The baddies in By Any Means wore rubber Simon Cowell masks to do their robbing and killing in. It was a little jibe at the man who has dominated weekend television for the past decade but it’s not The X Factor that this glossy new action drama has in its sights – it’s Downton Abbey. The six-part series is the BBC’s 9pm answer to Lady Mary and co. Instead of swishing skirts, clipped RP and whispers below stairs, there were guns, car chases, relentless, tinny drum’n’bass and lots of larky, sarky banter in a distressed basement.
By Any Means follows a trio who operate on the margins of the law – “It’s a grey area”, as they tell us approximately 100 times – to bring bad guys to justice. They do this “by any means”, as they tell us, again 100 times. Do crime shows need catch-phrases? The jury’s in and it says “not really”.
It looked promising, if derivative, enough – some Mad Men-style silhouetted credits, lots of Guy Ritchie zooming and jump-cuts, a classy cast – but it added up to lowest common denominator drama. Keith Allen was Nick Mason, a Teflon crook who had walked free from three trials in the last five years. Gina McKee was Helen Barlow, a shadowy figure who decreed that enough was enough, and other clichés. “It’s time he realised he doesn’t run London, we do.”
The main problem is that her team of perky vigilantes – Jack (chief maverick), Jessica (female wisecracker) and – oh God – TomTom (geek in charge of technology and tracking) – are all quite annoying. They definitely all talk in that knockabout, sharp-tongued way that only characters in TV shows that aim to be described as “slick” do. “Are we allowed to kill people?” “No. I know. PC gone mad.” Or, “I want this. Five minutes ago.” For her part, McKee murmurs her lines into her mackintosh in a way that implies that she think she is above all of this nonsense. Which she is.
If the fiendish, final snaring of the villain looked familiar, that’s because the show is written by Tony Jordan, who perfected this kind of knockabout hokum on Hustle. This is Hustle with a younger, sexier cast and an unwelcome dose of moralising about being on “the right side”. If it’s this or Downton for the foreseeable, I’m breaking out the box-sets.
When Miranda Met Bruce on Saturday night was a funny fish. It was not clear whether this was the BBC gently showing Bruci the door, the beginning of a long, fond farewell, or a pilot for Miranda as chat-show hostess. A female Parky has been the Holy Grail of broadcasting for some time now. Might Miranda succeed where Davina McCall, Charlotte Church and Sarah Millican have failed?
Certainly everything was in place for a Miranda meets… format. There were adaptable opening credits not unlike Jonathan Ross’s, a Parkinson-style showbiz staircase and a table of snacks of which Alan Carr would be proud. There was also a house band – oddly, McFly, who were there for only two reasons, both connected to their hit “It’s All About You”. First so that Miranda could say, “Shush now, it’s not all about you” and second so that they could sing, “It’s all about Bruce”.
This was not the Frost/Nixon of encounters, although it went on for almost as long. Miranda began by curtseying to Bruce and ended by dancing around behind him. In between the awkward hoofing and goofing there was the odd insight. Forsyth talked about his pushy mother who did not live to see her son hit the big time, how he lost the part of Fagin in Oliver! to Ron Moody and how he can’t turn down the money for game-shows. As for Hart, it wasn’t a bad audition. If she was allowed to ditch the hagiographic scripts and the messing about, Miranda might make a rather good chat-show hostess – not as rude as Mrs Merton, not as fawning as McCall. I’d watch her.