Brian Donaldson finds that self-proclaimed animated idiots might not be funny but proper living buffoons more often than not will be
So, having kicked off the year in fine style with the inventive and cheeky Moving Wallpaper, it looked like things were on the up for all those on the good ship ITV. Well, hold your horses because normal service has been thoroughly resumed with the predictable and lame likes of Trial and Retribution (ITV1, Thu 17 & 24 Jan, 9pm ••) and Honest (ITV1, Wed 23 Jan, 9pm ••). If you’ve never seen an episode of this long-running crime drama yet, T&R is the brainchild of Lynda La Plante and probably, though not definitely, would work better as a novel. When a young Slavic woman is found dead in a suitcase at Heathrow Airport, it sends our grizzled cops (David Hayman and Victoria Smurfit) off on several goose chases down their fair share of blind alleys.
Trailing horribly in the superior wake of Prime Suspect and Cracker, there’s barely a single idea or character in this Trial and Retribution that would have made the final cut on either of those two shows. And quite where Honest gets its ideas from is another question. The answer: from that US Eddie Izzard/Minnie Driver vehicle about a family of crooks trying to go straight. You can usually rely on something half-decent with the stoical Amanda Redman in its cast. Not this time.
Up until The Convention Crasher (Channel 4, Thu 17 Jan, 10pm ••••) I’d thought the only half-decent things about Justin Lee Collins were that he had a funny accent and could carry off a bellowing hirsuteness in a perfectly amusing manner. In this series he barges his way into some scary American gatherings of ventriloquists and clowns, while making a spectacle of himself in the Battle of the Magicians becomes his first venture. And it turns out that he can make comedic capital out of many of his negative traits, here wielding his hilarious clumsiness by falling off and into boxes while his hysterical claustrophobia really kicks in when he’s padlocked inside of one. But it’s his ability not to carry off a garish jumpsuit with his grimacing assistant Panache (real name Zara Mason) at his side that gets the biggest chortles.
Laughs are few and far between in two of the cultier comedies of the fortnight. Marc Wootton Exposed (BBC3, Sun 20 Jan, 9.30pm ••) should be displaying the talents of a man who has done himself reasonably proud with the Channel 4 hoax show My New Best Friend and with his spoof medium Shirley Ghostman. But, dear oh dear, his gallery of ‘delusional characters’ such as the disgruntled baby, the nostalgic pensioner and the wannabe vampire prove that it could well be the man himself who has ideas way above his station. And the less said the better about Modern Toss (Channel 4, Wed 23 Jan, 12.10am •), in which a series of ‘animated idiots’ go around and swear a lot. And then swear some more. And when an actual joke or punchline fails them, they’ll just swear even harder. There’s also a non-animated routine in which the news and weather are reported via the medium of swing music. It’s not particularly funny.
Thank Jehovah then, for Larry David and his neurotic crew in the sixth series of Curb Your Enthusiasm (More4, Mon 21 Jan, 10.35pm ••••). The last one ended with ‘Larry’ experiencing a brief glimpse of the jawdropping afterlife and finding that, actually, he probably preferred it to his dull LA real one. Try telling that to his wife Cheryl who has gone through one sticky situation after another thanks to her husband’s continued struggle with almost every aspect of modern living.
In these opening episodes, Larry reluctantly allows Cheryl to bring a hurricane-ravaged family into their home only to fall out with them over issues of smoking, semen stains, the KKK and erotic confectionery while his attempts to find a fresh way of avoiding friends’ parties could only ever lead to an excruciating domino effect of shame, humiliation and embarrassment. Which is just funny, right?