He was the Soviet Union’s coming man but how many could have predicted he’d soon have helped bring about an end to the nuclear sabre-rattling? Certainly no one knew that glasnost and perestroika would eventually produce Gold Diggers (Channel 4).
If I had somehow been struck by a blinding shaft of foresight I’d like to think I would have waved him off with these words: “Thank you in advance, President-Elect Gorby, this crime drama is 190-proof, white gold super-schlock! It will explain oligarchs and their cravings for ridiculous yachts, expensive London real estate and famous football clubs. Although one thing will bother me: exactly who is doing what to whom?”
The women in my new favourite guilty pleasure – let’s call it glitznost – all look like they’ve walked off Roxy Music album sleeves. The men answer to Boris and Igor and despite the masterful-sounding names - not the kind you’d give to, say, a head of state who, when his “Freedom Day” finally arrives, is required to lock himself away - but quite a few of them are at the mercy of their beautifully bored wives.
The original Russian title of Gold Diggers is Soderzhanki, meaning The Kept Women, although Igor can shower his better half with diamonds and she will still seek hanki-panki with one less plump and balding. “Arse like a nut,” Marina remarks of her lover. “If only Igor had an arse like that … he’s just got a bum.”
The state of Boris’s arse is not discussed but even detective Lena is at it, instructing her husband to check their son’s homework while she and a colleague test the suspension in the back seat of their police-issue car. The vehicle, by the way, doesn’t seem much of an advance from the Lada. So much for glasnost.
By the end of the first episode divorce papers are being served on another of the women for whom Freedom Day seems to happen most afternoons, although at least she gets to face the music while still breathing. I think her bit on the side is the same Mr Nut Arse. For the good of Scottish-Russian relations I will watch more, try to confirm and report back.
Now for a programme about a too-clever-for-his-own-good sociopath and borderline weirdo. No, not Dominic Cummings: The Interview (BBC2) but Professor T, ITV’s new Sunday-night sleuth.
Ben Miller is Prof Jasper Tempest, a criminology lecturer at Cambridge Uni who, when asked to help with a case on campus, tells the cops: “My interest in crime is purely academic. I do not like to get my hands dirty.”
He means this to the extent he hand-sanitises the surgical gloves worn during lectures. He’s got a funny, robot-like way of walking and often stops by a house with a “For sale” sign. This, we quickly deduce, is the old family home and even before ITV’s resident poignancy pianist begins his refrain, it’s obvious that once upon a time this was where A Bad Thing Happened.
The event may explain Tempest’s oddness and those moments when he compares his unresponsive students to “a battery farm of gutless chickens” and, suddenly, that’s how they appear on the screen.
Now, I’m all for Pythonesque surrealism but only when immediately followed by more Pythonesque surrealism - for instance, a dead parrot then a comfy chair then a silly walk. But this is drama, not comedy, and the chickens - and the tango-ing on rooftops - jar while a serial rapist is stalking the dorms.
The prof eventually joins the hunt and maybe this show thinks it’s Twin Peaks. And possibly it believes it can ride out these jarring juxtapositions - only for the poignancy pianist to return with more of his infernal plinky-plink. A shame, because I want to like this show more. When the students complain to the principal about the chicken jibe I’m shouting: “Bunch of snowflakes!”
The prof has a brilliant analytical mind because it can be coldly detached but this causes him to be pretty much hopeless at everything else. The same could be said for Baptiste, who returns to BBC1 in the same timeslot. Maybe these two will battle it out until someone’s head explodes, or we shout: “Too clever! No one could have worked that out so quickly!” But then I suppose no one expected the Spanish Inquisition either.
The spin-off from The Missing finds our hangdog hero Julien Baptiste (Tcheky Karyo) back in the eurozone and searching for more lost souls - this time the husband and sons of the British ambassador to Hungary, played by Fiona Shaw.
As Emma Chambers, Shaw has borrowed some of the wardrobe and upper-middleclass hauteur of her spymaster in Killing Eve, but I’m sure Baptiste spotted this before me. He doesn’t miss anything, working out right away that a guest at his hotel is having an affair with the nanny. Too clever!
Both Professor T and Baptiste feature tattooed suspects and chases lost by unfit crimebusters but the latter is the superior work. We’ll find out eventually how Chambers ends up in a wheelchair and her detective who isn’t a detective, just like the prof, resembles a down-and-out. And what do you say to a theory of my own: that they’ll end up getting together?