EARLY on in Mad Men I couldn’t get On The Buses out of my mind. Nothing to do with the obvious physical similarities between Jon Hamm and Reg Varney – same brilliantined black hair and, er, that’s it – this was about “feature-length”.
Sky Atlantic, Wednesday, 10pm
24 Hours In A&E
Channel 4, Wednesday, 9pm
The Security Men
STV, Friday, 9pm
In the 1970s, popular TV shows were expanded for cinema audiences, and the plots often involved the main characters going on holiday. Whatever charm On The Buses possessed was dissipated by the sight of Reg wearing a knotted hankie on his head and the longer format, when everything got flabby and silly. Don Draper (Hamm) vacationing in Hawaii was a bit like that.
“What are you doing, man?” I was shouting at the screen. “You don’t do sunbathing! You don’t do smiling tolerantly at local customs! And why are you letting your wife perform another exhibition of snaky dancing?” The sixth season of Mad Men looked like it was cruising. Rather than being artfully written (by show creator Matthew Weiner), the opener gave the impression it had glooped out of some whizz-bang new labour-saving kitchen appliance of the kind always in need of a zippy slogan from the advertising creatives. Thankfully, this only lasted until the first break.
After that, Don got back to the office. Peggy, in another office, showed once again why she’s the new Don, Adland’s most brilliant mind. Sally showed once again why she’s going to be such a massive player come season seven. It was Christmas, so Henry wore a festive jumper more offensive even than Colin Firth’s in Bridget Jones. Despite or because of the criminal pullover, Betty was experimenting with filthy talk in the bedroom. Roger was wisecracking through his therapy session, through news of his mother’s death, through her funeral, through Don throwing up at the funeral. Joan was posing in various office locations for a business mag (the woman could perch on a photocopier and still look fantastic), and then it was Don’s turn. “I want to see you lost in confident thought,” said the snapper. He can still do that but he’s becoming just as accomplished at non-confident thought. “Does it make you think ‘suicide’?” he asked a colleague, after a client had rejected his campaign idea. I don’t think I’ve seen him question his own judgment before.
I don’t think I’ve seen Roger in a blazer before and I know I’ve never seen him cry before. Mad Men’s top men are losing their grip as the women grow stronger. Megan, in her soap opera, has graduated to pushing people down stairs. Mad Men’s title sequence hints at the guys eventually tumbling from a great height. Which woman will do the pushing? Even the teens seem capable with Sally’s chum denouncing the man-pleasing concept of the Playtex girdle (memorable 1960s ads continue to resonate here). Still, at least Don’s discovered male friendship in the meantime. Or that was what I thought until the final scene, when TV’s most divisive character – and in the week of Maggie Thatcher’s death, divisiveness was everywhere – shagged his neighbour’s wife.
Should fly-on-the-wall shows about hospitals by re-classified as fly-in-the-ointment? Just a thought. There are so many now it’s easy to be blasé and go-on-impress-me, but I’m always impressed by 24 Hours In A&E. At the start of the third series, a doc declared: “I never cease to be amazed at the robustness of human beings and the strength of their relationships. Love is a reflex; it’s what we do.”
The first day covered produced two incredible stories. Suzanne didn’t have a name until the emergency team at King’s College Hospital, London, operated on a life-threatening swelling on her brain. In a shockingly random attack captured on CCTV, she’d been punched by a mugger. “I cried the whole flight,” said her sister, who’d rushed from the Czech Republic. It seemed Suzanne wouldn’t recover, but she did, thanking the passerby who saved her life, a lesson for all who simply walk on.
Frank’s story didn’t promise to be incredible; just a 90-year-old fella who’d had a tumble. Then he told us about the circus. He didn’t understand how he couldn’t get up from his fall as he’d once been able to lift a horse. As a kid, a new town every week meant a new school – “300 all told; didn’t do me any harm.”
While drips were inserted, he phoned his wife Miriam, the passive half of the knife-throwing act, to say he’d be home soon. He was, only to see her pass away. “We met and married in three months,” he said. “It lasted 65 years. We did all right.”
Caroline Aherne’s comedy return The Security Men was On The Buses: The Movie right from the start, being a half-hour sitcom unwisely stretched to double the length. Still, it found room for Bobby Ball.
PICK OF THE WEEK Brushing Up On ...
BBC4, Thursday, 8.30pm
Fresh from his excellent series burrowing into the record collections of fellow musos, Danny Baker investigates tunnels in all their forms, sifting through archive footage for Chunnel pioneers, sewer aficionados, lunatic pot-holers and hard-hatted local news presenters venturing underground boldly. Oh, and miners. “Perhaps I should offer a note of explanation to viewers under 30,” says Baker. “What you’re watching is British industry at work. We used to have all sorts: docks, steel, coal, cars. These were what we called proper jobs. The next time you speak to your Team Leader for Office Social Media Fusion Strategy Going Forward, you might remind him of that.” Funniest moment might be when he feels unqualified to comment on the homoerotic subtext and a gay pal confirms: “This is hot!”
BBC2, Wednesday, 8pm
Like schoolkids bringing in toys on the last day of term, the presenters indulge their passions in this edition, which for Nicholas Crane means Skye and the Cioch, the fearsome spear of rock featured in the sword-fight in Highlander. The ascent will be done in Victorian clobber and his co-climber delivers this stern warning in tweeds: “Fall off one side and I go off the other.”
Sky1, Friday, 8.30pm
The resumption of season four for Modern Family, still managing with effortlessly brilliant ease to avoid any similarities with My Family. As paterfamilias, Jay often takes a back seat, but still delivers the funniest lines. Here, trying to be remember what it’s like to be dad to a newborn this late in life, he grumps: “He’s been alive a month. How hard is it to support your own head?”