TV reviews: Two Doors Down (BBC1), Such Brave Girls (BBC3), Squid Game: The Challenge (Netflix)

What a tough time men have been having recently. Their flint arrowheads, expertly carved, no longer produce gasps from womankind.

When they drag great hairy beasts by the horns back to the cave for the pot, the reaction is: “You’re men, you boast about hunter-gatherer being your destiny, what do you expect – wild cheering, lustful eyes and a stirring hymn of gratitude?” And no one believes this “wheel” they’ve been prototyping will fly, far less trundle through a perfect revolution.

But there’s been a breakthrough. An attempt to claw back some of the ground lost in the sex wars. It’s small, but the identity of the male of the species asserting himself makes it highly significant. At the start of the seventh season of Two Doors Down (BBC1), Colin gets to boss Cathy around.

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OK, not boss, and I’m not suggesting we reinstate the patriarchy, but he requests a chat and she follows him through to the kitchen. This normally never happens, but then she’s got some explaining to do. Like, why did she disappear for all of series six, leaving the team without their star striker?

Lizzie Davidson and Kat Sadler are Such Brave GirlsLizzie Davidson and Kat Sadler are Such Brave Girls
Lizzie Davidson and Kat Sadler are Such Brave Girls

The top tartan comedy wasn’t the same without Doon Mackichan’s Cathy. The actress’s absence was explained by her character having bunked off with an Egyptian realtor, which admittedly was entirely plausible. “We all make mistakes,” she tells the stunned gathering, jaws scudding off the floor while Colin’s quivers behind his wee goatee.

Something else that doesn’t happen – normally everyone’s round at Eric and Beth’s, sponging and mildly abusing and getting comfy for the duration. But this is the home of Colin and the now-returned Cathy, decorated with bunting for his rebound girlfriend Anne-Marie, who never gets there, being dumped by phone.

Cathy, a vision (of sorts) in white, her deep suntan unaffected by not having bothered to visit the pyramids, is disappointed by a distinct lack of grieving over her temporary exit from suburban Glasgow as she catches up with all the news. “Making friends, birthday parties,” she sneers, then, straight at Colin: “Sex with people from Clydebank.”

What a snob. What a vulgarian. What a riot. Cathy can dominate the room with her cackling and her titanic rudeness, but the show is the sum of its parts. It needs the long-suffering Eric and Beth, believers in neighbourliness and community in spite of her, who never say anything funny (though when they reprimand Cathy, we cheer). It couldn’t do without Christine, who Alan Bennett might have created if instead of Yorkshire he was Yorkhill. When complimented on her blouse: “Asda. I got this, a pair of leather gloves and four gammon steaks, all for £12”. And don’t underestimate Alan, a man of few words, but each and every one of them supremely gormless.

Doon Mackichan has returned to Two Doors Down and Jonathan Watson is delighted (honestly)Doon Mackichan has returned to Two Doors Down and Jonathan Watson is delighted (honestly)
Doon Mackichan has returned to Two Doors Down and Jonathan Watson is delighted (honestly)

There’s another remarkable moment in this episode. Cathy, who usually stands impatiently, wine glass in outstretched hand when requiring a refill, volunteers to fetch the bottle. We fans know such caring and sharing to be as rare as the animals whose hides adorn her accessories. Surely it cannot last.

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The show’s return is poignant. Simon Carlyle, one of the writers, died shortly after filming finished, aged just 48. For all the bawdiness, Two Doors Down is quite traditional, as if Carlyle and Gregor Sharp had found Terry and June’s old sofa on a skip and dragged it away to be reupholstered, fitting bouncier springs and a more vibrant fabric. I don’t know where it goes from here, but if this is the end, it looks to be going out on a high.

Such Brave Girls (BBC3) on the other hand is just starting out. I’m not sure of its chances of lasting seven seasons, but that’s nothing to do with the quality of the jokes and everything to do with how dark they are.

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The main theme seems to be mental health. Anxiety and depression are well covered. Oh and suicidal thoughts figure, too. Once or twice – no, many times – I’m thinking “should I be laughing at any of this?” So I snigger away quietly. I think this is what I’m meant to do. Writer Kat Sadler displays no sentimentality whatsoever, so in her boldness probably isn’t expecting any from us.

Squid Game returns as a game showSquid Game returns as a game show
Squid Game returns as a game show

That doesn’t mean she’s not empathetic to the issues. She must be, given her comedy has its origins in a phone catch-up during lockdown with her sister, Lizzie Davidson, when she revealed she’d been sectioned after attempting to end her life. Davidson responded by confessing she’d managed to amass £20,000 worth of debt. So Sadler set about mining these depths of despair for humour.

Sadler plays Josie, who early on is warned by her mum Deb that if she’s about to have another of her “bloody episodes” she should try not to drag everyone else into her “vortex of misery”. That reads terrible, right? In the show, though, it’s funny because in the car with them is Josie’s sister Billie (Davidson), who’s dressed as a witch with a green-painted face having just finished her shift at a soft play centre.

Billie could be heading for her own vortex after she spots her boyfriend snogging another girl in a bus shelter. Instead, she doesn’t get mad, she gets blonde like her love rival, only the dye procedure that involved simmering heat underneath a plastic bag leaves her with “ASDA” imprinted upside down on the back of her head.

She says of the boyfriend: “I had sex with him literally all the time even when I didn’t want to ‘cos that’s love.” Meanwhile Josie, explaining a recent change in her meds to Deb’s boyfriend Dev, says: “I don’t really feel any happier, I just want to eat Frosties literally all of the time.” These two are hilarious, literally all of the time.

Confession time – I didn’t watch Squid Game. So, approaching the reality contest crossover of the South Korean drama, called Squid Game: The Challenge (Netflix), I told myself: “This is going to be rubbish. I’ve arrived late for the party – again – just as I did with the second albums by the Strokes and Peters & Lee. I’m going to be left wondering what all the fuss was about.”

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But guess what? I’m well into this. Visually the show is arresting in an apocalyptic way – the crimson-clad guards, faces unseen, the competitors in green tracksuits like so many Hibs bandwagon-jumpers for their next Scottish Cup triumph, an improbable event likely to postdate the end of the world. And there’s that terrifying giant doll.

After the first round, a total of 259 poor saps are eliminated, suggesting South Korea doesn’t follow the “everyone gets a prize” edict, which has blighted sport among the young here. Survivors of the cull include Bryton (“I love myself so much”), Lori (“people underestimate a girl who’s only four ten”) and sweet mother-and-son duo Leann and Trey, while Dash gasps: “This whole thing’s like an acid trip and, jeez, I’ve never even done acid.”



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