It’s the point!

pointlesslogo

In 1993, my then-partner Stuart Maconie and I had a meeting in a loud Chinatown pub that’s since changed its name and become a gay bar (actually, maybe it was always a gay bar but we didn’t notice) with a gigantic, enterprising young television writer and an also-fairly-tall, equally enterprising comic actor, both in their early, postgraduate 20s. (We were both nearer to 30.) They had an idea for a radio show in which Stuart and I would play our broadcasting selves, or versions of our broadcasting selves, and the comic actor – whose name we took to be David Williams, but which he’d just changed to Walliams to avoid a clash at Equity – would play a parade of people who called in. It was a genial meeting. We were keen. We liked the men. They seemed to like us. The idea never went to the next stage, and other meetings and projects got in the way for all four of us. At the time, Stuart and I were most excited about having met the writer, Richard, who we discovered was the younger brother of Suede’s bassist Mat Osman. Mat was very much the famous Osman in 1993, and Stuart and I knew Suede well. Look! (Mat isn’t in this photo, but you get the gist of our familiarity with the younger, cooler, arseless gentlemen of Britain’s most happening band.)

cmsuede-1

We crossed paths with the less famous, non-bass-playing Osman a year or so later, when we were put up for an audition by our new showbiz agent. This took place at the production company Heyland International, who made the computer game show GamesMaster and were looking for two new presenters for a similar but nightly show called GamesWorld. Richard worked there as a researcher – his first proper job in TV, I have since learned. If we took his presence as a lucky charm, we were wrong to do so. We gave it our best shot, commentating on some gameplay, but even though Stuart and I loved playing on the NES in my flat, we were out of depth.

All of which makes me feel a lot older, and dovetails nicely into an appreciation of Pointless, the BBC daytime quiz show that has recently passed its 1,000th edition and leaves all other daytime quiz shows in the dust. While surely nobody could object to the ease with which Alexander (“Xander”) Armstrong has slipped into the role of quiz show host, it is the high regard and public profile Pointless has bestowed upon Richard Osman that is its most important and unexpected achievement. He was, after all, a backroom boy at Endemol UK, the production company which conceived the format and according to origins fable only filled in as co-presenter in a demo for the BBC. (Execs liked him so much, they commissioned him into the format. Had he not been, he would still be one of the six who can lay claim to the format.) Quiz show hosts are traditionally drawn from the pool of recognisable entertainment figures, usually comic – think of Bob Monkhouse, Terry Wogan, Les Dawson, Bruce Forsyth, Lily Savage, Chris Tarrant, Bradley Walsh and even, latterly, Mark Williams and Mark Benton – but in the case of Pointless, a star has been born.

I have my Mum and Dad to thank for getting me hooked on Pointless. Each time I go back to Northampton to visit them and stay overnight, I willingly succumb to their routine of catching up with their favourite shows, which includes Pointless, The Chase and Only Connect, but it’s the former that proved the revelation. Its low-key geniality is deceptive; this is a true test of general knowledge in pairs and singly that’s about so much more than getting the “right” answer. While the early rounds, which eliminate two out of the four opening pairs of pals, siblings, relatives and partners, can be built around a straightforward binary right-or-wrong answer to the clue, anagram or picture, the best are those that offer up a potential pool of answers, such as US Presidents whose surname comes alphabetically between Bush and Reagan. The “pointless” part is the pivot – indeed, its “point”; whatever the composition of each round (or “pass”), the more obscure your answer, the less points you notch up.

I have been attached to Pointless for a long time now – although I cannot claim to have been in at the ground floor (a claim I cannot make for The Great British Bake Off, or Masterchef: The Professionals either, but both became staples once I saw the light) – and once you’re in, there are repeats and Celebrities editions to catch up with. It’s the gift that goes on giving. While it’s fun to see the celebrities paired up in themed shows, it’s the civilian shows that really describe the comfort and joy of the format. As the world gets darker – and I can’t remember a time since the 80s when it felt so irredeemably insane – Pointless becomes ever more of a beacon.

pointlesscelebskidstv

It’s eight affable people who, whether academic or self-taught, take sufficient note of the world around them to take an educated guess at some assorted subjects (“Words” “Famous People” “Countries”), be they celebrities or non-celebrities – and in fact, the non-celebrities are nearly always more impressive, if not, in the case of sportspeople, more competitive. (Rhona Cameron is one of very few celebs to actually embarrass themselves on the show by being too triumphant, and for failing to stay on her mark.) When Pointless began, in 2009, the world was a much happier place. As events have ground grimly on in the intervening years, its place in the world seems ever more vital to our sanity. Even after a hard day at the coalface of sanity in the face of almost insurmountable vulgarity, avarice and violence, Pointless calms the nerves. The banter between Armstrong and Osman – warm, spontaneous, genuine, without malice – is a balm for a broken world.

The duo are co-hosting this year’s Radio Times Covers Party next week. After the ceremony, I shall be accosting that young researcher in person and volunteering for the next Pointless Celebrities with a radio theme. I got two pointless answers in the final last night – cast members of the film Rush.

If only Osman and Armstrong could co-host Earth.

tauktv19pointless

Advertisements

Zen arcade 2016

Behold, the promised Telly Addict: Zen Roundup of The Year! Officially Telly Addict #26, the 26th Telly Addict of my half-year contract with UKTV, who resurrected the show and treated it with care, attention, love, personnel, marketing and doughnuts during that allotted time – so a big thanks to all who sailed in her, not least Dave, Joel, Matt, Cherish and Justine (upstairs). It’s not over yet, but there will be a hiatus, during which I shall endeavour to maintain the blog, and with a prevailing wind and a bit of luck, the Telly Addict brand will continue in a modified form. You watch this space, and I’ll keep watching the glowing box in the corner of the room.

Rather than spoil the show, here are a few screengrabs in the traditional style that, I think, cumulatively say “the second half of 2016 in televisual terms”. If you want to ease our passage into the New Year, all comments, views, thumbs-ups, “likes” and shares either here, on YouTube, or on Twitter, will help make the case for its free-to-air return. There will be no crowdsourcing – I don’t feel comfortable begging for money – but where there’s an audience, there’s a way. If you haven’t watched all the 25 previous Telly Addicts yet, why not go back and do so: every hit helps. If you find a TA with a lowly view-total of around a thousand to 1,500 , give the runt a glance.

Thanks for watching thus far. See you on the other side.

tauktv17firstpigeontauktv12bus1tauktv21crowntauktv20gbboTAUKTV9ParksRectauktv15natt1tauktv16hiphopTAUKTV9VersTAUKTV9Fleabtauktv14nightofcattauktv17missingEuroGERUKRballoonkeeflw3

You have been watching

Apologies for the delay of the blog entry of the 25th Telly Addict, which will be the last regular Telly Addict of 2016. After this week’s promised Zen round-up, which is going to be a corker, we’re taking a break. But Telly Addict will return in 2017. Look out for some special Telly Addicts in the New Year, and – fingers crossed, MPs lobbied, YouTube clips and blog entries “liked”, “shared” and Tweeted – we’ll be back under the same UKTV umbrella, the one which has kept Telly Addict dry for the last 26 weeks, after the Guardian made it homeless in April. (I have genuinely cancelled my subscription to the newspaper.)

tauktv25missing

In the last regular Telly Addict, a review of the finale of The Missing (BBC Two), which ought to be far enough in the past now for some footage of three main characters walking through the woods in what is actually Belgium for tax reasons no longer to constitute an active spoiler. I loved this second series, perhaps even more than the first, which for me was at least one episode short of an eight episode drama. This one confidently expanded to fill the slot, and even went so far as to reveal the villain in episode six, without losing our rapt attention. Fantastic work, Jack and Harry Williams, and director Ben Chanan. The cast were top-flight, too: Roger Allam, David Morrissey, Tchéky Karyo, Anastasia Hille, Keeley Hawes (an actress so often called upon to be sad and vexed who will be smiling again in the New Year in The Durrells), Laura Fraser and Derek Riddell.

It’s ongoing, but I’m enjoying the sheer, unvarnished gloom of Rillington Place (BBC Two). Those of us who hold the movie version with Richard Attenborough dear were always going to have trouble erasing his eerie performance from our minds, but Tim  Roth, whispering his way to the gallows, gives him a run for his money, with Samantha Morton particularly strong as Ethel. Considering this is the season to be jolly, there’s not much in the drama department to support that cliché. (Even the Christmas Radio Times seems to be filled with murder and melancholy. Maybe that reflects the shitty year we’ve had.)

tauktv25rill

A little treat to remedy the mood: We Have Been Watching (Gold), a simple knock-off of Gogglebox except with the stars of comedy watching comedy, in a couple of cases, comedies they are literally in. It works because of the rapport between the couples doing the watching. We share their excitement as, say, the Father Ted logo fades up.

The happiest bits come from Him and Her, Sarah Solemani and Russell Tovey, who seem to be the very best of pals, and the saddest bits come from Ricky Tomlinson, forced to watch the clip of him and Caroline Aherne from the 1999 Royle Family Christmas special, which has all sorts of emotions flying about and making the party hats look ironic.

Quite how three working MPs fit in to all this festivity and murder, I don’t know, but here they are, Nick Clegg, Naz Shah and the fictional character Jacob Rees-Mogg in MPs: Behind Closed Doors (Channel 5), a valuable one-off doc showing the three of them in surgery, dealing with the people who elected them, or didn’t, including some persuasive and adamant constituents who won’t take no for an answer. Not that politicians ever say yes or no, they just waffle and prevaricate and avoid confirmation or denial. Which is why Nick Clegg comes across the best. Give it a spin on catch-up. You’ll be proud to be part of the electorate, even if you disagree with the assessment that Jacob Rees-Mogg is “quite human.”

tauktv25mps

Also recommended, if you have a strong heart as it’s very sad, is UB40: Promises & Lies (BBC Four, where else?), anything but a standard rock doc. I had caught wind of there now being two UB40s, but I had no idea how this split had destroyed the Campbell family, and how ongoing the acrimony seems to be. It’s on iPlayer for a couple more weeks, and needs to be seen.

tauktv25ub

The final Telly Addict of the year, and for now, will be up on Thursday, that bumper round-up I was talking about. A year like the one we’ve had requires extra Zen.

Severe readies

We’re almost at the six-month mark. Telly Addict has been under the new roof of UKTV for almost half a year. We’ll be taking a break after Christmas, but you know what to do if you want it to bounce back in 2017: like, share, view, Tweet, lobby. I’ll be doing a review of the second half of 2016 in two weeks, including a Montage of Zen. Until then, two more “regular” Telly Addicts. This week’s begins with a celebration of Top Of The Pops (BBC Four), currently exploding with moments from 1982. Like this unique leg move from Shakin’ Stevens, which needs to be seen in action to be believed. The past is a foreign country. They do things better there.

tauktv24totpshaky

Anybody else spot a similarity between Shaky and the translucent tree frog on Planet Earth II (BBC One)? Just me. OK.

tauktv24frog

Who Do You Think You Are (BBC One) returned for its 13th series with the sort of series opener that money cannot buy. Not even, in the words of its subject, “severe readies.” Investigate this hour of cherishable telly on the iPlayer forthwith. This will involve you putting aside all prejudices about Danny Dyer, who exists in the grey area between reality and fiction, and in many ways plays himself; but as his bloodline back to royalty unspools, his reactions are priceless. And it’s really quite moving. And when Handel’s Zadok the Priest kicks in, your mind will have been changed.

tauktv24dannyd

tauktv24coroner

Another song of praise now: a nod to The Coroner (BBC One), back for a second series based on audience love in the Daytime, where murders are committed but not in dark alleyways, violently, by serial killers. Hooray for Sally Abbott, the show’s creator, for taking a route through the whodunit that’s as picturesque as it is involving, and gentle. Not all crime drama can have men drilling other men’s heads with power tools. In the grab above, the coroner (Claire Goose) and the detective (Matt Bardock) are discussing the case, while the rest of us gaze longingly at Devon. It’s Escape to The Country with forensics.

If you fancy something more expensive and self-regarding, there’s always season three of Showtime’s The Affair (Sky Atlantic), which I keep saying is an HBO drama, even though it technically isn’t.

tauktv24affair

I’ve tried three times now to love it – once with the first season, once with the second, and again with the third – but I just can’t. I don’t buy Dominic West as this irresistible “Mr Lover Man” of New York academia, and that’s difficult to get over. (He shaves that simian beard off in Episode One, by the way, which is a boon, as it isn’t helping.)

The object on the coffee table is an heirloom: the NME cassette compilation C86, from 1986. I treasure it, even though I have no large piece of electrical equipment that will actually play it.

This week’s Moment of Zen comes from The Young Pope (Sky Atlantic), which is quite unlike any other drama I have seen all year, and occupies a special place in my heart. If you just want to look at Jude Law’s torso, you can.

tauktv24popejude

Oh, and I was perplexed by the new Walliams & Friend (BBC One) sketch show, in which its star, David Walliams, takes a humble back seat to his guests, almost wilfully giving up the spotlight. This seems self-defeating for a David Walliams vehicle.

tauktv24dw

I like driving in my car

New Telly Addict. Number #23 (if that’s not a tautology). I hope that it goes on forever, but let’s nurture it, just in case. If you are one of the regular followers of the show, and this blog, I would gently urge you to do things like click on “like” on YouTube, and “share ” the link to the blog and the show itself via social media. Everything can be instantly quantified in this transparent age, so give Telly Addict a thumb. It could make a difference. Right, to business. Look who’s back.

tauktv23grand

My observation is this: in 2016, the BBC lost the format to The Great British Bake Off, but retained its three key presenters. The exact opposite happened in 2015, when the BBC lost the three presenters but kept the format to Top Gear. Well, as you can’t have failed to notice, the three presenters are back. And this time they’re on Amazon. The Grand Tour (Amazon Prime Video) is not Top Gear. Yes, it’s about cars and engines and wheels and driving, and it has the three men in stone-washed jeans, but for contractual reasons, it’s in a tent instead of an aerodrome and it’s in different places, as they pitch up every week in a different country. They can do this because they’re funded to the tune of a Hollywood blockbuster by their new patrons.

The money, as they say, is all up there on the screen. The production values seem designed to make the old BBC show look like a wet weekend. (It even began with a scene where Clarkson left the BBC building in the rain.) It’s not aimed at me. It never has been. I regard a car as a mode of transport. I don’t care what anyone thinks of the car I drive. And I don’t care what car other people drive. It’s a car. As long as it passes the MOT every year, I’m happy. But I have always respected the connection these three unreasonably-priced stars make with their target audience. I would make a special effort not to be in a tent with men who literally “boo” a photo of a Toyota Prius, but if that’s your thing, this will be your thing with knobs on.

If not, this is still on the BBC: Strictly Come Dancing (BBC One).

tauktv23strict

And this bad dancer is still in what is technically a competition based on dancing skill.

tauktv23ed

It seems pertinent that the BBC’s biggest hit in 2016 is adapted from a competitive format launched in the 1950s. And it’s also pertinent that the 2004 reboot, at which Come Dancing had a Strictly put on the end of it, the amateurs were cleansed and replaced by celebrities. This is what the cosy primetime audience want. I hate the stilted scripted-reality bits, but there’s little to argue with in terms of the contest, and the quaint adherence to 1970s variety. Somebody should have told a cameo-ing Peter Kay that it wasn’t actually 1974, when a gag based on the reductive notion that gay men are predatory was acceptable.

tauktv23nw

I’m late reviewing NW (BBC Two), the one-off adaptation of the Zadie Smith novel, but I wanted to savour it in one sitting, so I waited, and did just that. It’s superb, and well worth catching on iPlayer. (You have just over two weeks.) Its tale of two cities, both of them London, was subtly evoked, and despite the concertinaed length Rachel Bennette’s precis, directed without artifice by Saul Dibb, packed in a lot of interactive detail, and mood. Nikki Amuka-Bird and Phoebe Fox were particularly good as two schoolfriends who’ve drifted unequally away from the estate-of-mind where they grew up. And it was not Poliakoffian.

tauktv23code

A quick nod to the second season of frantic, homily-driven medical soap Code Black (CBS over there and W over here), which has a hot new star, Rob Lowe, with hair up to the ceiling, a replacement for Raza Jaffrey. If you still miss ER, Code Black will go some way to filling the void

tauktv23donald

I was alerted to this new, semi-autobiographical comedy created and produced by star Donald Glover, Atlanta (Fox) by Emily Nussbaum in the New Yorker. I trust her recommendations. Glover – whom I only really recognise from The Martian, although I read he was in Community – plays Earn, a Princeton dropout with a girlfriend and daughter but no job. The predominantly black cast deliver the dialogue almost as if they’re improvising lyrics and although it might take those of us outside of the demographic Venn diagram a while to tune in, the rewards are substantial.

tauktv232016

There is a moment of Zen is from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO/Sky Atlantic), whose latest season ended on a downbeat, post-Trump, post-truth, post-satire note but went out with a bang nonetheless.

Oh, and it’s my one and only swimming certificate, from school. Sixty metres. Aged 14.

tauktv23ac

You know what? It’s only me talking about some telly. It doesn’t matter in a global sense.

Robin’s quest

It’s – as Noddy Holder says – Christmas. It must be. The lights are up. The crackers are in the shops. And the battle for the hearts, minds and wallets of the nation has begun in over-tinseled earnest. Telly Addict #22 checks to see if indeed the adverts are better than the programmes. They’re shorter. And cost about the same (except The Crown, which costs more than anything ever).  I’ve watched them all, so that you don’t have to, and can keep on fast-forwarding past.

tauktv22waittauktv22jltauktv22argtauktv22aldi

Britain’s fifth biggest chain Aldi remains very much an outlier when it comes to the annual battle for the hearts and wallets of the seasonally vulnerable, but they did well to hire national treasure Jim Broadbent to narrate their underpowered living carrot fable, which is undermined, festively speaking, by its message of abduction and cruelty. Like the carrot’s family, the little Waitrose girl also leaves a mince pie out, but for a robin. No mythic gift-givers or flying sleighs here, just a non-anthropomorphic bird and a girl. It’s my favourite.

Marks & Spencer plays the celebrity card, with dame-in-all-but-name Janet McTeer as Mrs Christmas. It’s overblown, unconvincing and explicitly links love to consumer goods made in a Chinese factory. Not sure what the colour-coded yetis are saying about Argos. That their products are abominable? John Lewis seems to have captured the national imagination AND annoyed nature charities with its bouncing wildlife (don’t try this with foxes, hedgehogs or dogs at home, kids).

I’m interested in the current campaign, Stop Funding Hate, to pressure big chains to stop advertising in newspapers that peddle hate speech. The link to their Facebook page is here. It may inspire you to put pressure on your local supermarket via head office. It worked on Co-op, and Lego!

stopfundinghate

Right, all those mince pies are making me hungry.

tauktv22mchefpro

That Steak Diane from last week’s opening round of Masterchef: The Professionals (BBC Two) has taken my appetite away, and it was made by judge Marcus Wareing! As a lifelong fan of Masterchef, I used to be wary of Masterchef: The Professionals – back for its ninth series – as I couldn’t see the schadenfreude in trained chefs competing with trained chefs. But it’s actually fascinating and I’m delighted to have it back. Not least for the little silent movies acted out by the judges. There’s a montage of these, and of Greg Wallace’s best gurns and exclamations in Telly Addict.

tauktv22mchefpro2tauktv22gregg

The BBC risks accusations of nationalism and tokenism by branding November #BlackandBritish, but so far, I’ve enjoyed British-Nigerian historian David Olusoga’s Forgotten History (BBC Two), which seeks to look even further back than the current casting crisis for black British actors, to African Roman Centurions and black Georgians.

tauktv22olusoga

I read AA Gill in the Sunday Times knocking this series for being everything that’s box-tickingly wrong with the BBC but I disrespectfully disagree. In light of current global shifts to the “alt-right” – and the belated wake-up at the BBC and elsewhere to actual diversity, it’s a pretty vital warning from history.

Lionised British dramatist Stephen Poliakoff – whose last lauded drama for the BBC, Dancing on the Edge, was about a black British jazz band in the 1930s – is not my cup of tea. I vowed to give his new one, set after the war, a chance, but I only lasted 15 minutes. It’s just decent actors declaiming stuff that nobody says.

tauktv22close

I assume he actually instructed Jim Sturgess to do an impression of Sean Connery.

There’s a lovely moment of Zen comes from Planet Earth II, a series whose only misstep is to not have used the Duran Duran song as its theme.

tauktv22bears

Oh, and regular visitors to this blog will know exactly what the object on the coffee table is.

Oh boy

 

As you know, we shoot Telly Addict on a Wednesday morning for a Thursday airdate. This mean we shot Telly Addict #21 on the morning of 9 November, 2016, an historic date and not a nice one. I’d already written it and chosen the clips. I added in a brand new opening based upon the US Presidential Election of the night before. Like a lot of people, I get my headlines from the Internet, but turn to the TV for context, then to the newspaper for analysis. As such, I rely on TV news to confirm or deny what I’ve already gleaned online. This reflects my age, my generation, born in the 60s, raised on analogue TV, an early adopter of video, then DVD, satellite and more recently streaming. If someone dies, I need to see it on TV before I fully believe it. On Wednesday morning, I turned on the TV to see the full horror of Donald Trump’s tsunami.

It did not put me in a tremendous mood to pretend nothing had happened and film some humorous links about some telly I’d watched in the previous seven days. But I’m a professional, and here it is. (The very first Telly Addict for my new patrons UKTV was filmed just after the EU Referendum. So we have form in this area.)

tauktv21sloth

Life goes on. Life must go on. Regardless of the US Election result, I knew it was never going to be a “slow news week”, so, in an attempt to build in a sense of calm, I ran the story of a pygmy three-toed sloth and his quest for a mate throughout Telly Addict. It was a rare non-fatal, danger-free strand from the first part of that wise old Galapagos tortoise David Attenborough’s latest bulletin from the natural world, Planet Earth II (BBC One) – a rather blunt title, I find, for such a display of wonder.

I’ve long been a fan of Dave Gorman’s books, shows and concepts; a man called Dave on a channel called Dave – he has found his spiritual home, and shows no signs of running out of things to point out in PowerPoint, hence we’ve reached series four of the labour-intensive Modern Life is Goodish (Dave).

tauktv21daveg

This first episode – part of which I was lucky enough to see Dave road-test, live, at the recent UKTV Live event, in a packed NFT1 at London’s SouthBank – moved seamlessly from “extractor fans” to specialist magazines (no not that kind), via Homes Under the Hammer. our genial supply teacher confirmed that he represents his own special intersection in the Venn diagram of stand-ups who are funny, stand-ups who are clever, and stand-up who use Venn diagrams.

tauktv21homer

As you’ll have spotted, in fond tribute, I’m wearing a brand new Dave Gorman-style shirt for the occasion. But this shirt, it turns out, says something about me. I know, because 80s style commentator Peter York says so.

tauktv21hipst

In Peter York’s Hipster Handbook (BBC Four), he took a sociological-economic spin around the Captain Haddock-bearded, white, urban, entrepreneurially artisanal dandy and it was truly hilarious. Watch it. The further away from London and other urban centres you are, the funnier it will be. I live in London, and when I worked temporarily in Shoreditch in East London, I was proud to be the only clean-shaven man in the postcode at that time. Because for the hipster, a beard is the aerial that picks up signals from the cosmos. Now, more costumes …

tauktv21crown

The really big show of the week was The Crown (Netflix), the ambitious BBC drama about the reign of the current queen, planned for six BBC series, that the BBC couldn’t afford, or afford to commit to. So it’s on Netflix. And that means all ten episodes of the first series are available NOW, if you’re signed up. Though it starts in the 1950s, a simpler age, it says everything there is to say about the current age we live in, when the BBC is no longer the broadcaster bound to be showing a drama about the royal family, written by Peter Morgan, directed by Stephen Daldry, and starring everyone. It’s forensically calibrated to appeal to an international audience and spells everything out, but you can’t fail to be awed by the sheer scale and poise of the thing.

There’s a new ruler now, and it’s Netflix.

tauktv21moonst

That said, here are two further, terrestrial catch-up recommendations for two less showy, and way less expensive dramas that won’t require you to keep coming back for future series. The first is The Moonstone (BBC One), a diversity-sensitive BBC Daytime adaptation of the Wilkie Collins whodunit that is worth your while. They kind of threw it away in five consecutive afternoons – although I guess the assumption is: people who watch telly in the afternoons watch it every afternoon. All five are here for the next couple of weeks.

tauktv21him

I also enjoyed HIM (ITV) – not sure why the caps lock, but that’s the way it was billed – a three-part, finite horror story about a young adult with telekinesis, which seems to be linked to having divorced parents, by Paula Milne. I admired the direction, and the writing, but especially liked the two young unknowns in the leads. All three eps are on ITV Player.

It’s been a funny week to think meaningfully about anything other than the Bad Thing, but also, therapeutic. Life really does go on. And at the beginning of Telly Addict, you will hear my Homer Simpson alarm clock, a symbol of all that is still great and not terrifying about America.

Oh, and The Moonstone even worked in a BBC Daytime Poldark moment for new face Joshua Silver. Honestly, they treat fit male actors like meat.

tauktv21moonpold

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let them eat cake

 

 

They think it’s all over. It is now. Telly Addict #20 (isn’t that some kind of anniversary?) puts a smudge of flour on its nose for the final time, as The Great British Bake Off (BBC One) bows out. I’ve loved this show, for its civility, its self-sufficiency, its plurality – I’ve realised I prefer competitive shows where the competitors don’t automatically hate their fellow competitors, and in fact literally lend them a cup of sugar – and the Bake Off had this. Whether its indefatigable spirit can survive a move to commercial television, without three of its key players, remains to be seen.

tauktv20gbbo

As a seasoned viewer, I think I can accurately state that this series was not a classic. It lacked a certain star quality – no Ruby, no Frances, no Ian, no Iain, no Tamal, no Brendan, no Howard, no Richard with his pencil behind his ear, and certainly Nadiya. And overall, even in the final, the baking standard was lower than normal, with disasters like Andrew’s pecans getting stuck to the wrong side of the brown paper and Jane’s iced decorative outer layer failing to find purchase on her cake. This was the final! But the biggest problem was nobody’s fault, as nobody knew when it was being filmed that Love Productions would sell the format off to the highest bidder and thus kill it. There’s nothing sadder than watching something that’s doomed but doesn’t know it, and that’s how this series felt. But you’ll have to watch Telly Addict to discover what really got my goat about it.

tauktv20pope

We have a new Pope. He’s an American, he’s called Lenny, and he’s the part Jude Law has been waiting for, his whole career. The Young Pope (Sky Atlantic) has already provided perhaps the finest single moment of original drama on television this year, when Law’s Pope lights up a cigarette behind his desk and his chief Cardinal reminds him, in a forelock-tugging panic, that there is no smoking in the papal palace; it was decreed by Pope John Paul II. Jude Law takes a drag, and says, “There’s a new Pope now.” (The clip’s featured in Telly Addict.) He reminds me of nothing less than Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood in House of Cards. co-written and directed by the Oscar-winning Paolo Sorrentino, this is his first TV drama and he’s having the time of his life.

The dream sequences, which ought to be the last refuge of the creatively bankrupt, already feel germane to Sorrentino’s grand, provocative vision. Followers of his film work will know that he can do grande bellezza and consequenze dell’amore, but the pilot episode of The Young Pope was as long as a film, and there are eight more hours to come. (Episode 2 is just as dreamy and esoteric, but commanding.) The shock value seems the least of it.

I didn’t even like Sorrentino’s last film, Youth, which rang false in the English language. But I forgive him. For he is risen.

tauktv20hum2

I gave Humans (Channel 4) another try, having drifted away from the hugely successful series one. But it’s still not doing it for me. The cautionary robot tale based on a Swedish original retained around five million terrestrial fans and a million more watched it on partner AMC. But it still feels like a kids’ show that has been accidentally scheduled at 9pm. It’s written by alumni of the mighty Spooks, and cast with super-attractive, diverse young adults, and the soundtrack by Cristobal Tapia de Veer is insidiously atmospheric. But despite the gravity of the situation, I find it all so very polite. Nobody talks over each other.

tauktv20code

Delighted to recommend the second, already-cracking season of Australian tech thriller The Code (BBC Four, who seem to have rather snuck it out without making much fuss) created by Shelley Birse. Dan Spielman and Ashley Zukerman return as the investigative-hacker brothers who must cooperate with the authorities in Canberra in order to avoid extradition for what they got mixed up in, in season one. Massive props to series director Shaun Seet, who once again makes every location look stunning and otherworldly.

Oh, and the item on the coffee table was this.

thisisthis

This Is This, in fact. It was the fanzine I put together at a postgraduate in London in 1988, when all I wanted was to write about music and films and decided to stop waiting around imagining anybody would let me do that. So I did it myself, very much in the DIY spirit of the age, years before blogging and the Internet and social media. I wasn’t even sure if I still had a copy. It cost 50p in 1988. It’s now priceless. Thanks for watching and listening and reading. Comments are a bit thin on the ground on YouTube. I feel a bit sad about that. I love to have a dialogue.

tauktv20this

 

Famous Dicks

 

Do you want to see something really scary? No, nor do I, really. Telly Addict #19 covers two returns, one new beginning and a one-off event that should be taught in schools and might be the greatest piece of television this year. Hypernormalisation (BBC iPlayer) is documentarian, mash-up artist and soothsayer Adam Curtis’s latest bulletin from the end of days, a two hour, 46 minute iPlayer exclusive!!!! in which, as we who seek the truth have come to expect, an atonal English voice relays simple sentences over found footage and in doing so joining the dots between hugely complex philosophical, sociological and geopolitical concepts.

hypernormalisation75

The bad guys are essentially the same – capitalism, globalisation, advertising, the West’s failure to understand the middle East, the alienating effects of computers, just computers generally, and Jane Fonda’s conversion from radicalism to aerobics, a sequence of footage and captions which has to be seen to be believed. The soundtrack is gorgeous, including Brian Eno, Nine Inch Nails, Suicide and, I think, a bit of Clint Mansell. Not having to make his films to a prescribed length, thanks to the fluidity of iPlayer, seems to have increased Curtis’s work rate, and that’s good news for anybody who can handle bad news. It’s on iPlayer for ages. Set aside two hours and 46 minutes and do it in one mesmerising sitting. I did.

tauktv19hyp

tauktv19neg

Now, a problem. The opening episode of Season Seven of The Walking Dead (Fox), the nastiest single episode of fiction I have seen on television. Not necessarily the scariest, or the bloodiest, although it was scary and bloody (it’s what we came for), but the most sadistic. Villains tend to be sadistic. But Negan, who I appreciate was born in the original comic books and comes to the screen ready armed with his barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat (see also: “GET ME MY AXE!”), takes corporeal form in Jeffrey Dean Morgan, whose twinkling eyes and billboard grin make the character all the more repellent as he goes about making his mark on the show’s white-hatted survivors.

I’ve watched The Walking Dead avidly since it began in 2010 and sung its praises loudly. It’s about a zombie apocalypse. It’s tense and explicit, the prospect of evisceration lies behind every tree, and its violence and terror speak truths about the human condition and the instinct to keep calm and carry on in an ever more violent and terrifying world. It’s an icky show, with sound sociological/mythic reasons for that. However, I found Episode One, Season Seven, almost impossible to watch. I actually fast-forwarded through Negan’s first actual act of violence, the one whose victim they made us wait six agonising months to discover (Rick, Glenn, Daryl, Michonne, Maggie, Rosita, Aaron, Sasha, Abraham, Carl or Eugene); maybe I’m getting too old for this visceral gore. (Caved-in skulls are becoming a commonplace on TV, it seems to me.)

TWD6Negancomics

I blogged about the finale to Season Six here. At that time, I was exercised by general fandom anger at the tease of the cliffhanger, and how it didn’t bother me. Now that I have lived through the hard-won denouement, and forwarded through some of it, I feel as manipulated as some fans did six months ago, when I was sanguine. There is a lot of fiction on TV. More than I can fit into my days. So I’ve taken The Walking Dead off series link. I didn’t see that coming!

tauktv19ordtoil

On a different but spookily similar note, I have also taken the second series of Ordinary Lies (BBC Two) off series link after one episode. It’s more of Danny Brocklehurst’s sound, well-observed, workplace-based anthology, this new run set in a sporting goods warehouse in Cardiff with a fresh workforce who have a lie each that is ordinary but becomes extraordinary. I enjoyed the acting in the first episode about paranoia and CCTV, especially the central turn by Con O’Neill, who did some prime face acting. However, Twitter alerted me to the fact that Episode Two featured implied violence towards a cat, maybe even a kitten. I have avoided finding out too much, as images of violence towards animals bother me more than images of violence towards humans, as humans volunteer to be actors, and animals do not, especially cats. Please do not tell me what is implied to happen to this cat. I don’t want to know.

tauktv19qi

Safer ground: series 14, or “series N”, of QI (BBC Two), which I admit I take for granted, but would fight to the death to keep on my television, as it celebrates intelligence and silliness and treats those two impostors just the same. This just in: Sandi Toksvig filled the formidable brogues of Stephen Fry with ease, as I guess most of us assumed she would. Dare I suggest that Alan Davies was showing off a bit to impress the new teacher in the first edition?

You have to watch this Telly Addict if only for the context of this classic Pointless Celebrities (BBC One) clip. Trust me.

tauktv19pointless

Oh, and I wore this mask for Halloween and nobody noticed.

tauktv19mask

Unstoppable

 

Telly Addict #18 introduces the first long-sleeved shirt of my tenure at UKTV. In other news: The Missing (BBC One) stopped being missing; Tutankhamun (ITV) crept onto the throne vacated by Victoria, hoping the bereft post-Downton audience wouldn’t mind terribly; Zapped (Dave) zapped onto TV in a three-episode pilot that challenged E4’s Tripped to an ex-Inbetweener-in-a-parallel-GameofThrones-style-universe-off; and HBO filed for Divorce (Sky Atlantic) and hoped the bereft Sex & The City audience could suspend their disbelief that Sarah Jessica Parker is Carrie, 13 years after the series ended. More importantly, there were three bird spots. First, an easy one for armchair ornithologists on the pre-penultimate Bake Off (still BBC One).

tauktv17gbbofinch

That’s a goldfinch. But what the bloomin’ heck was this?

tauktv17gbboduck

I’ll tell you. Having consulted my birding guru Dave Keech from Kettering, I can say with confidence that it’s a Muscovy duck. Native to Mexico and Central and South America, it’s also found in North American and Canada, though not ordinarily in Newbury in Berkshire. However, it is a domestic or feral bird and can live anywhere, anytime, like the Mandarin or Egyptian Goose. I shall miss this aspect of the condemned Bake Off more than all the others. Well, as much as all the others. But guess what? First Dates are trying to get in on the ornithological act. Again, an easy one to start, but encouraging nonetheless.

tauktv17firstpigeon

One big drama, one comedy, and one comedy drama. First, The Missing, which has work to do after what I felt to be a misfire from clearly talented writing bros Jack and Harry Williams – namely, Gothic drawing-room whodunit One Of Us. Well, one episode in, and The Missing II (now an anthology with only the French detective and overcast Euro-gloom to link the two series) seems to firing on as many cylinders as it has timeframes. Oh, and it has two of my favourite actors on TV in the parent roles.

tauktv17missing2

Both are superb as the mum and dad of a girl who went missing 11 years ago and came back. I thought Tom Shankland’s direction in the first series was tremendous – atmospheric, cleverly lit and strangely beautiful – but Ben Chanan has picked up the baton with equal empathy for the wide open spaces and the expressions on people’s faces. It’s downbeat, glum stuff, but compelling. I just hope the bros have enough story for all eight episodes this time.

tauktv17tut

We’re back on more prosaic, indeed factual, ground with Tutanhkamun, substituting for Victoria on ITV, whose outcomes we also know from the history books. Max Irons gives good buccaneering bang for our buck as Howard Carter, sticking a pick axe into ancient burial grounds in search of treasure like he owns Egypt, which of course, colonially, he sort of did. It’s somewhere between Indian Summers and one of the hot-country Poirots – not a bad axis to be on. It’s a ripping yarn that I think I shall feast upon as the darkness rolls in.

Divorce is just that: the story of a separation in photogenically chilly upstate New York. Created by Sharon Horgan, whose vituperative dialogue, sourer than the cut-and-thrust in Catastrophe – perhaps due to the lack of softening influence from Rob Delaney – feels right at home in the mouths of middle-class Americans, it’s hard to warm to, in that the characters in it sort of deserve each other, but I feel I should keep watching, as I like the idea of Sex & The City gone sour, and Talia Balsam is in it.

tauktv17zapZapped is a three-part taster of what will surely become a full-blown series, made by Baby Cow and directed by Dave Lambert, the in-house bundle of energy who directed the last thing I had on telly: the short film Colin, which I co-wrote with Simon Day and appeared under the umbrella Common Ground on Sky Atlantic. This is essentially a traditional sitcom about a character who’s trapped, except it’s in a Game of Thrones netherworld. I love the cast – James Buckley as the man who fell from earth, and Sharon Rooney, Ken Collard, Paul Kaye and Louis Emerick as the locals at a not-very local local – most of whom I interviewed when the show pre-launched at UKTV Live. All three episodes are available to watch now, for free if you are in the UK, at UKTV Play.

tauktv17object

Oh, there’s the object on the coffee table. It’s the first punk single I ever bought, in 1979, aged 14, after Sid Vicious had died. I hope no Nazis are offended by the fact that we censored the swastika on the shirt of the cartoon of Sid Vicious.