THE scene-setting first few moments of any new docusoap happen so quickly that you can doubt yourself when, say, you see a boss pass the desk of one of his workers and tweak a nipple.
The Call Centre
BBC3, Tuesday, 9pm
Sky1, Tuesday, 9pm
Love And Marriage
STV, Wednesday, 9pm
But three minutes into The Call Centre, Nev Wilshire did it again, this time to a new recruit who had only just joined and wasn’t singing along to The Killers’ Mr Brightside lustily enough during the first-day motivational team-bonding.
I should say that both workers were male. Female staff at Nev’s Swansea call centre can count on him helping/interfering with their love lives, organising speed-dating nights for their benefit. Mr Brightside would be a good name for Nev, in that he always looks on it. “SWSWSWN,” he tells the just-dumped Kayleigh. “Some will. Some won’t. So what? Next!”
I had high hopes for The Call Centre as an illustration of How Britain Works, given we stopped making things a long time ago, and the first half of the opener was mildly diverting. But phone conversations don’t make for great telly. The first time the cold-called slam down the phone is funny; the 17th time less so. This isn’t shipbuilding so we need the staff to be interesting but, beyond relationship angst and japery you sense is contrived for the cameras, this lot are pretty dull. Apart from Nev, of course, who’s kind of over-interesting.
A millionaire at 28 and bust at 38, he seems to get it at 53. Obs-doc celebrity – yes, an appearance on The One Show – could soon be his. I can’t work out – when he swivels in his chair, sighs at the sheer quality of his gags, quotes Napoleon and declares: “It’s all about people. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart” – whether he’s never seen The Office or studied it too hard, but maybe this doesn’t matter. And, like David Brent ultimately, he loves his team and will only throw things – “Rissole, pen, pastry, sausage-roll, whatever” – if they nod off during his talks and even then he’ll always make sure to aim above their heads.
Mad Dogs has crawled on its hands and knees through various baking hot locations to reach season three. Always being careful not to repeat myself – you know 1970s pop music is the best, right? – I dug out what I said about the second series. Ah yes, dialogue so unmemorable that the notebook stayed virtually blank save for some doodles of lizards. But here’s a funny thing: the latest escapade began with next to no speech and yet I couldn’t stop writing: Max Beesley trapped in a metal bear cage, Marc Warren’s head in a fearsome 1950s sci-fi lie-detector, John Simm locked in a tiled cell, Philip Glenister alone against a desert backdrop looking like he’s in HD and I don’t even have HD! Great camerawork, great locations – how much does this show cost? And am I starting to like it?
Well, the dialogue when it begins is still crummy (“There are no secrets, only hidden troofs”) and obviously it’s getting a bit farcical as they move from the Sahara to South Africa that they still haven’t got back home and keep getting caught up in ludicrous situations involving stolen money, dangerous women, swimming pools, lizards and international bad guys in cream suits. “Who watches Mad Dogs?” asked my wife at one point. Oh you know: lads in search of a stag party although no one they know is getting married. The football season’s over, their summer holidays will be nowhere near as exciting as this and even they think The Hangover Part III is one of the worst films ever.
Love And Marriage is a new comedy-drama on ITV which, in that very ITV way, pinches from other shows. The characters – members of the extended Paradise family – sit on sofas and talk directly to the camera about themselves and their aspirations. You’ll remember this from Modern Family. Very soon, there’s an opportunity for some golden-oldies, grab-it-before-you-end-up-potted-heid romance. You’ll remember this from Last Tango In Halifax. All of this is almost shameless even though Love And Marriage doesn’t actually steal from Shameless. I wouldn’t mind if it brought something new to the busy kitchen table of interwoven laughter-and-tears clan sagas, but I’m not sure it does.
It’s a show of over-enthusiastic pub quizzes, congas starting in the conservatory and continuing right round the garden and christenings with the middle name “Beyoncé”. Alison Steadman is the always-giving matriarch Pauline with a batty father, a husband who barely communicates, a son always borrowing money – and a free-spirit sister who’s acquired almost as many husbands as her house has bedrooms (seven). Thus, when Pauline retires as a school lollipop lady, she decides: “Stuff the lot of you.” She may not be back and neither might I. «