TV reviews: Arch-provocateur Ricky Gervais, Nick Hornby's State of the Union and the 542nd series of Silent Witness

In his Netflix special SuperNature, Ricky Gervais ponders the state of a world gone woke. “I could have my legs removed,” he says, “and replace them with wheels and identify as a pram. And if you were to call me mental then I’d say: ‘You’re a bigot.’”

Do you find this funny? I must admit I do, though possibly not as much as Gervais himself, as he chortles his way through a stand-up turn where the targets are many and varied - gingers, Eskimos, bus drivers, Miranda Hart and the duck-billed platypus.

Platypuses, I don’t think, have mobilised themselves to bite back against such jibes - not like some. Gervais says anything goes in his humour – “AIDS, famine, cancer, the Holocaust, rape, paedophilia” – and they all figure here. “But never joke about the trans issue,” he says.

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So what does he do? Jokes about the trans issue. “Full disclosure,” he says after a few gags, “in real life, of course, I support trans people.” Then more gags. Then the disclaimer: “Remember – irony.”

Brendan Gleeson and Patricia Clarkson argue about the State of The Union

Doomsayers reckon cancel culture will eventually kill comedy. So comedy is going down fighting. “I don’t want to divide the room, but I’m not a fan of racism,” Gervais says. Then: “I don’t want to divide the room, but I’m not a fan of Hitler.” What is it people say if they had access to a time-machine? They’d set the controls for 1930s Germany and kill the Fuhrer? “Liar,” says Gervais. “You’d go back and buy Microsoft shares.”

Jokes are jokes. But some want to believe they’re “actual violence”. It’s virtue signalling. Regarding minorities, Gervais says: “I’m a white heterosexual multi-millionaire. There’s less than 1 per cent of us. Do I whine?”

Gervais makes quite a few references to his wealth and this might be viewed as weakening his case. He’s not really on a crusade because he can afford to be cancelled so he’s simply being comedy’s No. 1 provocateur for a laugh. Well, funny’s still funny.

He doesn’t accept jokes are “a window to a comedian’s true soul” – because he’s not anti-trans, remember, but is satirising self-righteousness, attitudinising and pile-ons. So do we learn anything about the man? Well, the abrasive humour may have been inherited from his mum and brother Bob shares it. He doesn’t believe in “anything supernatural”. He knows he drinks too much, but isn’t afraid of death, not believing in reincarnation either.

Ricky Gervais blasting off in SuperNature

And I reckon he prefers animals to humans, certainly dogs and probably cats too, despite the male of the special having spikes on its penis. Actually, that’s him, isn’t it?

I think Gervais would have a fan in Scott, the grumpy man Brendan Gleeson plays in State of the Union (BBC2). He’s unnerved by the name of his cafe – Mouthfeed sounds like it should be a sex club – and by the two blokes in the corner kissing, by the waitress identifying as non-binary, by the bewildering varieties of coffee, by the fact none of them contain cow’s milk. “Soon,” he moans, “all the smells of my childhood will be gone: gasoline, tobacco, meat, farts.”

You might remember this show from a few years ago – zappy Nick Hornby script, deft performances, all talk no action, all happening in one place, a marital micro-comedy of ten minutes a pop for the time-poor age.

Previously it was Chris O’Dowd and Rosamund Pike in a London pub. Here in an unnamed part of America, Scott knows what he doesn’t like and his wife Ellen (Patricia Clarkson) reels off what he does: golf, fishing, jazz, visiting old battle sites. She does this to illustrate how he’s set in his ways. Then she says: “I think I want a divorce.”

Emilia Fox and Amanda Burton in Silent Witness

There’s counselling above Mouthfeed and at the end of each instalment the couple head upstairs. Scott thinks he knows the score from earlier sessions.

So he’s had an affair. “Affairs,” Ellen reminds him. Anyway, they’ll sort it all out and get back to normal, by which he means more golf. But she’s discovered her spiritual side – meditation and Quaker meetings. “What, you quake?” he asks. She sighs and quotes the poet Mary Oliver at him: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

So far, in three bite-sized chunks of bickering, there seems no hope for Scott. But, with seven more to come, we’re going to learn a whole lot more about him, and the pair of them in happier times, and whatever his past sins, his mild rage at the modern world is funny. When he learns from the right-on waitress the milk is going, she says: “Big dairy.” He says: ‘You can’t just stick ‘big’ in front of everything and make it sound sinister. What next? Big shaving foam, big mustard?”

How long has Silent Witness (BBC1) been going? Does it still star Dame Ellen Terry, pre-eminent actress of the Victorian stage? Don’t be silly. Emilia Fox replaced Amanda Burton who replaced Terry. Well, now she’s back. Not Terry – she died in 1928 – but Burton who returns as Sam Ryan promoting a whizzo health app. Everyone is after our personal data, including it seems bad guys prepared to gun down the health secretary.

At the post-mortem Ryan can’t help taking charge, which annoys Nikki Alexander (Fox). There’s an argument over the “posterior aspect of the abdominal cavity”, which leaves a cavity for a Gervais gag, sadly unfilled.


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