As I mentioned the other day the excellent Rob Buckley sets standards too high for most TV viewers. Giving programmes an opportunity he waits for weeks before offering his views, and then making use of his patented Carusometer. Sometimes, though, mere seconds are necessary to decide if a programme is a good thing or a bad thing. However, to be fair to my latest subject I waited for 15 minutes before deciding whether it was any good.
NOvember is a smorgasbord of delight for the connoisseur of bad television. From Cirque de celebrite (misheard by a close relative as Suck the celebrity which is a whole different kettle of ball games, but will no doubt involve Darren Day and John Leslie), to Celebrity Scissorhands (it’s for charidee you know, where a collection of rejects from reality television shows, plus that woman that used to stand next to the funky monkey on Five’s NIght fever, cut hair in a salon with a notable lack of pictures of haircuts consequently bearing no resemblance to any barbers shop I[‘ve ever entered in central or southern Scotland), to In the Grid (Channel 5’s answer to Deal or no deal – in that it attempts to resuscitate the career of a TV host (Les Dennis) and is a game of chance, where tension is cranked up for an extended high tech game of heads or tails), to I’m a person you may have vaguely heard of, you know I appeared in a soap once and was outacted by a dog, or I’m related (or was at least temporarily related) to someone that is infinitely more famous than me but through this slight familial connection I endeavour to wipe of some of their starry lustre on me, see, see how I glow, and I have no shame and am prepared to humiliate myself nightly on the telly for the delectation of the audience on our main commercial channel and the amusement of two human chipmunks whose personalities are so closely tied together that the Farrelly brothers proposed casting them in that comedy about conjoined twins… Get me out of here. There’s even a new series of Tittybangbang to look forward to.
But for the connoisseur of bad telly the words “And now at nine o’clock a new ITV drama” send one into paroxysms of delight. Ordinarily these dramas involve a former soap star trying to justify a golden handcuffs contract or the latest in vogue actor appearing as the psycho or the psychee in a “psychological thriller” which usually involves said psycho inveigling him or her self into a close-knit family unit before tearing the family apart with shock revelations. Alternatively it’s yet another bloody detective drama involving either a classic detective adapted from a novel – where a heavily over-produced show with no expense spared eats up such of the ITV budget as could be used to provide their now defunct homegrown children’s shows – or a homegrown version with Caroline Quentin or Herman Munster from My Family which has a heavily laboured plot (Oh that Priestley was alive at this hour. With An INspector Calls he’d have ticked all ITV boxes and could have been the new Mike Bullen). Accordingly, the prospects for Strictly Confidential were not great. And yet, every now and again ITV throws a cracking 9 pm drama at us – something uncategorisable. Sally Wainwright’s AT Home with the Braithwaites was watchable enough (even in the unnecessary final series). I was prepared to give it a chance.
However, Strictly Confidential was also handicapped by the words “By Kay Mellor”. There was a time where Mellor was indicative of watchable TV. However, as she has gained more power in the system the words Kay Mellor indicated (a) a heartwarming tale of every day folk unhappy with various aspects of their lives (usually their bodies or sex lives); and (b) yet another starring role for her daughter Gaynor Faye, whose inexplicable rise coincides with her casting in mum’s scripts. I attribute her demise to the curse of “Mellor” – and the rise of Will “I love you brother” Mellor, “star” of Two pints of lager and a packet of crisps whose entire career has threatened the Mellor brand.
So to the show itself. Liberally cast with former stars of Cornonation Street (including the lead Suranne Jones) and the wonderful Kate Isitt, back on screen for the first time I’m aware of since Coupling I’d heard a reasonable amount of pre-publicity giving back story to the central character. Jones plays a sex therapist. She was once a policewoman. She is therefore rbought in to police investigations of a sexual nature by her former partner (in both a police and sexual sense). This partner is a woman and so there is a frisson of excitement in her lesbian past. She is now married to a bloke who runs adventure holidays and in the space of the opening minute revealed to incidental “I am here to get some information out of the main character despite the fact we have only just met” character that she was trying for a baby. Cue: later revelation that hubby was infertile (“I went ot the clinic but didn’t want to worry you about it” – was he just there to read the dirty mags?) prompting a discussion as to whether the borther-in-law (who she has a thing for” should father their children through AID. Said brother in law is a father to be as Isitt’s character is heavily pregnant (About 11 months judging by her costume). While this was going on to give depth to the characters, the people of Leeds were slowly weeding out the onanists through auto-erotic asphyxiation. Cue former partner (and former partner) calling in Suranne (who doesn’t like dead bodies) to have a quick look while commenting on the quality of their orgasms. Former partner then reveals she and her current partner are expecting a baby and taunts Suranne about not having borther in law.
By this stage I had lost the will to live and was almost incapable of turning over the telly. Forunately there was a commercial break and some neon colouring flickered across the screen and revived me. I promptly turned over to Catherine Tate and was provoked into a half-hearted suicide attempt as I tried to slit my wrists with a ginger nut.
Strictly confidential (despite trying to plug into the cults of Brucie and Doctor Who with its title) is dire. A genre buster with sex and crime and family drama the dialogue clunks, the acting clunks, the direction is as flaccid as Jones’ patients. I suspect former partner is killing off the residents of Leeds and this revelation will bring things to a whopping great climax in episode 5 or 6.
In summary: avoid.