Aidan Smith's TV reviews: One Day (Netflix), Billy Connolly Does ... (Gold), Curb Your Enthusiasm (Sky Comedy/Now), Reindeer Mafia (C4)
I mean, they can’t have kids. Or real jobs. Or weekends dictated by the optimum moment for visiting a freshly restocked Aldi.
I don’t think One Day would call itself impossibly cool, but that’s OK. Five million read and loved the novel by David Nicholls and just about everyone was disappointed by the movie. Apparently. For I come to Netflix’s version ignorant of both, but am well qualified to answer this question – what have they done to my city?
Firstly, is it really Edinburgh? A party is in full swing, but the revellers look like the Bullingdon Club (Junior Section) on Tour. No one really dances like this unless on screen – arms twirling, pre-Raphaelite hair flying. Are they any Scots here at all? Oh, it’s an Edinburgh Uni bash, celebrating graduation day. A young man is comatose on the cobbles. He’s called Callum and so is probably Scottish. Over the urgent beat of S’Express, one would-be master of the universe makes a plan with another: “See you in London, yah?”
But very quickly I can put aside my chippy class prejudices and enjoy the romcom of Emma and Dexter, opposites attracted to each other on July 15, 1988, with each episode checking in on them, same day every year. Don’t tell me if they end up living happily ever after, all you know-it-all, see-it-alls, I want to find out for myself.
Emma has swotted to First-Class Hons and calls Dexter “2.2 Boy”. She’s awkward in her own skin while he luxuriates in his. She wants to change the world while he wants to cavort in it on an ever-recurring gap year.
“What do you want to be when you’re 40?” she asks. He says: “Am I allowed to say rich?” She predicts his life by that stage: “Riding round Kensington or Chelsea in a tiny sports car, hiding a little paunch under the steering wheel, wind blowing through your widow’s peak, on your third marriage or maybe fourth, her with her 200 shiny white teeth and thick as mince.” Perhaps not surprising, they don’t shag on their first night together. But he says: “Not having sex with you is highly memorable.”
Do we know these two? At first I can’t quite place them, but then, ah yes, Ambika Mod was the junior doctor who sunk under pressure in This Is Going to Hurt and Leo Woodall was in The White Lotus as a more sinister young Romeo. Now as the leads they’re every bit as winsome as Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal in Normal People, TV’s last great burst of young love. There are slight similarities: in both, the girls are super-bright, the boys super-popular. Normal People, with its pained silences, was right for lockdown, but I’m enjoying the sarky humour in One Year, most of it coming from Emma’s spiky tongue.
In the second episode she has a hilariously horrible time performing agitprop theatre to bored schoolkids in Wolverhampton. There are fumblings in the back of a van with the director, though here she must do the directing (Him, rummaging: “Left … or stage left? Her, exasperated: “Just left!”). Meanwhile Dexter’s in Rome indulging in another bout of athletic bonking. Mummy doesn’t approve of his “silly sexpots” and admires Emma’s ballsiness: “She came to dinner, got drunk, shouted about the miners’ strike and called your father a bourgeois fascist.” Oh, and Edinburgh is gorgeous but, pre-Golden Turd and the decline of Princes Street, when has it ever not been?
I wonder what the Big Yin would make of the portrayal of Scotland’s capital in One Day, sun-dappled throughout. In the new series of Billy Connolly Does … (Gold), the world’s greatest stand-up muses on our weather normally. How it’s so cold most of us are conceived with our parents fully-clothed. How it’s so windy children on shopping trips have to be lashed together with rope. And how it’s so wet there isn’t a single family which doesn’t possess a holiday photo of everyone in raincoats. “It makes you come over all patriotic and Sir Walter Scottish,” Connolly chortles.
The format is simple – classic clips teed up by reminiscence of a wonderful life, the theme for the opener being “Scottish Pride”. He snorts at the professional Scotsman and all the tartanalia. In his day anyone wearing the plaid would be taunted with “Kiltie, kiltie, cauld bum”. And what about those daft heedrum-hodrum songs? “‘March through the purple heather’? You’d break your nose!”
The young pre-comedy Connolly had pride in the Clyde and of being a welder in the shipyards. Bet you didn’t know that a ship is only a ship when it’s 500 yards down the slipway and tied up in the water. Until then it’s just a boat. Connolly stresses he would never have become a comic if not first a welder. The yard and his culture inspired him to dream. “Working-class folk began to think ‘I can be an actor, I can be a poet, I can be whatever the hell I like’.” Who needed university?
The union firebrand and organiser of the famous “work-in” was a big influence. “It was Jimmy Reid who got me on the Parkinson show.” Then from a shelf of photographs Connolly produces a fantastic representation of his drookit homeland. Kilt and purple heather-free, it’s half a dozen guys who succeeded in becoming whatever the hell they liked: himself, Reid, Frankie Miller, Alex Harvey and the Average White Band’s Hamish Stuart, who once had the biggest hair in all Caledonia. “Scotland rocks – it always did!” While Connolly battles Parkinson’s, I don’t know how many more of these programmes we’ll get to see, but they’re to be cherished.
Cherish Curb Your Enthusiasm (Sky Comedy/Now), too, because this 12th series will be the last. While Connolly is a tall, white-haired man who finds humour in anything, Larry David is a tall, white-haired man who finds eye-popping enragement in everything. At least he does in this show. You hope, for the sake of his blood pressure, that in real life he could shrug off Siri’s mishearing, crashingly dull party small-talk and his spectacles being stretched by a woman’s massive noggin. Though a white South African businessman who goes around saying he’s “from Africa” – that deserves to be called out.
There’s somewhere colder than Connolly’s Scotland – the Lapland setting for Reindeer Mafia (Channel 4), a family power-struggle drama like Succession with scenes of blacked-out SUVs and choppers purposefully on the move although mostly it’s snowmobiles.
There’s a reindeer herding co-operative, reindeer bolognese is a popular dish and reindeers figure in possibly the crummiest tourism initiative ever featured on TV. There are bigger concerns, and they get even bigger with the death of the matriarch, prompting the figure closest to Brian Cox’s Logan Roy to force some unfortunate to strip naked in the tundra in the dead of night. I can’t watch everything, but want more of this.
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