WEB EXCLUSIVE: Couch Potato on how art is imitating life with the sinking of Titanic

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OUR Sunday web columnist takes a wry look at the week’s TV:

Any film critic worth their salt compiling a list of the greatest remakes of all-time must surely include The Thing, The Fly, Casino Royale, Cape Fear and, topping the lot, John Sturges’ reimagining of Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese masterpiece Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven.

Each a classic in their own right, proving the saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Meanwhile, over on ITV1...

The bloke who played Owen in EastEnders is valet to Ken Barlow’s son, Acorn Antiques’ owner Miss Babs is frightfully worried about her impounded dog, and Finchy, from The Office, is evacuating passengers from a stricken liner in the mid-Atlantic.

We’re onboard Titanic, a four-part TV disaster which is to James Cameron’s 1997 big-screen blockbuster what Prisoner: Cell Block H is to The Shawshank Redemption.

One of those great “seemed like a good idea at the time” moments, from the pen of Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, who might as well have written only one scene in which £11 million, the mini-series’ budget, in used bank notes sinks slowly to the bottom of the ocean.

It heartens me to say, however, that people are not stupid.

More than half of the initial 7.3 million viewers had abandoned ship, if you’ll pardon the pun, by last Sunday’s penultimate episode.

And if ITV is still scratching its head as to why, it’s really not that difficult to understand.

It’s Simon Cowell’s abysmal game show Red Or Black all over again.

They’ve taken an already successful format, in this case Downton Abbey rather than The X Factor, and made the mistake of trying to replicate it.

Each episode has been 39 minutes of waiting for something, anything, to happen, followed by CRRRRRRUNCH! Panic! Cliffhanger! Roll end credits.

Like Downton, the script is obsessed with class and slaps you in the face with it like a kipper:

“Well, we shouldn’t linger. We don’t have first-class tickets and the guard will think we’re stowaways.”

“Are we allowed in? We’re only second class.”

“It just seems wrong that second class and servants are all to worship with us.”

“One invitation to eat in first class and you could be a spaniel waiting for a pat from its master.”

“Let the downtrodden cringe from the lash of their masters.”

We get it. WE GET IT.

There are way too many characters. Episode one alone introduced 59 of them, which has since risen to 73 (that was a fun half hour counting them, I can tell you), and I don’t care about a single one of them.

The outcome is that the dialogue clanks along just to explain who everyone is:

Lord Manton (the Hugh Bonneville-esque lead role) to his wife: “Batley works for me,” as if she wouldn’t know.

American Harry Widener to Manton’s daughter, Lady Georgiana Grex: “Can’t a book collector have injustices?”

“Not when he’s heir to the largest fortune in Philadelphia.”

For Widener is, as was subtly suggested, heir to the largest fortune in Philadelphia, don’t you know.

Racial stereotypes are everywhere. The English are stuffy and bound by duty, Italians excitable and impulsive, Americans care-free, the Irish feisty and rebellious, and an evil-looking Latvian revolutionary, it might surprise you to hear, evil and revolutionary.

But the most ridiculous aspect of Titanic is that, as of 9.39pm last Sunday, the ruddy thing had struck the iceberg three times and is taking long enough to sink to allow a one-man rescue, in a rubber dinghy, from Southampton Docks.

It all comes to a soggy conclusion tonight, and I hope I won’t be spoiling it for you when I say the ship does indeed sink.

As for who survives? Well, don’t hold out your hopes for Leonardo DiCaprio.


The hoo-ha in the build-up to C4 comedy drama Derek was that, with Ricky Gervais playing a simpleton, it would be offensive.

It wasn’t. It just wasn’t any good.

But hey. Imagine what Derek would have been like if Gervais was a camera-time-loving, attention-seeking megalomaniac who’s lost sight of what good television is and can’t move on from The Office-style mockumentary.

Perish the thought.


ITV2 has brought us many things, 99.5 per cent of them lousy.

It launched Katie Price and Peter Andre’s reality TV careers, gave Peaches Geldof her own talk show and, right at the bottom of the barrel, tried to turn Konnie Huq into a rapper.

But the laudable 0.5 per cent has been containing the host of Celebrity Juice securely on the outer rim of the television solar system.

No longer, alas. Now, for his second ITV1 Saturday night primetime series, following last year’s ridiculous Sing If You Can, we have Keith Lemon’s LemonAid, a show that is, in every way, a*se about face.

The network can insist otherwise but they’ve started with the programme’s title and segments with names like Lemon Drops, in which the host is suspended on wires to drop plastic lemons containing prizes on the audience, and worked backwards from there.

It’s billed as the new Jim’ll Fix It but is actually John Barrowman’s Tonight’s The Night, minus any shred of commonsense, featuring games from Cheggers Plays Pop, and is appropriately sponsored by a brand of headache tablet.

The pretence is to make people’s dreams come true. The reality, in no particular order of lunacy, is Keith Lemon wrapping someone’s head in masking tape to stop her glasses falling off (good example to kids there), shaving another’s locks off, humiliating some young Rizzle Kicks fans, and getting a fully grown woman’s phone number for an 11-year-old boy.

Because paedophilia is perfectly acceptable teatime viewing, apparently.

The fact is that Lemon is totally unsuitable for an early-evening role because he won’t adapt his late-night act for a family audience (really? Camel toes? At 6.30pm?).

The editing is atrocious – for the finale, the presenter magically changed back into a Lawrence of Arabia outfit that he’d taken off 20 minutes earlier – and he was only asking for trouble with his opening monologue: “Sometimes I’m a bad boy. But I promise you I’m going to be good on this show.

“Nothing bad here, all good.”

To paraphrase the late, great Eric Morecambe, he’s saying all the right words, but not necessarily in the right order.


This week’s Couch Potato Spudulike awards go to:

BBC1’s event-packed The Boat Race. The return of TV’s best panel show Would I Lie To You?

Deal Or No Deal showing Who Wants To Be A Millionaire how to do a celebrity special.

The effort it must have taken to persuade a nurse named Joy Tickle to appear on Embarrassing Bodies to surgically wipe a poor bloke’s abscess wound between his buttocks.

The Comedy Central channel’s voiceover man plugging their Tuesday schedule: “Throughout the annals of history, one day over all others has been associated with cataclysmic disaster – Tuesday. The Stock Market Crash of 1929, Black Tuesday, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the fall of Constantinople, the foot and mouth crisis, the Spanish Flu pandemic, the Great Fire of London, the birth of Piers Morgan, the premiere of Police Academy 7...”

Nick Hewer talking himself into trouble on BBC2’s The Apprentice: You’re Fired while explaining why Lord Sugar gave Jane McEvoy the boot: “Karren Brady carries a fair amount of weight. Erm... I mean not literally...”

And 49-year-old plasterer Zipparah Tafari’s show-stealing rap “Where Me Keys? Where Me Phone?” on Britain’s Got Talent.

He brought the house down. Which is unfortunate for a plasterer.


C5’s William and Kate: One Year On?

William and Kate: One television off.


From the TV file named “Only on a bank holiday weekend” came ITV1’s The One and Only Des O’Connor to celebrate the presenter’s 50 years in showbiz and 80th birthday.

His birthday which, nobody mentioned, was in January.

So excuse me if I suspect this extended 90-minute version of his talk show was an afterthought by the network which had overlooked one of their longest-serving stalwart’s two landmarks.

But they made up for it, alright, packing the celebrity audience with major stars like Masood, from EastEnders, Stan Boardman, Jane McDonald and Matt Lucas’s mum.

He sang, of course, including a duet with Bradley Walsh, but you can’t have everything, and sadly not Freddie Starr who should have been the first name on the guest list.

There was, however, Robert Lindsay, from the “award-winning” My Family, which I thought must be wrong until I did some research and, indeed, it was named 24th in the BBC’s Britain’s Best Sitcom countdown show, in 2004.

He was somehow persuaded, oh-so reluctantly, to perform Doing The Lambeth Walk from Me And My Girl which, as luck would have it, the orchestra happened to have the sheet music to.

And there was a chat with his old Today With Des and Mel co-host Melanie Sykes to whom he revealed: “Whether people believe it or not, it’s a fact that we never had a script.”

Believe it or not, Des, I can believe it.


This week’s plentiful Couch Potato Spuduhate awards go to:

The Apprentice turning into an episode of flippin’ Bargain Hunt.

Danny O’Donoghue’s Pavlovian reaction to press his buzzer a split second after any of the other coaches on The Voice.

Every single programme right now, fact or fiction, about ships that sink.

Watchdog’s all-time worst investigation that Sainsbury’s petrol pumps sometimes add 1p onto the total.

BBC2’s Great British Menu going overboard with culinary/Olympic puns.

Twenty-nine-year-old Roxanne Pallett playing a schoolgirl on Waterloo Road.

The continued existence of Piers Morgan’s Life Stories.

BBC comedians self-indulgently getting their parents onto their new shows (I’m looking at you, Sarah Millican and Matt Lucas).

And C4’s overwhelmingly sarcastic The Undateables. Or, as I prefer to call it, the Unwatchable.


The award for most disappointing TV show of the week goes to, I’m afraid, The Matt Lucas Awards, which I really wanted to like.

It seemed to have everything going for it – decent format, funny host, James Bond composer David Arnold as the one-man house band.

Sadly, it’s not so much You Only Live Twice as I’ll Only Watch Once.


Margaret Mountford will be reunited with Nick Hewer on Countdown all next week.

So I’m off to enjoy that without a critical thought in my head.

•Couch Potato will return in two week’s time.