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Mark Peters


Some call Ricky Gervais a comedy genius. While I'm the first to admit that the "chubby little loser" is indeed funnier than a box full of squirrels, that hardly puts him in the same league as Mr Higgs-Boson.

It seems the label "genius" gets bandied about far too casually these days, much like "awesome". Meanings of words are being watered down like happy-hour cocktails. It won't be long before every man and his dog, with a smattering of success and a half decent haircut will be up for the accolade of "most awesome genius of the year". Hell, Nicolas Cage just won "best global actor" at China's Huading Awards, so that shows us just how low the bar is being set. This is a world packed full of creative, intelligent and immensely talented people but just because they're ridiculously good at something doesn't qualify them to rub shoulders with the Einsteins and Hawkings of this world. Gervais would, I'm sure, be the first to admit that he couldn't have done it without his writing partner and comic foil, Stephen Merchant.

As masters (rather than geniuses) of cringe-inducing comedy and co-writers on the hugely successful The Office and Extras (in which both starred, or at least appeared), Merchant is as vital to Gervais as Laurel was to Hardy, but it's now time to see if the "big, lanky, goggle-eyed freak" can hold the spotlight on his own. Hello Ladies (HBO, tomorrow at 9.30pm) stars Merchant as Stuart Pritchard, a geeky British web designer living and looking for love in Hollywood alongside his struggling-actress housemate, Jessica (Christine Woods; FlashForward), and recently separated best friend, Wade. It leads to a rather tired series of humiliating situations in which the socially awkward Pritchard fails miserably in his quest for passion. Hello Ladies certainly has its funny moments, mainly the affectionate back and forth between Merchant and Woods, but as a vehicle for his comic brilliance it feels like a disservice.

From a funny man to a tough guy. Vinnie Jones, the mockney movie star and ex-professional football player known for his unique grappling skills - and one of many stars to have performed a cameo on Extras - goes in search of other hard nuts in Vinnie Jones: Russia's Toughest (National Geographic, tomorrow at 10pm). Comrade Jones, our unlikely travel guide, begins his six-part journey in the extreme working conditions of Kotlas, far from the bright lights of Moscow, where he labours alongside the hard men of Russia's northern railway. Sounding like he's chewing a mouthful of nails (he could make changing your pants seem like a life or death mission), Jones spends most of his time at the depot, hampering the workers like a first-day apprentice as they prepare a huge locomotive to cross the Arctic tundra. Not surprisingly, most of the locals seem completely bewildered by the film crew and the mouthy menace. Luckily for them, they can't understand our Vin when he tells us, over and over again - and overdramatically - that it's all "deadly" or "dangerous". Vinnie finishes up in the coal mining town of Vorkuta, at the Polar Games, taking part in a "deadly dangerous" reindeer race and being "tricked" into eating the obligatory local delicacy.

It doesn't take a genius to work out it's all balls.

And then, of course, there's the new, fourth season of The Walking Dead (above; Fox Movies Premium, tonight at 10pm). But the less said about zombie programmes following Brad Pitt's World War Zzzzzzzzzzzzz, the better.




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