“You know what?,” says the warpaint-cheeked Veena (Lauren O’Rourke) at the end of the first episode of Henpocalypse! (BBC Two). She’s swigging vodka in a ransacked corner shop in north Wales, having just torn through a pack of biscuits with her teeth. Next to her is an artfully engineered DIY sword, in case the undead are marauding outside: a sharpened dildo gaffer-taped to a mop handle. “As of right now, this isn’t actually the worst hen do I’ve been on,” she says.
As someone whose rural hen weekend involved a friend destroying a car, scheming bridesmaids and – I write this with apologies to my mother – a William and Kate royal cock ring, I can say with confidence that hen weekends can be a living nightmare. BBC Two’s new half-hour comedy takes this premise to its natural conclusion.
We open with the subversion of an ominous cliche: a screaming man running through woodlands, but he’s wearing shiny gold hotpants (we later discover that he’s male stripper Drew, escaping being chained to a radiator). We’re introduced to his captors nine weeks earlier, in a rented Barbie-pink people carrier, zooming westwards from their Birmingham council estate. Alongside Veena, they’re tarantula-eyelashed bridezilla Zara (Lucie Shorthouse), her vape-puffing mother, Bernadette (the glorious Elizabeth Berrington), put-upon best friend Shelly (Callie Cooke) and daft cousin Jen (Kate O’Flynn). As they drunkenly dance hours later to Britney Spears’s Toxic, news snowballs behind the stripper’s crotch on TV: crab measles is spreading through the UK and it kills 94% of all men.
Nine weeks later, the malnourished bride’s teeth are falling out, the remaining food is three “choccy cocks” and a stiletto injury Jen didn’t put a plaster on has gone a bit … gangrenous. It’s weirdly refreshing to see these end-of-the-world tropes twisted into grim comedy, but this first solo outing for Caroline Moran (co-writer of Channel 4’s Hullraisers, and Raised by Wolves with big sister/Times columnist Caitlin) feels a little try-hard at the start. References to “dry humping”, “bifters” and “noshing” abound, as if she’s channelling an adolescent desperate to shock. Still, it’s hard not to laugh at the lavatorial humour, such as when Bernadette tells her daughter: “Dysentery is slimming, there’s no two ways about it.”
Henpocalypse! is at its funniest when it’s less manic: when Drew is mourning the many men who will have died (“Jeremy Clarkson, Jordan Peterson, Russell Brand … all the great thinkers”) and when Zara’s not blaming her sickly cousin for ruining her fun (“To be fair, the apocalypse is also implicated – it’s a shared blame”). There are also nice details about female friendship, betrayal and jealousy told in memory-sparked flashbacks, while Danny Dyer materialises in later episodes as a besuited, moustachioed spirit guide. A show that begins with lusty extremes gets more affecting when it takes a breath and calms down – like all good relationships, then.
Amazon Prime’s mid-summer holiday launch is one for the teens (and adults) craving a hit of Stranger Things spookiness: Harlan Coben’s Shelter, an adaptation of the bestselling thriller writer’s 2011 young adult novel. Teenager Mickey Bolitar (Jaden Michael) moves to small-town New Jersey after a car crash that results in the death of his father and the hospitalisation of his mother. In flashback, we see him hanging upside down from his seatbelt, meeting the eyes of a paramedic leaning over his father’s bloody body – a moment that proves his dad is dead. Or is he?
Not according to “Bat Lady”, who tells Mickey his dad is still alive (her dilapidated mansion, long silver wig and ice-blue contact lenses come straight from comedy hag cliche central). Thankfully, Shelter also has cosy high school tropes that arrive like familiar hugs: two nerdy new friends, a gittish sports captain who you long to get a swift, supernatural comeuppance and a sweet love interest who goes missing (although her delicacy is tempered by a gun in her rucksack). The general mood is not so much otherworldly terror as Dawson’s Creek meets The Karate Kid gone eerie, but the charisma of the cast helps it compel (Michael has a smile worthy of a box-office blockbuster).
BBC Three is also going for the ghostly mystery market with Paranormal: The Girl, the Ghost and the Gravestone. Digging into the history of 300 alleged paranormal events at a remote Flintshire farmhouse, presenter Sian Eleri finds out about visions of a pregnant girl peering into a cot, a teenager with Down’s syndrome communicating with ghosts and Welsh words appearing from nowhere above a fireplace. I gorged through the four episodes like a rapacious zombie, notwithstanding its frequent repetitions of what we’d seen and where we’d been. Despite the first episode’s woolly conclusion, Eleri’s charm (her day job is as a Radio 1 DJ) made everything gel, and some moments were genuinely frightening, such as when the missing titular gravestone was found buried in a garden.
Finally, to Netflix’s big new reality show, At Home With the Furys, which I found unexpectedly affecting. Chief Fury is Tyson, the reigning WBC heavyweight champion boxer, who, as the cameras roll, has retired at the age of 34 to spend more time at home. With him there is his wife, Paris, his partner since their mid-teens, whom he met through the Traveller community, and their six kids (and despite their riches, no nanny). “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he says of their chaotic life, sitting on a white-and-gold chaise longue. “Three girls, three boys – and all fucking crazy like me.”
Fury could’ve lived anywhere, but his heart is in his home town, Morecambe Bay, where we meet his extended family; this is where he hears the “sea air calling to me”. Occasionally, Fury has the air of a pugilist Alan Partridge, but he’s also an intriguingly soft-hearted soul around his fights with bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression – and his ego. You do wonder if having a camera crew following his every move was the best idea for his state of mind. The next episode sees the gang jetting off to Hollywood. Netflix can expect a big hit.
Star ratings (out of five)
Paranormal: The Girl, the Ghost and the Gravestone ★★★
Harlan Coben’s Shelter ★★★
At Home With the Furys ★★★
What else I’m watching
Untold: Hall Of Shame
A jaw-dropping episode of this series about sport’s biggest scandals, digging into the 00s steroid doping furore. Startling interviewees include drug developer Victor Conte, who saw himself as a “modern-day Al Capone … a Dr Frankenstein”, and disgraced world record-breaking US sprinter Tim Montgomery.
Alison & Larry: Billericay to Barry
Gavin & Stacey’s Alison Steadman and Larry Lamb take us on a circuitous Volvo expedition from Essex to south Wales. It’s surreally soporific fare, saved by the warmth radiating from these national treasures.
Fifa Women’s World Cup 2023 Semi-Final: Australia v England
Gabby Logan, Alex Scott, Jo Currie, Robyn Cowen – so many women acing the coverage as well as that fabulous match.