Jaci Stephen's Reviews

Sharon's a real X Factor loser; The Mail on Sunday; October 31, 2004; Jaci Stephen

The X Factor ITV1, Saturday *****

National Television Awards ITV1, Tuesday ***

Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway ITV1, Saturday *****

Spooks BBC1, Monday *

Whose Baby? *

Foyle's War ITV1, Sunday *****

Coronation Street ITV1, Sunday to Friday *****

Sales in rope must be rocketing. Now that The X Factor has entered the stages where the judges are pitted against each other, Simon Cowell is giving Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne so much rope to hang themselves, he could start his own gallows business.

Sharon has so far been a popular figure with viewers - she also won Best Judge from the studio audience in the first of the competitive rounds - but her childish, petulant sniping is doing her no favours.

In the National Television Awards, she appeared on stage with the creature that is her husband and had yet another go at Cowell, accusing him of not being able to spot talent. Given that she was left with by far the weakest of the acts in The X Factor (which she chose), this was a bit rich.

She might well be the richest woman in rock, but having watched The Osbournes - a gross, foulmouthed, egotistical menagerie by anyone's standards - and the pointless, fatuous Sharon Osbourne Show, you can only feel stunned disbelief that she has managed to make a living from it at all.

As for Walsh, he is like the weakest boy in the class, who sides with the bully because he does not have the skills to battle himself. They are cutting a sorry pair, while Cowell retains his dignity and, more to the point, his honesty.

It was inevitable that sparks were going to fly at the National Television Awards, which was just as well, given the length of the proceedings. Viewers love this ceremony because it wheels out so many stars for another round of vacuous celebrity spotting; however, for the most part, the awards do not reflect the majority's views. A tiny proportion of the public votes for the usual suspects, and the nominees barely change from year to year.

It was great to see young Sam Aston, who plays Coronation Street's Chesney Brown, pick up his award for Most Popular Newcomer, but given the percentage taking part in the voting and the downmarket publications which are harnessing those votes, the event is meaningless.

Not so for the winners. Fern Britton nearly burst a blood vessel when This Morning won the Daytime TV award: 'The best, best thing!' she cried (right up there with world peace?). She then continued her rant on the show the morning after.

On and on and on. Thank heaven for co-host Piers Morgan, who was standing in for Philip Schofield - what an inspired piece of casting. 'Will you please stop banging on about it?' he begged. And so say all of us.

Apart from The X Factor, ITV is bringing us a strong Saturday night. From 5.30 on, there is no other channel to watch (I video Strictly Come Dancing on BBC1 so that I can fast forward through the dances). Harry Hill, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, Parkinson - it's all really strong family entertainment.

Before The X Factor comes Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, an extraordinary, high-energy show from Britain's most popular double act (who deservedly won two awards this week). So smoothly does the show look onscreen, it's easy to underestimate what a skilled production it is. Ant & Dec Undercover is hilarious, with the pair made up as Sister Mary and Sister Bernadette (Dec in particular is a very good actor); Little Ant & Dec are charming in their innocence; Win The Ads is desperately tense. Never for a moment does the show flag, and it, along with the rest of the output, has made Saturday night ITV1 really worth staying in for.

I'm afraid that Monday is still a night to go out. I'm really, really trying with Spooks. Honestly. Rupert Penry-Jones (Adam Carter) is a god with the most beautiful mouth in showbusiness; but what's happened to Matthew Macfadyen as Tom Quinn again? Is the actor so busy with other things that they have to keep giving him mystery disappearances?

I missed episode two, so he might be living as a tramp again for all I know, but his weathervane existence is hugely irritating.

Why did the tape I received say that critics were not to reveal the ending before transmission? Exactly what was the big secret? Sorry, again, but it is full of cliches ('Man learns nothing from the past; he just repeats it') and I think I'm going have to give up trying.

I also wish I hadn't bothered with Whose Baby? on Monday. Still, at least it was scheduled against Spooks, so you would have been able to miss two duds for the price of one. It starred Sophie Okonedo as Karen, who impregnated herself with her boyfriend's sperm, which she had saved in the condom he used (too much information, I know, but apparently it's as common as a cup of tea among some women).

Barry (Andrew Lincoln) at first wanted nothing to do with his daughter, but then he became obsessed and did everything he could to try to see her. Karen didn't want to know, and so he ended up dressed as a tiger on a crane outside her window.

That was about it, really. There was no tension, no real drama, and it felt as if it had been quickly churned out to capitalise on recent antics by Fathers 4 Justice. At the end, Barry was arrested. So what.

Another series of Foyle's War makes Sunday a good night for ITV1. Apart from the dreadfully irritating voice of Samantha Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks), which is a cross between Celia Johnson and The Man In The Iron Mask, it's a compelling piece of period detective drama.

The charismatic Michael Kitchen is outstanding as supersleuth Christopher Foyle, caught between his principles and the often unprincipled spoils of war - 'the necessities of war', as James Wintringham (Samuel West) called them.

The long-awaited Coronation Street wedding between Dev (Jimmy Harkishin) and Sunita (Shobna Gulati) was going rather well, until the bride and groom were arrested on suspicion of aiding illegal immigration and, in Sunita's case, building up a bank of husbands. The show deservedly won the award for most popular serial drama in the National Television Awards, an event which should have been the highlight of the evening. Alas, they were upstaged by the streaker who appeared next to Sharon Osbourne.

Sometimes you can have too many plonkers onstage at one time.