Grace Dent on TV: Remember me is bewildering in the worst pre-pre-Christmas week of television ever(!)

Presently, I am the forlorn TV critic equivalent of The Little Match Girl, dreaming of festive TV largesse, while making do with BBC1’s Wild Weather with Richard Hammond

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The Independent Culture

It is a truth universally unacknowledged that week 48 in the TV viewing schedule offers some of the least entertaining “entertainment” ever.

We are pre-pre-Christmas. All your Esio Trots, your Mapp and Lucias, your British Bake-Off Masterclasses and so on are biding their time for the big yuletide fortnight. Presently, I am the forlorn TV critic equivalent of The Little Match Girl, dreaming of festive TV largesse, while making do with BBC1’s Wild Weather with Richard Hammond. Wind, it transpires, is jolly windy. Who knew? After 58 laborious minutes of watching The Hamster faff about with wind machines in Ontario, I was firmly in the picture.

Other TV highlights this week include that wretched ITV1 bug-torture-based festival of boredom I’m a Celebrity... (or “Jungle”, as my mother calls it) and a chipper half-hour on BBC1 prime-time called Could I Get Ebola? (answer: maybe, who knows, probably not, don’t rule it out).

All of these, however, were more appetising than the unfathomable Sunday night Michael Palin ghost story, Remember Me, on BBC1. With two of its three parts now broadcast, I’m still on board, fuelled largely by bewilderment. Palin plays Tom Parfitt, a very old man, 80-plus at least, who can’t look after himself or his own bank accounts apparently and needs a nursing home. Clearly, we must ignore the reality that aged 71, the Monty Python star is in better nick than most 50-year-olds. When a woman in Tom’s nursing home dies – pushed from a window – Detective Rob Fairholme (Mark Addy) laughs off any suggestion of ancient Tom’s involvement.

Yes, Palin could probably beat Addy in the 100m sprint, but let’s forget that, as some sort of terrible haunting is happening. Perhaps by the ghost of an irked Indian woman, but perhaps not. And it’s certainly not your average haunting, containing itself to one house, or one person’s mind. No, this is an all-encompassing, Yorkshire-wide spooking. All characters must exist at all times in an extreme state of tension, dogged by dream sequences which might not be dreams. It’s frustrating as here are some very fine actors with not very much to say.

Because, oh the imagery, it comes and comes. An endless sequence of flooding sinks, moody shots of mantlepieces heaving with sepia prints, and dramatic shots of the Yorkshire skyline or blustering beaches with a ghostly Indian woman cavorting around like a character from The Ring. In fairness to Remember Me, the Channel Four Gogglebox crew found Ghostly Indian Woman very scary indeed, but then again, that crowd will display strong emotions on cue about anything if they think it will get them access to the free bar at the 2015 National TV Awards.

 So, after two very long hours I have established three facts:

1) Tom once knew an Indian woman when he was a little boy;

2) Hannah from the nursing home’s mother Jan (Julia Sawalha) is hard work;

3) Scarborough has some very underrated architecture.

Otherwise, much like the cast of Remember Me, I am completely in the dark. Perhaps if someone installed a 100-watt bulb in the rooms, Detective Rob might get the case closed more rapidly.

Fortunately, I found solace this week in the 30-year-old camping classic Nuts in May. By rights Mike Leigh’s jovial tale of Keith and Candice-Marie – 1970s middle-class bores inflicting their narrow world-views on other unfortunate holiday-makers – should be well past its sell-by-date. Instead, Leigh’s hell of middle-class pseudo-hippies on staycation, armed with banjos and demanding unpasteurised milk, feels gloriously fresh in 2014. As the awful pair rattle around the British countryside harassing quarry-owners about fossils and a dairy farmer over the licence-papers of his herd, we are held captive in their awful, co-dependent world. I enjoyed Nuts in May this time around much more than I did as a teenager or in my twenties. Because, at one stage, I loved Keith and Candice-Marie but felt the pair to be cartoon-like. Now, I’m their age, and I see them whenever I enter a National Trust property on a bank holiday.

Nuts in May is relevant now because it muses heavily on class and control. Keith is fiercely proud that his middle-class status means he knows how to appreciate the countryside properly. He has scheduled attraction visits, a sketchbook, a camping larder and a Big Book of Birdspotting. His final meltdown gathers pace when a rather “common” Brummie biker couple arrive armed with a cheap tent and intentions to build a bonfire. “Get back to your tenement!” Keith screams. They did sneering in the 1970s too.

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