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What’s the point?

21 January 2006

12:00 AM

21 January 2006

12:00 AM

The older I get the less tolerant I grow towards any form of entertainment — a play, a film, a TV programme, a book, whatever — that doesn’t deliver sufficient value. Tempus fugit, mors venit, and the last thing I want to be doing in my declining years is wasting precious leisure time on anything that doesn’t amuse me, make me happier, teach me a useful new fact about the second world war or otherwise enrich my life.

This is why, for example, I have resolved never to read another contemporary literary novel. You don’t learn anything; the plots are never quite racy or involving enough to distract you from the cares of daily life; and, most annoyingly, they’re written in an attention-seeking style which you’re supposed to linger on and cherish, like poetry, which is another thing I’m not going to bother with from now on (not that I ever did that much).

And another thing I’m probably not going to bother with any more is a Stephen Poliakoff film. Even with The Lost Prince, I was beginning to have my doubts, but his latest one, Friends & Crocodiles (BBC1, Sunday), clinched it. I stuck it out for the first half thinking, ‘Yes, yes, lovingly assembled cast, beautifully choreographed set pieces; such pretty photography and, ah yes, here comes the haunting soundtrack and the trademark languid wistfulness and aching melancholy.’

But then I realised, ‘Sod it, what’s the point? I already know Jodhi May can act. I’ve seen Damian Lewis be miles better in Band of Brothers. I’m going to get to the end of this and have nothing to show for it but a sense of frustration. I don’t believe in these people and their supposedly decade-anatomising posturing and their poncy, stilted, Poliakoff-world dialogue. It’s just polished wank, that’s what it is. Polished wank made of spun sugar and bubbles and froth.’

I gave up on Hotel Babylon (BBC1, Thursday), too. It’s an adaptation of the bestseller by my old friend Imogen Edwards-Jones about the naughty behind-the-scenes goings-on in high-class hotels, as related to her by an anonymous insider, and I can see why she burst into tears of joy when she first saw the set, because the production values truly are fantastic. But, though it’s pacy and lush and superglam, I’m afraid I have major problems with the basic premise that This Is What Happens In Posh Hotels All The Time.

Sure, maybe once or twice in history an Arab potentate has slaughtered a ram in his hotel suite; maybe businessmen really do sometimes urinate into their empty whisky miniatures rather than pay for them; maybe it is occasional practice, when rock stars demand the use of a whole floor, that all the guests already occupying it are turfed out with lies about broken electricals or, if they still prove stubborn, with live rats inserted into their bedroom. Personally, though, I refuse to believe the hotel trade is quite that exciting.

Tell you what I did stick with, right to the end, though: Hyperdrive (BBC2, Wednesday). Imagine how good Red Dwarf would have been if it hadn’t had Craig Charles in it, if it had never used the word ‘smeg’, if the script had been five times funnier and not necessarily pitched mainly at bearded computer-programmers, if the spaceship-racing sequences had been more realistic than the ones in the early Star Wars films, and if its aliens had come across like the most fantastically hilarious pastiche of every bad sci-fi movie you ever saw. That’s Hyperdrive for you, and it’s going to become an instant classic.

It’s set in the year 2051 and concerns the adventures of the crew of spaceship HMS Camden Lock — led by the magnificent Nick Frost (Mike from Spaced) as Commander Henderson, with Miranda Hart as his adoring lieutenant — whose thankless job it is to try to promote British trade interests to a thoroughly uninterested galaxy. Last week they suffered the attentions of the Glish, a revolting alien race with raw, gnobbly, mucus-dripping faces, whose preferred greeting is to taste your face and then rub their genitals all over you, even while insisting, ‘There’s nothing sexual in this.’

This week, they visited the planet of the Queppu, a humanoid race given to wearing shiny red-rubber outfits and headpieces resembling jesters’ hats and giant penises, who had developed possibly the universe’s most useless ever terror weapon: an evil death ray that kills the victim in possibly no more than three days, provided the victim keeps still.

My favourite exchange was the one between the ship’s psychopathic number two officer York (Kevin Eldon) and the Queppu’s Supreme Leader, clearly after a long sales pitch about the virtues of British commerce.

SL: …I see now how the Loyalty Card works. And Barratt. Do they build palaces?

York: I’m sure they will for you, Supreme Leader.

SL (with awe): My subjects will MARVEL at my BARRATT PALACE.

York (with even more awe): Oh indeed! And HOW they shall MARVEL!

It was written by Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley, directed by John Henderson. And it’s even more marvellous than a Barratt Palace.

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