An adaptation of Amis couldn’t get much worse.

Worst thing I've seen on television this year? The BBC's adaptation of Martin Amis's 1984 novel, Money (23 and 26 May, 9pm), starring Nick Frost as John Self. Where to begin with this steaming turd of a production? Well, let's start with Frost, who has boasted in interviews that Money is the best thing he's done.

I would guess that Frost was cast for his physique - in Money he looks like a cross between a manatee and a pimp, lardy and moustachioed, and generally not at all the kind of person whose personal crevices you'd like to investigate - and, perhaps, for the groovy following he has built thanks to his association with Simon Pegg.

He certainly can't have been cast for his acting ability, because he can't act, and from the moment I heard his lame voice-over, I knew that Money was doomed. He sounded as though he was reading from a script, one that he had possibly caught sight of for the first time only a couple of hours before. His delivery was totally inert - as torpid as a silted lake. Weird, then, that throughout he also exuded a sweaty complacency, one that had nothing whatsoever to do with his character. "I'm brilliant!" his manner seemed to say, though you struggled in vain to find any evidence for this belief. Even when he was shown in bed asleep, I found his performance unconvincing.

He wasn't helped by the script. Most people would say that Money is unfilmable: it's not a plot book, it's a language book. Still, you would have thought the directors could have made a better stab at it than this. What happened to the words? The novel is narrated by Self, a gluttonous and boozy former adman, and describes his many humiliations as he tries to make it as a Hollywood director. Now, Self is a pig; he is addicted to "Blastfurters", handjobs and porn. He is also, sometimes, a moron. But, being a mouthpiece for the young Martin Amis, he can obviously put a sentence together like no other adman known to man.

Here is an example, plucked at random from the novel: "My head is a city, and various pains have now taken up residence in various parts of my face. A gum-and-bone ache has launched a co-operative on my upper west side. Across the park, neuralgia has rented a duplex in my fashionable east seventies. Downtown, my chin throbs with lofts of jaw-loss. As for my brain, my hundreds, it's Harlem up there, expanding into the summer fires. It boils and swells. One day soon, it's going to burst." Good, eh? Now here is a bit of Self as he speaks in the script by Tom Butterworth and Chris Hurford: "I didn't feel as rubbish as I should have." Jeez. And it took two of them to write this stuff.

I despised the production's desire to tidy Money up, even to sentimentalise it - a series of distortions that really should be illegal. Vincent Kartheiser, better known as Mad Men's Pete Campbell, is great and it was a coup to cast him as the perma-tanned producer Fielding Goodney (Money was filmed in the UK on the cheap, and poor Vincent is the only bit of bling in sight). But in this version, he is not just a conman, he's a lipsticked psycho straight out of Batman, because, well, how else to explain his nasty behaviour?

And Self? Yes, he's a disaster zone, but it's all down to his mummy, you see, who left him when he was an ickle boy. Most egregious of all, the directors even gave it a happy ending. Self ends up not with a bottle of Desdemona Cream and a fat nurse called Georgina ("just what the doctor ordered"), but reunited with his long-lost dad in the family boozer, their names cosily together above the door.

In the novel, Self's only redeeming quality is that he's funny. Here, his redeeming quality is . . . what? That he's good with the Brasso and the guest beers? That he can work hard, after all? Oh, please. The last time I interviewed Amis, he told me that the BBC had written him out of his own book. At the time, I wondered what he meant, but now I know. He gave them his masterpiece and they turned it into an orgy of the banal and the laboured.

It's as if Dante's Inferno had been reborn as a story about a rambler who got sunburn.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 31 May 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The war on the veil