with it went to Dushane (Ashley Walters).
He’s still in charge and Ronan Bennett’s drama is still a tough watch for on the Summerhouse estate drugs still represent not so much glamour to the street urchins as survival. One lad, Michael, made a pick-up for Dushane and was rewarded with a few quid. To impress some bigger boys he treated them to pizzas, one ordering “a large deep-pan pepperoni, garlic bread and a coke”. This was an ordinary fast-food joint, not proper Italian. Price? £19.40. They say London has survived the recession. Pity about that. The first series of Top Boy reminded me of the first series of The Wire. The latter then showed an epic and brilliant sweep, but Top Boy on this evidence is still hanging about the grimy underpasses.
Back to America, back to skew-whiff but hypnotic. The Americans doesn’t look like a classic espionage drama any more than Philip Jennings’ clump of sofa padding looks like a convincing wig. It was strange that the FBI secretary in their lovemaking never touched it far less knocked it off, not even on the wedding night. It was strange, too, that the Feds’ supposed crack agent Stan Beeman never suspected his neighbours of being Russian spies. But the 1980s were strange times – the US, don’t forget, had a cowboy actor for president and not even a good one like Gary Cooper – and I loved every minute of this show. More, please.