CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Punchy Piers delivers a lesson in how to confront a sneering killer

Psychopath With Piers Morgan   

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Catch-22 

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When my definitive, three-volume history of breakfast TV is written — working title, Feud: Daggers At Dawn — it will reveal how the shows have always been riven with rivalry and grudges.

Earlier this month, we witnessed the ill-will that still festers between Tory MP Esther McVey, its one-time stand-in presenter, and Lorraine Kelly, the undisputed queen of the post-GMTV slot.

And colleagues have never forgotten how Eamonn Holmes and Anthea Turner loathed each other — he called her Princess Tippy Toes, while she said his behaviour left her ‘gutted’ and ‘hurt terribly’.

From the start of his confrontation with 25-year-old killer Paris Bennett at Texas State Prison, Piers provoked a succession of chilling soundbites. ‘Would you like me to speak the Queen’s English?’ Bennett taunted in a cut-glass accent, as an opening gambit

But no one could have predicted that its current stars, Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid, would go head-to-head in a ‘true crime’ challenge, both interviewing murderers in U.S. prisons in an apparent bid to prove which of them can stare into the face of evil without blinking.

On this evidence, Piers wins the dance-off. Susanna’s meandering, timid interrogations on Death Row: Countdown To Execution were uninformative compared with the punchy questions in Psychopath (ITV), backed up by expert analysis from a criminal psychologist and an FBI behaviourist.

From the start of his confrontation with 25-year-old killer Paris Bennett at Texas State Prison, Piers provoked a succession of chilling soundbites. ‘Would you like me to speak the Queen’s English?’ Bennett taunted in a cut-glass accent, as an opening gambit.

The profilers had warned Piers that Bennett, with a reputed IQ of 141, would attempt to turn the interview into an intellectual joust to demonstrate his superiority. The presenter used the sheer force of his questions to win that contest, battering the killer with accusations about his horrific crime — Bennett stabbed his toddler sister to death to spite their mother.

Their battle of wills was over from the moment Piers challenged him to listen to the call he made to the emergency services. Recorded moments after the murder, it was filled with lies and fake grief. Bennett couldn’t face that: he backed down and never regained his sneering confidence.

Hugh Laurie was Major de Coverley, requisitioning any building in Rome the USAF had left standing. Kyle Chandler played gung-ho Colonel Cathcart, commanding his men to cheer him as he sent them to their deaths

It was very different from Susanna’s interviews, where the murderers grew steadily in confidence and pride, brushing aside her weak jabs. This one-off episode highlighted Bennett’s absence of genuine emotions by contrasting his coldness with his mother Charity’s extraordinary capacity for love and forgiveness.

‘I don’t know how to stop loving my children,’ she said, before adding that the prospect of her son’s release terrified her. ‘The last thing I want is for my child to murder anybody else ever again . . . especially me.’ The only fault with the film was its brevity. An hour was not long enough for any interviewer, even one as efficient as Piers, to take a can opener to Bennett’s shabby shell.

Trophy of the night 

Prize for the winners of The Family Brain Games (BBC2) was a gold-plated sculpture of four heads, stacked up in profile. It looked like a toast rack. Nothing wrong with that…a hearty breakfast is good for the mental faculties. Pass the butter! 

Psychopaths of a different stripe were the subject in the second part of Catch-22 (C4), the lavish but sometimes laboured adaptation of Joseph Heller’s anti-war classic, following a U.S. bomber squadron during the last months of World War II.

Hugh Laurie was Major de Coverley, requisitioning any building in Rome the USAF had left standing. Kyle Chandler played gung-ho Colonel Cathcart, commanding his men to cheer him as he sent them to their deaths.

Light relief came from the irrepressible Milo Minderbinder (Daniel David Stewart), who turned the airbase into a black market hub for Polish sausages and Scottish lamb chops.

No spoilers but, if you haven’t read the hilariously nihilistic novel, be warned that anyone might be a secret psychopath — and it’s the charming ones you have to watch.

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