THIS is the year that Scotland decides her destiny: 2014 will put the “och” into “epoch-making”.
Two Doors Down
BBC1, Hogmanay, 9pm
Birds Of A Feather
STV, Thursday, 8.30pm
BBC1, New Year’s Day, 9pm
So was there a political edge to scheduling the rambunctious, booze-soaked Two Doors Down on the national network during New Year’s Eve primetime? Viewers in the rest of the UK might have their suspicions or preconceptions about what happens at a traditional Scottish Hogmanay house party – underage drinking, sexual promiscuity, almost aggressive sentimentality, the single-minded pursuit of steak pie – and this one-off comedy reinforced and celebrated the best and worst of them.
With a conspiracy bunnet on, you could point to Alex Norton and Arabella Weir’s harried hosts being called “the Bairds” and infer that this was intended as a tongue-in-cheek reflection of modern Scotland, bared for all to see. The guest list included middle-class neighbours obsessed with designer labels, a young returning soldier and a Scandinavian couple who looked a lot more attractive than everyone else, but were also a lot duller. In truth, any search for political subtext was overshadowed by the combination of Royle Family-style domestic comedy and rapidly escalating farce. Weir’s brilliantly sustained accent, one of the best Kirsty Wark impressions I’ve ever heard, was just the maraschino cherry on top.
The younger generation of Scottish acting talent was well represented by My Mad Fat Diary’s Sharon Rooney and Greg McHugh, the hardest-working man in sitcom-land. It was also good to see Jonathan Watson smoothly integrate himself into an ensemble, even if his malt-obsessed golf club bore veered into caricature. The showiest role, though, went to Daniela Nardini as the predatory Aunt Caroline back up from “that London”. A blowsy vision in LBD and heels, Caroline’s single-minded pursuit of hunky Thor-alike Henning culminated in a memorable gazebo disaster. For fans of This Life, Caroline felt like an alternate-universe version of Anna after almost two decades of questionable life choices.
Talking of alternate universes, it was a little discombobulating to see Birds Of A Feather back on our screens after 15 years, albeit transposed from the BBC to ITV. Essex sisters Sharon (Pauline Quirke) and Tracey (Linda Robson) were initially estranged, while maneater Dorien (Lesley Joseph) had hit the big time by writing a 50 Shades-style bonkbuster under the nom de plume “Foxy Cohen”. After a series of unfortunate events, they were all reunited under the same roof by the end of the first episode, a housing situation complicated by Sharon’s teenage son Travis (played, rather confusingly, by Pauline Quirke’s real-life offspring Charlie Quirke) and the late arrival of another sibling, Garth (former Busted heartthrob Matt Willis), with his new Aussie partner and a kid in tow.
Stuffing all these bodies into one Chigwell house is a smart sitcom move, although past masters Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran didn’t need proximity and antagonism to craft gags, firing them out willy-nilly from the off. With pointed jabs at Cameron and Osborne, it made me wonder: did the show used to be so politically minded? In performance terms, Robson, Quirke and Joseph had the benefit of a recent theatre tour warm-up, so it seemed very much like busybody-ness as usual. As yet, there have been no references to The Only Way Is Essex, but surely it’s only a matter of time.
I like Derren Brown. You probably like Derren Brown. But it seems Steven Moffat really likes Derren Brown. The dapper fakir and expert mesmeriser got a namecheck in Moffat’s 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who, deployed as a Unit cover story for the Tardis being airlifted into Trafalgar Square. And in the long-awaited return of Sherlock, Brown appeared as himself – sort of – in one of many attempts to explain how Holmes successfully faked his own death at the end of series two.
This modern reimagining of Sherlock, from the minds of Moffat and Mark Gatiss, has always been self-satisfied: forget the Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman team-up in The Desolation Of Smaug, this is the definition of smug. Everyone involved is talented, of course, and it rattles along with a breezy confidence that is lacking in the majority of UK drama. But it’s got to the stage where I prefer Elementary, the US modern-day version starring Jonny Lee Miller, not because it’s better but simply because it shuts up and gets on with it. There have been 36 Elementary episodes since 2012, with more to come. Moffat and Gatiss have only managed nine Sherlocks since 2010: more reductive than deductive.
Born To Be Wild
BBC4, Friday, 9pm
Get your motor running and head out on the highway for this BBC4 music documentary series. The three-parter traces the rise of American rock from the 1960s to the 1990s, and features talking heads Alice Cooper, Tom Petty and the MC5’s Wayne Kramer.
The Bletchley Circle
STV, Monday, 9pm
More 1950s mystery-solving, albeit it by women who honed their skills breaking Nazi codes in the Second World War. Anna Maxwell Martin, Rachael Stirling, Sophie Rundle and Julie Graham return to try and exonerate a former colleague who faces the noose.
BBC1, Monday-Friday, 2.15pm
Mark Williams was excellent as the cassock-wearing amateur sleuth in the first series of Father Brown, which carefully lifted the beloved character from GK Chesterton’s stories and placed him in a beautiful Cotswolds village in the 1950s. This second ten-part series promises to be just as good.
• Aidan Smith is away. Graeme Virtue reviews TV on Radio Scotland’s MacAulay And Co every Wednesday morning