This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 14 January 2017.
TABOO: Saturday, BBC One
LET IT SHINE: Saturday, BBC Two
Even if TABOO involved heavyweight method growler Tom Hardy playing the word-based guessing game while smashed to the gills on ghastly fruit liqueur, it still wouldn’t be as bonkers as the actual show itself.
Not that I’m complaining. This delirious Gothic melodrama is a hoot.
Set in 1814, it follows rogue ex-soldier turned pirate James Delaney (Hardy) as, far from dead as presumed, he returns from Africa to London for his father’s funeral.
He inherits a disputed piece of land in America, with whom Britain is at war, much to the chagrin of the powerful East India Company, led by Jonathan Pryce swearing like a trouper (His language isn’t anachronistic – according to estimable Horrible Histories expert Greg Jenner, expletives were all the rage in Regency England).
Revenge is afoot when Delaney discovers that pater was murdered, which exacerbates the typhoon of demonic voodoo voices in his head.
Delaney is a perfect fit for Hardy, which is hardly surprising as he co-created Taboo with his father, the winningly named Chips Hardy, and writer Steven Knight, who devised the similarly violent and stylised Peaky Blinders.
A magnetic actor, Hardy’s natural eccentricity imbues every role he plays. Striding through the filth, macho coat-a-flapping, he revels in Knight’s knowingly ripe, lurid dialogue. Hardy doesn’t chew the scenery in Taboo, he gargles and caresses it.
Sample threat: “You send me twelve men, I will return you twelve sets of testicles in a bag.” I’d quote the rest of that line, but this is a family newspaper.
Imagine an adventure yarn written by a laudanum-addled Robert Louis Stevenson tearing through the Viz Profanisaurus, and you’ve almost imagined Taboo.
It’s stirring stuff, strikingly drawn in visceral charcoals and populated by scarred, craggy faces including such reliable stalwarts as Christopher Fairbank (Moxey from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet) and Scots walnut David Hayman.
Propelled by Hardy’s imposing performance, it moves with the sleekness of a contemporary thriller while exploiting the potential of its wretchedly fascinating period setting.
If it delivers on its promise, then Taboo could rule Saturday nights for the next eight wintry weeks.
In reality, of course, LET IT SHINE will triumph. Mediocrity always does.
Gary Barlow desperately needs to find five young lads for his new Take That-based musical, so thank God the BBC has stepped in to help him via this formulaic talent show.
If I was feeling similarly charitable, I’d dismiss it as a harmless yawn of bland razzle dazzle. But I can’t ignore its role in the inexplicable campaign to promote toadying lickspittle Barlow as an undeserved national treasure.
This is a man so desperate for a knighthood he’d muck out the corgi kennels with his bare hands if that’s what it took. He makes fellow Windsor’s pet Gareth Malone look like Oliver Cromwell.
The programme itself is benign enough – even the ‘losers’ are treated gently – but Saturday night talent shows are in dire need of a rest. Strictly can stay, as it’s always been more of an old-fashioned light entertainment extravaganza, but the rest are more tired than a Barlow solo album.
In an ideal world, this knackered genre would receive a shot in the arm from the likes of ‘Atmosphere!’ in which New Order search for the star of a new Ian Curtis musical, or ‘Bootsy Camp’ starring legendary bass genius Bootsy Collins as he attempts to revive Funkadelic with fresh-faced Italia Conti graduates.
News just in: we don’t live in an ideal world.