Hold the Sunset (2019)

Hold the Sunset (BBC One)

There was a tremor of excitement last year when it was announced that John Cleese would be returning to the BBC for his first British sitcom role since a certain Torquay hotelier, some 40 years earlier. But I think it’s fair to say that Hold the Sunset is no Fawlty Towers, in much the same way Being Jordan by Katie Price is no Middlemarch.

And Cleese isn’t even the most wasted talent in this damp dishrag of a ‘comedy’. In fact, he’s not even in the top five most wasted talents: what other show, I ask you, could put Alison Steadman, Joanne Scanlan, Jason Watkins and Anne Reid – Anne Reid! – in the same room and not have any of them be funny? And that’s before Sue Johnston joins next week, completing perhaps the greatest mismatch between cast and script since Orson Welles played a cartoon toy robot in Transformers: The Movie.

As you may or may not recall, Phil (Cleese) and Edith (Steadman) are former sweethearts, now widowed, whose plans to jet off to a new life together were scuppered when Edith’s insufferable manbaby son Roger (Watkins) moved back home, having apparently suffered a catastrophic nervous collapse (LOL, etc). Unless there’s another reason why he spent this week’s second series opener dressed in rabbit ears and an eye patch, doing a bad ventriloquism act with a crocodile glove puppet called Methuselah.

Elsewhere, writer Charles McKeown went for the lowest of low-hanging comedy fruit by having Phil get angry with an estate agent, while a scene in which he lost his rag with a group of diners was like watching Cleese do a limp, half-remembered Basil Fawlty cover version.

What’s most baffling about Hold the Sunset is not that the jokes aren’t good, more that they’re not really there at all. Most of us can spot a gag, even when it’s lying gasping for air on the deck, but I honestly defy anyone to pinpoint which of these lines McKeown intended to be funny.

The sad thing is that everyone on this show deserves so much better. Even the crocodile.

TV extra:


Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing (BBC2)

Viewers fell hook, line and sinker for the first series of Gone Fishing, and this week saw riverbank philosophers Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse return with more gentle meditations on life and death, and all points in between. In a world of ‘constructed reality’, there’s a joyful lack of fakery to the show, with even the moment when Paul scattered his father’s ashes on the Usk taking place discreetly off-camera. It’s sentimental, but in a beautifully unshowy, quietly English sort of a way.


Manifest (Now TV / Sky Box Sets)

The premise of this new supernatural drama – a flight to New York somehow lands five years into the future – is addictive enough to make it your next box set binge (all 16 episodes are available). But be warned: it’s made by NBC, not HBO, so you’ll need a crane to suspend your disbelief at some of the plot twists – particularly when the passengers discover they now have psychic powers they can use to solve various crimes-of-the-week. Enjoyable hokum.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, 8 August, 2019

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