Aidan Smith's TV week: Man vs Bee (Netflix), Suspect (Channel 4), McDonald & Dodds (ITV)

Excruciating - but in a good way. Unwatchable - the best kind. Rowan Atkinson’s new comedy will have you gnawing at the furniture but, like me, you might then find yourself Googling “Notable battles in the year 1513”.
Rowan Atkinson as Trevor Bingley PA Photo/NetflixRowan Atkinson as Trevor Bingley PA Photo/Netflix
Rowan Atkinson as Trevor Bingley PA Photo/Netflix

One such holds the key to the security system of the modernist mansion where Atkinson’s character Trevor Bingley is the housesitter. The battle’s got a silly name which might be made up but, all the same, I want to help Trevor who’s a bit of a berk although not quite on the Mr Bean scale.

The owners of the house rush through the instructions he will need - and you just know he won’t remember them all. True, they’re in the manual but Trev will soon set this on fire while trying to heat up soup.

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Obviously if I find the battle there will be no point shouting it at the screen because he wouldn’t hear me. Man vs Bee (Netflix) is not a live, interactive red-button show; it’s already been made. But this is how Atkinson can tie you in knots. You don’t want him to damage the Kandinsky mobile and the E-type Jaguar - first one ever produced, worth £3 million - but fear that he might.

Tala Gouveia and Jason Watkins as McDonald & DoddsTala Gouveia and Jason Watkins as McDonald & Dodds
Tala Gouveia and Jason Watkins as McDonald & Dodds

Atkinson likes unusual if not downright silly names. The couple leaving their Cubist superhome in Trevor’s care are called Kolstad-Burgenbatten. Long before Bean, Atkinson had an Edinburgh Festival Fringe sketch which consisted of a headmaster taking the morning register at an obviously eccentric school and I can still remember some of it: “Bland, Dint, Ellsworth-Beast Major, Ellsworth-Beast Minor, Loudhailer, Nancy-Boy Potter, Undermanager, Zob … ”

But it is Bean with which there will be most comparisons here. Man vs Bee exploits the star’s rubber features; it would be a dereliction of duty not to do so. But Bean, as Atkinson remarked the other day, was a “self-centered narcissistic anarchist”, while Trev means well, is not always picking fights with inanimate objects and some living ones, and doesn’t really bear the bee of the title any ill-will, if only it would stop causing him to smash the priceless artworks.

The big joke here concerns first-world problems. Being rich enough to afford to have your house professionally looked after is, for the rest of us, an extravagance and an indulgence. What a shame when it all goes wrong. Then there’s the house itself. It will call itself a smarthome but if honours in astrophysics are required to get in the front door is that not quite stupid?

I’m starting to wonder if James Nesbitt might be getting nostalgic for those blissful romcom days when, as he admitted at the time, acting was easy and just about all that was required of him was some of that bejusus blarney delivered with a bemused expression. Now it seems he only ever gets to play hard-bitten cops or anguished parents who’ve lost a child. Or in the case of Suspect (Channel 4), a hard-bitten cop who’s also an anguished parent who’s lost a child.

James Nesbitt in SuspectJames Nesbitt in Suspect
James Nesbitt in Suspect

Anyway, fair play to the man for attempting to stretch out. If Atkinson is still utilising his famously flaring nostrils, this crime drama allows Nesbitt absolutely no scope for the trademark smirk which was a touchstone of 547 series of Cold Feet.

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He’s Det Sgt Danny Frater who, on his missing-person rounds, lifts up a sheet in a mortuary and discovers his own daughter. Danny hadn’t seen Christina in a long while, having been shocked to find her in bed with another girl and thrown her out.

Suicide, says the pathologist (Joely Richardson), but Danny suspects murder. Each half-hour episode is a two-hander as he pieces together a picture of a wild, sad life involving drugs and prostitution.

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Danny’s interrogations of Christina’s wife, the boss of a lap-dancing bar, a cop-turned-mobster, a dodgy fellow officer and others are very stagey and often stilted. I long for these head-to-heads to leave their claustrophobic surroundings and it’s a relief when Danny drives like a maniac up and down a multi-storey car park to shake info from the bent cop. Though I never see the big reveal coming, Suspect is almost too glum. And while his character has virtually nothing to smile about, I’m longing for Nesbitt’s lip to curl fetchingly upwards, as it once did every two minutes, and never thought I’d admit that.

If, regarding the light/shade balance for crime drama, Suspect has too much of the latter then McDonald & Dodds (ITV) errs heavily on the side of the former. It always seems to be sunny in Bath, where the show is set, and because it’s broadcast pre-watershed there’s none of that horrible violence. This is televised Cluedo: handguns are called revolvers and lead piping is usually seen in its traditional role.

I bet “Belvedere” still has lead piping. This is the grand old house over which there’s much squabbling in the show’s return. Before then, someone is murdered but it’s a very McDonald & Dodds death: “slow, happy and painless” leaving the victim with a smile on her face following a sook on a vaping pen containing extract from a rare and clearly treacherous plant brought back from an expedition to the Brazilian interior.

Alan Davies as a professor of linguistics is the guest star but cannot outshine Jason Watkins as Dodds, no slouch at accents himself and - despite the anorak and spectacles on a string - the odd dramatic arrest on the run. Well, as dramatic as the cosy programme will allow.



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