Is it my imagination, or have the festive schedules been suffering from a peculiarly violent bout of Brussels -sprout syndrome these past 10 days or so: repeating and repeating and repeating? Across the five terrestrial channels there was only one original drama offering last night, and no original comedy, unless you count Clive Anderson "trawling through a plethora of classic bloopers by well-known newscasters" in a programme called The Funny Side of the News, which this column - while recalling with great affection the spectacle of Trevor McDonald standing on the tarmac at RAF Lyneham, waiting for Terry Waite's return from five years of captivity in Beirut and telling us gravely that Waite was being brought home by the RAC - would rather not.
Admittedly, New Year's Eve is traditionally a headache for schedulers, but that's no reason for them to conclude that anyone who spends the evening watching the box is sad and desperate enough to put up with any old repeat until the live countdown-to-midnight hooleys begin. Yet that's what we got: the centrepiece of the BBC1 schedule was a repeat of The Vicar of Dibley Story "featuring behind-the-scenes footage" and "interviews with the cast and crew", and fond as we all are of Richard Curtis's engaging sitcom, I am beginning to feel towards it rather as the good vicar herself did towards turkey with all the trimmings in the "classic" episode in which she was forced to eat a succession of Christmas dinners with eager-to-please parishioners.
With BBC2 showing a film, The Girl with a Pearl Earring, and Channel 4 giving up the ghost altogether with a repeat of an entire Monty Python theme evening, and Five devoting almost three hours to listing the 40 Greatest Ever 80s Movies (which will be lucky to rise much above 39 when someone gets round to making a programme about cheap, lazy programme-making called the 40 Greatest Ever Greatest-Evers), only ITV rose to the occasion, with a ridiculous but rather sweet and above all original comedy called Double Time.
The plot of Double Time, a pseudo-Shakespearian confection of lookalikes and mistaken identity, required suspension of disbelief on such a scale that Isambard Kingdom Brunel might have been called in to draw up engineering plans.
James Dreyfus played a vicious gangster called George McCabe, serving a prison sentence for armed robbery; he also played an effete actor called Lawrence Nixon. Thanks to the uncanny resemblance, Nixon got the job of playing McCabe in a TV drama. McCabe saw it, didn't like the way Nixon portrayed him, and swore vengeance. Then, realising just how much Nixon looked like him, he decided that they should swap places so that he could take care of some business on the outside. Once out, the real McCabe landed the job of playing himself at a book launch, while the fake McCabe had to learn the toughness required to be cock of the walk in jail. And if you're still with me, then either you watched it too, or you woke up this morning with the clearest of New Year's Day heads.
For much of the first hour, I watched Double Time wishing I was something other than a TV critic: George W Bush's PR man, Jade Goody's philosophy tutor, anything would have seemed preferable to the professional obligation to sit through such bilge. Gradually, however, I realised that I was smiling and, once or twice, that I had issued an audible chuckle. The reason for this development was Dreyfus; he is a performer of great charm, sharp comic timing, and once it became clear that none of it was intended to be taken even the slightest bit seriously, I began to feel more like being a TV critic and less like applying to become Shane MacGowan's dentist.
In Coronation Street, meanwhile, Liz (Beverley Callard) finally got married to Vernon (Ian Reddington). She almost didn't, partly because no soap wedding is ever straightforward, especially on New Year's Eve, and partly because Vernon is a twit on a truly megalithic scale, the kind of man that even the Dalai Lama would set eyes on and immediately want to smack in the mouth.
Unfortunately, Liz's ex-husband Jim (Charles Lawson) did smack Vernon in the mouth, with the result that Liz felt sorry enough for him to reconsider her plan to jilt him. Quite what will now happen to Jim is anybody's guess. Jim has struggled for years with anger-management problems; indeed, he makes Gordon Ramsay look like the Dalai Lama. But I have always had a soft spot for him. Moreover, he has enhanced the heritage of Northern Irishmen getting into scrapes in Manchester - George Best and Adam in Cold Feet both spring to mind - and I do hope he doesn't end up back in prison, or the "big haise," as he so delightfully calls it. Hitting Vernon shouldn't be a criminal offence. In fact, and while I would not want to condone violence in any way, I'd make Jim mayor of Weatherfield. Happy New Year.Reuse content