Come Fly With Me, BBC1, Christmas Day
Poirot, ITV1, Christmas Day
Lucas and Walliams fail to take off in their airport mocumentary, but the Belgian sleuth never fails
Sunday 26 December 2010
When Little Britain first arrived on our screens, it was fresh and nicely observed. But for every series that followed, it became ever more bloated, crass and crude. So what to expect from Come Fly With Me, the latest co-production from David Walliams and Matt Lucas?
Essentially a pastiche of Airport, the documentary that first aired nearly 15 years ago, this series was hardly going to be fresh. But that didn't mean it couldn't be funny. The voiceover that linked the vignettes, in which the comic duo play everyone from cabin crew to immigration officers, was full of spot-on intent: "Check-in boss Helen is about to impart some important information." But it wasn't Tom Baker, whose deadpanning was so effective in Little Britain, doing the duties, but rather one of those generic, stern female voices that appear in the workplace documentaries we're so used to seeing – that might be observational, but it's a stretch to call it comedy.
For laughs, let's instead look to Walliams's and Lucas's characters. Omar, the airline owner, countered suggestions that his planes lack lifejackets by revealing his new system, a Ryanair-esque credit-card device that allows passengers to rent a flotation device for 20 minutes at a time. Not a bad gag. But it doesn't take a genius to make a joke of Michael O'Leary's antics. Then there were the check-in girls who argued over who should get promotion (meh), the paparazzi who missed their mark (snore), and the married pilots who bickered (ho-hum – and didn't John Thomson and Caroline Aherne do this couple shtick – and do it much better – a decade-and-a-half ago in The Fast Show?).
Things looked up with Moses Beacon, Walliams's executive passenger liaison officer, whose ritual sign-off of "Happy flighting" got the obsequiousness just right. His mugging to camera, "I couldn't do it," as he ran off after failing to tell one customer that her dog has been frozen in the hold, fit the bill too – but then he went and ruined all the good work with an absurd scene in which he mouthed an apology to her through the plane window. Why not be a bit more subtle and leave something to the imagination? No, this was clearly going to be a blunderbuss affair.
So, we had a roving ground-crew member who talked about the "bitches" on his "pussy wagon", confusing the tone horribly, a blacked-up Lucas as Precious, the coffee-stall employee (surely I'm not the only one to find this unacceptable?) and some Japanese schoolgirls waiting for Martin Clunes to land, which was tedious.
The one portrayal that did make a safe landing is grandmother Hetty Wolf, off to see her son in Florida ("He's a doctor, you know!"), who had Moses running around after her, getting her upgrades, whisky and cigarettes. But it wasn't nearly enough to make this an enjoyable trip.
Far better to have finished off Christmas Day with David Suchet's Poirot. This Murder on the Orient Express was never going to be original either, but it more than held its own against Sidney Lumet's 1974 version. For those viewers like me who grew up with Peter Ustinov as the Belgian detective, it was always going to be difficult to adjust to seeing the more suave Suchet in the role – but he has so inhabited it, fingering his waxed moustache and all that, it is now hard to think of anyone else succeeding him. Here, he found ample support from a fine cast, among whom shone the wonderfully slimy Toby Jones as the victim. There is little new that can be added about such a familiar yarn, but it is to this lively production's credit that it was engrossing right to the ethical question that is its ending.
Robert Epstein: Television 2010
A refrain in the IoS office is that "There's nothing on." This is repeated on a weekly basis by whomsoever is scheduled to write the TV review, primarily to make the task seem Herculean: that's right, I'm going to create something extraordinary from a black hole of nothingness. This is nonsense. There's always something on – and a lot of it has been pretty darn good ....
Hero of the Year The new Doctor Who, Matt Smith, hasn't only stepped into David Tennant's size nines, he's marched them into a new era of camp, tweedy, horrifyingly good drama, above. And Karen Gillan alongside him is cracking, too.
Villain of the Year By the time the 11th series of Big Brother ended in the summer, no one cared any more. But that didn't stop Channel 4 throwing some old housemates back in for an "ultimate" final. And what a letdown – even with the incessant shrieking of Davina McCall about how wonderful it all was. Let's hope an industry rumour that Richard Desmond is planning to revive the show on Five comes to nought.
Dropped Ball of the Year ITV's HD World Cup coverage. England didn't have many good moments in South Africa. So to replace Steven Gerrard's tournament-opening goal against the US with an ad for Hyundai was particularly galling.
Woman of the Year Edie "Carmela Soprano" Falco was unmissable as Nurse Jackie, the pill-popping, adulterous, packed-lunch-making role of her life.
Lunchtime Legend of the Year Stuart "The Brand" Baggs of The Apprentice. Luckily, Herr Baggs reined in his "extreme masculinity", because if he hadn't, who knows how many fields of ponies would have been running straight for us.
Purgatory of the Year Hey, writers of Ashes to Ashes and Lost! Can't think how to tie up all those loose ends? Why not just say the characters were dead all along! Oh, for pity's sake ....
Ensemble of the Year A comedy set in a community college in Colorado deserved a mainstream audience rather than to be tucked away on Viva. Wonderfully cast, it has a potential superstar in Danny Pudi, brilliantly funny scripts, and episodes that have ranged from an irresistible 25-minute pastiche of Goodfellas to a paintballing version of Rambo. School shouldn't be this much fun.
Upstarts of the Year Every episode of Misfits has been a mini-epic, every character sharply drawn. And Robert Sheehan, as Nathan, had the best lines of 2010. (Let's hope rumours that he is leaving before a third series are unfounded.) Outrageously magnificent. Or, as the young offenders themselves would say, "Whatever, yeah."
Fibbers of the Year The election debaters. "I was in Plymouth recently and a 40-year-old black man ...." Really, Mr Cameron? Do tell us more. On second thoughts ....
Arched Eyebrow of the Year The doyenne of dowagers, Dame Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey.
Reality Fail of the Year The Only Way is Essex was The Hills without the LA setting, the beautiful people or the semi-believability. Stupidly enjoyable, mind.
Tracksuit of the Year Glee has given us so much, not least the notion that it's OK to sing your way through predictable life situations (Don't Stop Believin', kids!), but more than anything, it has given us Jane Lynch's sadistic cheerleading coach, Sue Sylvester. "You're dealing with children. They need to be terrified. It's like mother's milk to them." And that's the way Sue sees it.
So Long, Then... The Bill/ Last of the Summer Wine. Let's be honest, not before time.
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