Secret Diary of a Call Girl

ALASDAIR PAL: ‘Billie Piper spends most of her time gurning up to her ears, like a botoxed chimp trying to blag its way out of animal testing’.

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Call me gender-confused, but Bridget Jones’ Diary and Sex and the City are brilliant. The originals, that is. People tend to forget that BJD used to be a book, and SATC a newspaper column, like the Secret Diary of a Call Girl (ITVPlayer) used to be a blog.

The jump to the screen didn’t do the first two any favours. So what about SDoaCG?

It’s the start of series four, and our protagonist has just returned from a job: “Three weeks of sun and sex on a private island with a millionaire client!”, don’tcha know

The Belle de Jour blog was about sex, no question. It was also about desire, drag queens and morality, amongst other things.

But all that stuff is terribly serious, isn’t it? Much better to just stick to the sex and be done with it.

So that’s what Billie Piper (she of ginger-marrying and teen-pop fame) spends most of her time doing. This week it’s Liam, a QC with – wait for it – erectile dysfunction.

Belle sorts this out by riding him on his desk, naked save for a gown and a wig. Apparently barristers are into this sort of thing, in the same way builders presumably prefer their women served in the bucket of a JCB, modelling a hard hat and wellies.

Secret Diary: the monkey returns

In between all the shagging, she’s got some advice for him as well: “if sex isn’t enough, you need to find something… real”. This bland moralising isn’t a one-off. When Stephanie, her boss, gets banged up for money laundering, she asks Belle to take over the business.

“I’m not a madam, and I never will be”, she sniffs. The very idea behind Belle de Jour was to explore an under-reported side to prostitution: the fact that, somewhere, sometimes, there are women that enjoy having sex, and get paid handsomely for doing so. It’s not all great, for sure, but these women are people too.

But Billie/Bellie comes across as profoundly dislikeable. In an attempt to save their relationship, long-suffering boyfriend Ben marks out a quick chart on her eggshell white walls. All dour Belle can think about, however, is the redecoration cost.

And that’s the problem, really. Sex on TV should be funny, or clever, or sexy. Dr Brooke Magnanti, the academic behind the original, is arguably all three.

Piper, for me, is none of these things. She spends most of her time gurning up to her ears, like a botoxed chimp trying to blag its way out of animal testing.

Secret Diary of a Call Girl sets out merely to titillate – and it doesn’t even manage that. It’s a bit like holding a conversation with someone with a lazy eye: it really shouldn’t be uncomfortable, but somehow, it is.

Perhaps it’s because all the sex scenes chug away to the William Tell Overture, which famously sound-tracked the rape in A Clockwork Orange.

“Bit cold and pointless, ain’t it?”, to borrow a phrase from Alex and his droogs.