Aidan Smith's TV review: The 80s: Music's Greatest Decade? (BBC2), The Outlaws (BBC1), Stath Lets Flats (Channel 4)
I pity the youth of today, with fewer pop groups to get tribal about.
Now it’s pretty much all solo artists, each hoping to become as successful as Ed Sheeran, lord of his own manor with pub, pond and private chapel. But before we go any further, let’s be clear – my favourite band were better than your favourite band.
Such competitive squabbling kept our school common-room entertained during the 1970s and here’s something else: my decade was better than your decade for boasting punk, progressive, glam, disco, singer-songwriter and reggae.
I always feel especially sorry for anyone who tries to fly a flag for the 1980s and these misbegotten souls include the wife and Dylan Jones.
In the first of Jones’s four-part treatise The 80s: Music’s Greatest Decade? (BBC2), my better half is soon jumping round our parlour to Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life”. “The first album I ever bought,” she confirms.
Me, I’m listening to that band’s Jazzie B assert about the period under review that “creativity streamed out of every orifice” and I’m thinking, bet I know which orifice gave up Spandau Ballet.
Few musical movements of any era have been sillier than New Romantic and no combo of that ilk were sillier than Spandau. Or more deluded.
They were the houseband at Blitz, the London club that spawned the movement, and their guitarist Gary Kemp insists: “It was the bravery of young kids to look as outrageous as we did.”
Hang on, though, Gaz – your singer wore a Fair Isle jumper. And your keyboard player sported a kilt.
Don’t you remember how David Bowie and Roxy Music fans dared to dress in the much more unforgiving ‘70s? Bryan Ferry would remark the further into the macho north Roxy toured, the more outre the crowd’s outfits became, and the more eyeliner would be daubed on the boys in the front row.
Let’s be honest, the ‘80s were terrible. It was a time when you came home from work and put on a suit to visit a wine bar, then onto a club like the Opposite Lock in Edinburgh where every record featured a drum machine and the Spands rhymed “diplomat” with “laundromat”.
Still, though, this programme continues along its fatuous path – Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” was a “magnum opus”. Sorry?
Bowie’s big ‘80s hit, ‘Let’s Dance’, was “avant garde”. Really? This was when video killed the radio star.
“Everything about MTV was revolutionary,” trumpets Jones. Well, until everything became repetitive, with all bands seeming to perform their shrill and blousy choons in industrial wind-tunnels.
Flaunting a hairstyle and cheekbones suggestive of having spent too long in a wind-tunnel, Christopher Walken makes his British TV debut in The Outlaws (BBC1), the new comedy from Stephen Merchant.
Actually a comedy-thriller, that tricky balancing act that doesn’t always succeed, being neither fish nor fowl, Cheech nor Chong. This one gets off to a great start, though, with the best shoplifter chase since Trainspotting.
The choreyer – you know, from chorey, I’m claiming a Scotsman first – is Rani, a brainy A-level student destined for Oxford, but rebelling against her suffocating, hot-housed upbringing.
She’s sentenced to community service and joins a motley crew of offenders, including Merchant himself as gawky, gormless Greg who’s going through a divorce and Walken as Frank.
Walken has often been characterised as a Hollywood loose cannon, a description also applied to Alec Baldwin down the years, but which now needs to be retired.
Frank is obviously not a dangerous criminal, given he’s been handed a red bib and brush to clear derelict scrub for a new community centre like everyone else, but the man playing him couldn’t not look unhinged if he tried.
He gives us the full Walken every time, inquiring with that zombie stare we know and love: “What’s the agenda, Brenda?” Of course, no-one here is called Brenda.
Frank is trying to make up with his daughter who reminds her little girl: “Grandpa is a lying, thieving, selfish old bastard.”
Christian, another doing payback, is struggling to keep his sister out of the clutches of the gang ruling their estate. The back-stories are necessary because there’s only so much plot that can be mined from the actual site-clearing although Merchant and co-writer Elgin James, packing in gags about Ed Sheeran, Michael McIntyre and Daily Mail-fuelled woke outrage, do their best.
One of my favourite comedies, Stath Lets Flats (Channel 4), returns for a third series bearing a couple of Baftas, but with no discernible on-screen upgrade for the eponymous hero, played by Jamie Demetriou, who’s lost his office as North London’s most dim-witted estate agent and is forced to work out of his dad’s house with the old man fiercely frying fish in the corner.
Still, Stath is going to be a father. How excited is he?
“A hundred, hundred, hundred” would cover it for TV’s pre-eminent word-mangler right now.
Being Greek-Cypriot, but also being a berk, he gets a lot wrong. There will be a “middling wife”. Boy or girl, he’s not bothered, only that the baby is “health and safety”.
And despite his obvious shortcomings, he reassures the boss with whom he had a one-night-stand: “I will do something pleasant one week in our child’s life, I swear man.”
Then the great day arrives – it’s a girl. To new mum Carol: “Can I come toward you a small amount? Can I give her some information or a sentence from me?”
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