When I first heard Will & Grace was coming back, I was annoyed. To me the show had ended on the perfect note, with both of them married and raising a family and finally healing a rift in their friendship. It felt as if their story was complete.

Yet this had been ripped away from us as a delusional dream of Karen’s. Instead, they are both alone and weirdly dependent on each other. Jack is still a shallow preening wannabe, Karen a pill-popping drunk of unknown age. There was no development, no sense in the intervening years the characters had grown up. It felt like a weirdly bum note to open a sitcom on.

Yet it was the only thing that made sense. This was never a comedy about the perils of parenting and family life. So the only thing that has changed is that the cast is now older but not wiser. This was employed to good effect in the second episode where both Will and Jack hooked up with younger men, with Will finding the new generation of gay men too shallow and having it too easy, Jack desperately turning the clock back physically.

The big controversy though came from the first episode, where the majority of jokes were anti-Trump. Now, I have no issue with this. But a lot of people in America did. I find this odd though for two reasons. Firstly, the ‘don’t diss my president’ crowd would not have leapt to Obama’s defence that quickly if he had been the butt of the jokes. Secondly, the whole aspect of not mocking your leader full stop. In Britain there isn’t a politician or member of the Royal Family that has not been ridiculed. It is what healthy satire is built on.

I suppose the biggest question is it still funny. To this I would say yes, largely. It is slightly predictable what the jokes are going to be, but that isn’t always a bad thing. If the characters are still who they are then the punchlines need to match.

I do have one quibble though. Where the hell is Rosario? The back and forth between her and Karen was on the highlights of the show, not least Rosario’s deliciously barbed insults (a favourite being ‘Lady McBreath’). I hope she makes an appearance. Ditto the barking mad Beverly Leslie.

Overall, this feels like a warning of why nostalgia should be left as so. Yes, it is still funny and in this age could offer new stories to tell, but it still feels a shame that in order to tell the stories we need to resurrect an old show instead of making something new. Whilst that would have been more difficult, it would have been of greater value. It’s good to have Will & Grace back. It would have been better to have a new generation carry the torch.


Honest declaration: I don’t like First Dates Hotel. To me it feels like a spin-off of a bankable hit that has been done to save coming up with an alternative idea for that timeslot without having to extend the original series. Of course, that is presumably the whole point.

Yet it is so flawed in so many ways. Let’s begin with the minor details. The TOWIE style chats round the pool are manufactured and insincere. The whole point of the show is to be real and sincere – these are everyday people embarking on a date, not playing out some constructed reality TV show.

Then there’s the bizarre set up of us then following the more successful couples on a second date the next day where they take part in a random local activity. This is pure filler so the show can have less couples and therefore save on the budget. Sorry for breaking out the cynicism here but it’s true. Nobody wants to see date two. If we did, we would be clamouring for the show Second Dates.

The worst flaw though is the storyline that dominated episode one and two, where the show really tripped over into some form of Made in Chelsea territory. The love triangle between Jada, Charlie and Kaylee was unusually exploitative for a programme that is normally genteel and about restoring faith in humanity.

For the uninitiated, Kaylee was set up on a date with Kieran (a bit-part player in this pseudo soap opera) but beforehand had a flirty chat with Charlie. Both fell for each other, and, as a result, poor Kieran had a damp squib of a date with Kaylee despite ticking many of her boxes.

Now the only barrier to true love was Charlie’s date with Jada. The editors seemed to have it in for Jada. She was portrayed as blunt to the point of rudeness, shallow and domineering. Yes, she was allowed to have a call with her glamourous nanna to humanise her, but that was the only conceit to niceness she was offered, compared to the almost angelic Kaylee.

And then the unthinkable happened. Charlie fell for Jada and picked her. Kaylee, unaware she had been vanquished, put on her best war paint and battle armour and strolled into the bar to find Charlie buying his new love a strawberry daiquiri. The tears that followed were uncomfortable to watch.

This is not what we tune in for – yes we expect dates to go wrong. But to see such a crushing moment played out was horrifying. People who want this kind of drama have enough other shows to lap up. Let those of us who want to see the best in humanity have our kind, soft, cuddly programme back.

One way of keeping a show fresh is by mixing up the central casting every now and then. This is often more of an essential for American TV shows, with their long seasons of 20+ episodes and dream of making the magical 100th episode. Killing your darlings is a shortcut to making things exciting and opening new avenues.

It is less a feature of British TV, with Doctor Who a notable exception. New Doctors and companions allow for new interpretations of the individual’s character as well as their relationship with others. One season it may be quasi-romantic, another parental, yet another a best buds.

Death In Paradise has also had to cope with line-up changes over the years. The excuse given is, that although six months of filming in the Caribbean is a delight, it is also a drain on the star’s time to spend with their family.

Again, each lead character has given us different readings of how their detective finds life on Saint Marie. Ben Miller played his as an uptight fish out of water, incredibly methodical but emotionally closed off. Kris Marshall made his almost like and excitable puppy embracing a new world, with a more scattergun approach to match. Newest lead man Ardal O’Hanlon has gone down a different track, playing the detecting as laid back and exuding bon homie to the point of almost pretending to be slightly dim witted.

The question is whether a viewer can take to each one equally. A few purists miss the fastidiousness of Miller. Others saw Marshall, so far the longest serving, as the most natural fit. Few seem to have warmed to O’Hanlon so far. That could be time issue, but personally, I am amongst those who are struggling with him.

For me, it is the pernickety detail of his rhythm of speech. The way he speaks sounds very forced in my opinion, as if he hasn’t quite memorised his lines and someone off camera is holding them up for him. I also feel his more ‘comedy’ moments feel disingenuous, but then again this has always been my issue with the show. I’m not sure how even in a ‘cosy crime’ setting you can have a pratfall immediately following a revelation about someone killing someone else.

But what brings you back is the mysteries themselves. I’m a sucker for a locked-room story, and Death In Paradise does them brilliantly. Sometimes you may guess the result, but not often, and if you can, may I suggest watching something more rigorous and allowing the rest of us an hour to ourselves?

Of course, a lot will rest on how much we can all adjust to O’Hanlon. Even in this show a lot rests on the leading man. The sands of time may allow us to accept him. If not, well, it’s not like a sudden recasting is unheard of on this show. Perhaps it is one of the most brutal programmes on TV after all.

I never had a gap year. To be honest, it didn’t appeal to me and seemed an expensive way to get drunk and have stories to tell. I certainly didn’t fancy going to places like Thailand I don’t deny there is beautiful scenery and a fascinating culture, but I like the familiar and my creature comforts.

Jack Whitehall, however, rues his missing gap year. So now he is having one, or at least a gap six weeks or so. And he is taking his elderly father with him, insisting that it will tick off things on his bucket list that don’t even exist. Hence the show Jack Whitehall: Travels with my Father.

The result is an incredibly funny programme about travel, families and the age gap. It is the last one of these that is played on most. Michael Whitehall wants his holidays to be about luxury and history. In episode one he took one look at the hostel that had been planned for him and bolted to the more refined hotel down the road, where he refused to eat the local food and demanded a lamb chop. Jack wants the backpacker experience and to take part in beach parties and free running.

It is their prickly but loving relationship that drives the show. Episode two sees Michael writing his autobiography. When Jack queries what exactly he is writing about, Michael reveals ‘well this chapter is about Hitler’ as if it is the most normal thing in the world, prompting Jack to query if his father was in the Hitler Youth. It is the silly meeting the deadpan that produces the biggest laughs, along with Michael’s lack of self-censure, at one point thinking that a man who was serving them had introduced himself as Stuart when he had actually said he was their steward. In another scene, he openly compared a temple priestess to Mollie Sugden.

I think the biggest reason I love this show is that there is a lot of me and my dad in this. There is a similar age gap and political misalignment. My father is as equally befuddled by technology and resistant to the modern world and makes politically incorrect statements and then has no understanding of the uproar he causes. My revenge for this public embarrassment is too be mildly insulting about his ways. The only difference is that my father wouldn’t even countenance leaving the country.

At just six episodes, it almost feels too short. I hope there is a second season, as there are still many cultures for Michael to mildly offend and bizarre situations to throw the pair of them into. It is after all Travels. It would be a shame to curtail their wanderlust, and our entertainment, so soon.

A big challenge facing TV wonks is how to make a potentially dry genre funny without it being a spoof, or at least not make it a spoof if you don’t intend it to be one. When you parody something, you potentially mock the very audience you intend to win over by making fun of the hallmarks of something they love, which leaves you with no-one watching.

One solution is to go for more of a pastiche – makes jokes about the genre, but do so gently. The other is to simply make something funny whilst using the genre as a setting. The Orville does a bit of both, and in doing so has made a genuinely funny yet also genre friendly show.

The Orville is a sci-fi comedy about a crew of a star ship. It is obviously designed to be a Star Trek with gags. There is the mocking of the diversity of the crew – a super-strong female alien security guard, a robot that is slightly sociopathic, two frat boy helmsman, etc. It could easily descend into something farcical.

What saves it is that Seth MacFarlane (yes, it is he) has actually invested in the plots. The opening episode introduced us to the evil Krill trying to steal a new technology that can speed up time. Whilst there were jokes, the plot was never forgotten about, even if it was a bit simple. Then again, early episodes of a show tend to be as the priority is to build cast dynamics. Again, this has been well done. There is a nice undercurrent of tension with Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) having to work with his ex-wife, who actually secured him the job without his knowledge.

The fact this show is happy to also be a more of a drama than a comedy is also, for me, a positive. It allows light and dark to balance each other, and stops you being whacked over by MacFarlane’s juvenile humour. It also allows more a commentary of society to be offered without being either flippant or sanctimonious.

The critics have panned this show. Interestingly, some have found it too silly and frivolous to be worth their time. Others have wondered where the jokes are for this to be a comedy. The fact it is pleased viewers a lot more though suggests that the critics have missed the point: it is simply an hour of enjoyable television. It has heart to it, a rare thing at times. And I’m not going to lie, for an average viewer like me, it is fun to see the critics get it so wrong.

After much delay, I am finally getting round to catching up with the latest series of Man Down. It has always been an interesting beast of a show. No laugh track and a slightly depressing premise – man’s life falls apart repeatedly – should put it squarely in the low-key ‘is this even a comedy?’ category. Yet it is highly slapstick in its humour and boarders on the surreal, giving it a manic energy.

I suspect this is why it fails to win BAFTA’s, despite being so neatly crafted and funny it should be showered in them. There is a tendency for critic-driven awards to reward the dour, those comedies that supposedly purport to reflect real life, despite the fact comedy is supposed to be an escape. If I read one more review of a comedy describing it has ‘heart-breaking’ the only thing that will get broken is the critic’s face.

Anyway, Man Down. This series is opening a new avenue of comic potential by making Dan, played by Greg Davies, a father. So far, so predictable, but Davies lifts this with the aforementioned qualities, plus a dose of uncomfortableness.

Take episode two, where Dan went on a mission to find his childhood toy bear, ripped away from him as a child. This leads him to breaking into a children’s hospital to steal it back, only to find his memories have played tricks on him in the most excruciating way possible. Yes, it is slightly uncomfortable but also very, very funny.

As ever, in the background we have Roisin Conaty as Jo still forming mad schemes, Mike Wozniak’s Brian trying to rebuild his own life and being sabotaged by others and, most gloriously, Dan’s mum and aunt sharing a retirement village together. It is often these little details, including his mum in a series of ludicrous outfits (snooker player, judo robes), that lift this show and bring the best laughs.

This will always be an unrecognised show. Too silly to get the awards, too dark to be mainstream. But it will also always be joyously fun. If you want to escape into a slightly odd world, do so with this. You won’t regret it.

The afterlife and death has been a frequent setting for comedy-drama. Six Feet Under, Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me have all been and gone. They have never been out-and-out comedies though. Perhaps it has been seen as such a sensitive subject that, if you are to include jokes, you need something a bit darker to balance it out.

The Good Place dispenses with such a rule, with humour front and centre. The story focuses on Eleanor, who after dying is sent to ‘The Good Place’ as a reward for her hard work on earth. The Good Place is a community made up of similar individual who have been granted their dreams in the afterlife by The Architect, a God-like figure given human form.

But there’s a problem. Eleanor shouldn’t be here. She wasn’t good. In fact, she was awful. And when she behaves in such a way in The Good Place she creates a mini-apocalypse which can only be fixed by being good. So, in order to not be found out, she learns to be a good person with the help of her soulmate.

I’m only four episodes into the first season but there is a lot to like. The central plot is fleshed out by some side mysteries, it is intelligently constructed and the characters are slowly fleshing out nicely. Ted Danson is charmingly vulnerable as The Architect, a flawed but omniscient presence. Janet, his assistant, is also smartly drawn.

Best of all, it is actually funny. Ok, this is often as a wry smile rather than a belly laugh, but this is one of the shows that bears repeat viewing. The first time you follow the plot, the second time the jokes. In true Netflix-style, it also rewards the binge watcher with its promise of a cliff hanger at the end of every episode.

There are nods to My Name Is Earl in its themes of redemption and morality whilst side-stepping religion. Good is quantified statistically – how impactful and frequent were your good actions? This is totted up by some kind of celestial computer. No religious figurehead here – it is all formulas, which, in era where Google and Amazon watch you daily, is oddly believable.

Perhaps it could benefit from some bigger laughs. But this seems like an unfair quibble for a show that seems to be somehow quaint yet daring. The afterlife has never been so funny. Nor, in this post-modern word, so unnerving.