CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews the weekend’s TV: Why is The Larkins so unfunny? 

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews the weekend’s TV: A mystery fit for a Time Lord – why is The Larkins so unfunny?

The Larkins

Rating: **

Top Gear

Rating: **** 

The Tardis is like a James Bond Aston Martin. It goes best with a passenger who is female, feisty, and slightly in love with the driver.

That’s always been true on Doctor Who, for companions from Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane in the classic era, to Billie Piper’s Rose and Jenna Coleman as Clara this century.

The announcement last Friday, during Children In Need, that 18-year-old Millie Gibson is to be the sidekick to incoming Time Lord Ncuti Gatwa is an excellent portent for the new series.

It doesn’t take a degree in astrophysics to know Millie is certain to be better than the gormless middle-aged blokes played last time round by John Bishop and, worse yet, Bradley Walsh.

In his shabby polyester jackets, Bradley’s character, Graham, always looked as if he whiffed of Brussels sprouts. And the Tardis, even though it’s bigger on the inside, is still a confined space.

Brad is more at home as wheeler-dealer Pop in The Larkins (ITV), though currently Pop is not in the bosom of his family but doing porridge on trumped-up charges. We didn’t see much of him, except at visiting time.

The Larkins is an oddity, a family show that continues to be flat and unfunny despite the increasingly desperate efforts of a strong cast who are throwing everything into their performances.

Brad is more at home as wheeler-dealer Pop in The Larkins (ITV), though currently Pop is not in the bosom of his family but doing porridge on trumped-up charges. We didn't see much of him, except at visiting time. Pictured: Bradley Walsh as Pop Larkin

Brad is more at home as wheeler-dealer Pop in The Larkins (ITV), though currently Pop is not in the bosom of his family but doing porridge on trumped-up charges. We didn’t see much of him, except at visiting time. Pictured: Bradley Walsh as Pop Larkin

The Larkins is an oddity, a family show that continues to be flat and unfunny despite the increasingly desperate efforts of a strong cast who are throwing everything into their performances

Brad is more at home as wheeler-dealer Pop in The Larkins (ITV), though currently Pop is not in the bosom of his family but doing porridge on trumped-up charges. We didn’t see much of him, except at visiting time. 

Beauty queens of the week

A mix of telenovela soap and noir drama, Senorita 89 (BBC4) is inspired by the first Miss Mexico, Maria Teresa Landa, who killed her bigamous husband in 1929. 

The tradition of hoping for ‘world peace’ must have come later. 

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Amelia Bullmore, as besotted Miss Pilchester, got weepy drunk and had to be taken home in a wheelbarrow. Former Tardis traveller Peter Davison’s vicar donned waders for a mass baptism in a swimming pool, and was joined by Robert Bathurst, playing pensioned-off actor Johnny Delamere, brandishing a glass of port and a cigarette holder.

On the sidelines, comic talents including Morgana Robinson and Tony Gardner urge us to laugh — and still I can’t. The Larkins isn’t offensively bad, it just isn’t amusing.

Part of the trouble is the lack of sincerity. We’re meant to believe in a multicultural 1950s village where diversity and gender equality co-exist with unbending snobbery and compulsory church-going.

As a result, when ladies in the congregation tutted in protest at the young curate’s declaration of love to Primrose Larkin (Lydia Page), or when stuck-up Norma went wild and had a sherry at three in the afternoon, it didn’t feel real.

But the chief problem is that every scene is as static as a doll’s house. The characters stick to their places as if glued down.

In the pub or the prison, on the village street or sat around the table (and there are a lot of Larkin tables), nobody budges an inch. The effect is like turning the pages in a picture book.

A lack of movement isn’t a criticism that can be levelled at the teenage drivers and mechanics plucked from the worlds of carting and banger racing to compete in 180mph supercars on Top Gear (BBC1).

This episode made a welcome change from heavily scripted banter between the trio of presenters. Paddy McGuinness followed 19-year-olds Louis, Ollie and Callum, with Lillie, 18, as they joined the Paddock Motorsport team for an endurance race at Donington Park

This episode made a welcome change from heavily scripted banter between the trio of presenters. Paddy McGuinness followed 19-year-olds Louis, Ollie and Callum, with Lillie, 18, as they joined the Paddock Motorsport team for an endurance race at Donington Park

McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris (pictured) — only 23 himself — gave them a lesson on a video racing simulator.

McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris (pictured) — only 23 himself — gave them a lesson on a video racing simulator.

This episode made a welcome change from heavily scripted banter between the trio of presenters. Paddy McGuinness followed 19-year-olds Louis, Ollie and Callum, with Lillie, 18, as they joined the Paddock Motorsport team for an endurance race at Donington Park.

McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris — only 23 himself — gave them a lesson on a video racing simulator. But he warned it was no substitute for the real thing: ‘It doesn’t give you the G-force or the fear.’

Paddy couldn’t help gaping at the lap time Lando set. ‘You made that look quite straightforward,’ he marvelled.

Lando shot him a pitying look. ‘It’s my job,’ he pointed out.

Without the forced jokes, the hackneyed challenges or the feigned rivalry, Top Gear lost its formulaic feel. Paddy called this ‘an experiment’ — it’s one that deserves to be repeated.

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