Bitchin' Channels

A blog about television and radio with Paul Casserly

Paul Casserly: Why horrible people make good TV

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'We're actually just lovely people,' say Thomas and Carla from My Kitchen Rules.  Photo / Supplied
'We're actually just lovely people,' say Thomas and Carla from My Kitchen Rules. Photo / Supplied

From cooking show contestants to fraudulent cancer doctors, horrible people make awfully good TV.

I nearly didn't watch Cancerman: The Milan Brych Affair, which aired last Sunday, after reading some less than enthusiastic previews, but I'm glad I did.

When I grew up there were two larger-than-life villains who jumped out of the TV and gave me the willies: One was Robert Muldoon, and the other was Milan Brych.

Brych was a Czech quack, a shyster who pretended to be a cancer doctor with a cure. He also looked and sounded like a bad guy from a Thunderbirds episode, which is probably why even as a kid I knew he was evil and that I hated him. I was probably too young to know that taking the piss out of terminal patients was about as bad as it gets.

In Cancerman, which is part dramatisation, part doco, Brych is played by Paolo Rotondo, who does a fine job, but he's is on a hiding to nothing, because the real footage of Brych is just so mesmerising.

Although I could hate-watch Brych archive footage for hours, this is really the story of John Scott, the taciturn Kiwi doctor who spotted Brych for what he was and spent his life trying to prove it. John Scott is a true Kiwi hero, a Hillary of medical ethics. Dogged doesn't even begin to describe him. In Cancerman he's played by a man who looks very much like him, but once again it's the real thing that really delivers.

Apart from Scott, the most enjoyable of the talking heads is veteran journalist and talk back pioneer Gordon Dryden, who followed Brych to the Cook Islands. His part of the story also contained one of the saddest images: The graveyard on Rarotonga known as the 'Brychyard', now partially reclaimed by the ocean.

Cancerman is not perfect by any means - there's some cheesy narration and there are some painfully lifeless re-enactments, as is par for the course in this genre. Mind you, there have been notable exceptions in that department: Strongman The Tragedy and The Golden Hour took dramatic re-enactments to another, more filmic level. This isn't Cancerman's strong point, but it does have a superb story to tell, but mostly it has a brilliant villain, a callous, cold-war conman worthy of a John Le Carre novel. (You can watch Cancerman: The Milan Brych Affair here.)

It would be unfair to compare Thomas from My Kitchen Rules (TV2, 7.30pm, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday) to Mr Brych - which is exactly the sort of terrible slur that Thomas would probably stoop to if he was writing a TV blog. Thomas and Carla, "just friends", are contestants on the Australian cooking competition that's proving to be hit in New Zealand - in part because this season features a couple from our shores.

The Kiwi pair are nice enough, but Thomas is delightfully awful. I love hating every word that oozes out of his mean little mouth. The producers must have high-fived each-other when he turned up, and they've done a great job fashioning his mean-spirited aura into one of the highlights of the show.

Today I'm heading offshore to find some more likely candidates to boil my blood. In the United States, The Republican National Convention is underway in Tampa, Florida, which means that there's never been a better time to watch that never-ending smorgasbord of bad auras, Fox News.

Some new shows that don't suck:

Deane Waretini - Now Is The Hour (Friday, Maori, 10pm): This New Zealand comedy promises to be a beauty, featuring the legendary Maori one-hit wonder himself, a former Russian nuclear physicist and Orlando, the manager from Wayne Anderson -Singer of Songs. Deane is on a comeback tour and like Singer of Songs it's sometimes hard to tell what's fact and what's fiction.

Boss' second season starts on Saturday (8.30pm, Soho). Kelsey Grammer is the brilliantly bastard mayor of Chicago. Season one was highly addictive and took gratuitous sex to a new level.

Also starting next week is The Killing (9.30 Wednesday, TV3). Not as good as the Danish original, Forbrydelsen, which is currently showing on Soho, but it's still miles better than all the other police procedurals on free-to-air TV.

It's already started but it's ace: American Horror Story (9.30 Monday, Four) provides twisted, campy, haunted-house, fun-times. Especially delightful is the old bird from Six Feet Under who's also a hot young nympho.

Stella (7.30 pm, Wednesday UKTV) is written and starring Welsh comic genius Ruth Jones, who also starred in and co-wrote Gavin and Stacey.

Follow Paul Casserly on Twitter.

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