The week in TV: Little Boy Blue; The Durrells; The Island with Bear Grylls; Girlboss

The Moorside writer Jeff Pope does a fine job on the story of Rhys Jones, The Durrells is much more likable than it should be, but Girlboss isn’t

Little Boy Blue (ITV) | ITV Hub
The Durrells (ITV) | ITV Hub
The Island with Bear Grylls (C4) | All 4
Girlboss (Netflix)

It is a tribute to Jeff Pope’s writing that, even as surgeons battled to save the life of 11-year-old Rhys Jones, I was still willing them to succeed. Even though everyone knows the real Rhys died in 2007 on the operating table, after being shot in a Liverpool car park, there was still, surely, a hope – can they get the blood in in time? Will that surgical clip hold – and, like a sporting action-replay, ever the insane suspicion that it might go differently this time.

What a terrifically human drama was Little Boy Blue, but it was a hard watch, at points. The minute’s applause organised for Rhys by his beloved Everton football club, recreated here by fans, of course, and mum Mel’s battle to kiss her son in the morgue, but for me it was the courteous thanking, almost unseen, overlooked, by dad Steve, of operating theatre staff, morticians, police: a working man hesitantly thanking working people for having taken care of his son. All excelled, particularly Brian F O’Byrne and Sinead Keenan as the parents and the ever-splendid Stephen Graham as DSI Dave “Ned” Kelly, and the many citizens of Liverpool who took part as extras. Indeed, we got to see both sides of this great, brave, brittle, weepy city, which could never be accused of presenting a monolithic poker-face to the world.

Community spirit can be a double‑sided coin, capable of much loving support yet much deception, not least self-deception. (Pope does this rather well: he was last responsible for The Moorside.) And I still remember, when covering the James Bulger case all those years ago, how the next day, after two – erroneous – arrests, Liverpudlians struggled to overturn a police van containing two (innocent) teenagers, while angrily chest-beating their love of children. The next three episodes, in which Kelly will hit a wall of cowardly silence, will surely show the city in many bad lights: but I reckon most of Britain will be able to disregard the gangland scum (for scum they are), and instead quietly cheer, not without a little sadness, the bloody life-affirming tenacity of the place.

‘Quirkily idyllic’ Keeley Hawes and Callum Woodhouse in The Durrells.
‘Quirkily idyllic’ Keeley Hawes and Callum Woodhouse in The Durrells. Photograph: ITV PLC

The Durrells I had had a notion to dislike, and wilfully (stupidly) ignored last time around, but Simon Nye’s immensely subtle adaptation of Gerald D’s account of his family’s quirkily idyllic prewar years on Corfu is a warm and wonderful beast, almost worthy of Call the Midwife, whose tremendously popular Sunday-night shoes it seems to have slippered into.

On the surface, little happened. Keeley Hawes got to look pretty again, and flirted with (in a jolly hockily and decidedly un-Greek way) only about 100% of the island’s handsome available men. Young Gerry took up otters; the dog got shot; ridiculous moustaches were sported by the boy-men. But this is not a period piece, though the sense of year and place are immense: the ironies, heartbreaks, embarrassments and emotional spayings are urgently recognisable today to anyone who’s ever been part of a family.

The latest The Island with Bear Grylls kicked off with a new twist: old against young. As usual, I’m sadly and guiltily hooked: this is my spring hate-watch, viewed only to shout at the plasma, with surprisingly cathartic results.

For all Bear’s hearty, palm-thumping imprecations – “it’s all about teamwork, teamwork, teamwork”, “it’s all about mindset, mindset, mindset”, “I’m bunking off to stay in a five-star hotel” and the like – it won’t be about who gets on best with whom, about who’s a team player, nor this year, about age, but about who’s willing to tan their arse with work, and who’s willing to just tan their arse. Or, as Frank put it better – I would like him yet more, but he never thanked the two swimmers who arguably saved his life – “In life, it’s always the same people that stand in the dogshit, and crash the car. It’s always them skint on a Friday night. And then there’s the people that do things.” The 66-year-old Frank has the work ethic of a Sherpa. Freddie, 18, had the work ethic of tumbleweed, and cried, and left.

‘Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork’: Bear Grylls on The Island with Jacqueline, Phil, Jager, Stefania, Aran, Jane, Frank and Karen.
‘Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork’: Bear Grylls on The Island with old hands (l-r) Jacqueline, Phil, Jager, Stefania, Aran, Jane, Frank and Karen. Photograph: Channel 4 Television

A sidenote: two of the eight oldies are police officers, one retired, as is one of the (better) contestants on the current Second Chance Summer. This gives the, perhaps wholly understandable, impression that swaths of our current police force are simply longing to get on with using their bodies (while they can: poor kind Andy in Tuscany has already survived one heart attack) to do something hard-working in the sun, rather than continue to struggle through quicksands of paperwork and ethical minefields, vales of tears, only to fail to convict rat-faced Croxteth child-murderers.

Did you hear that sound? That was another dull, pewter toll of the bell in the latest long threnody to the death of feminism. Girlboss, a new and – for once – astonishingly tone-deaf excursion from Netflix, is the purported story of eBay millionaire Sophia Amoruso. It is meant to be empowering, confident, girl-centred.

In the first minute, young Sophia gives the finger to a San Francisco trolleybus stuck behind her out-of-gas car, and this is meant to be sassy, or rebellious, or devil-may-care delightful. The camera pans back to a logjam of sweating cars, late for work, so it’s less “funny” than “downright rude”. Next day she has to be at her (shoe-shop) work at 10, so insists, to the latest man in whose bed she has woken, that “everything before 10 is my time” and turns up half an hour late. She openly steals a carpet from an impoverished street vendor – free spirit, yay! – and, as the list of her preening, feckless, millennial, ever-so-entitled rudenesses continues I can only hope Britt Robertson, who plays Sophia (and plays her rather well), isn’t even a hundredth as annoying in real life, otherwise I’d watch out for those real-life San Fran trams, missy.

Britt Robertson as Sophia Amoruso in Girlboss.
Britt Robertson as the ‘preening, feckless’ Sophia Amoruso in Girlboss. Photograph: Karen Ballard/Netflix

And I may (utterly conceivably) have misinterpreted what recent waves of feminism have tried to teach, but I can’t remember the one that advised, specifically: a) steal and lie your way to the top without any work ethic; b) wallow in victimhood, despite being a rich young pretty white woman in a happy, tolerant city; c) be parodically selfish, to an extent that would further boggle even Bette Davis’s eyes, and d) lack any worldly empathy, particularly for women.

Astonishingly, it makes the asinine days of the Spice Girls’ confused “girl power” message almost yearnable for: compared to Girlboss, Geri and co look, in hindsight, like Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer and Caitlin Moran delivering a particularly astute and punchy lecture.


Euan Ferguson

The GuardianTramp

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