Bring on the dancing horses

Apologies for the late running of this week’s Telly Addict. So let’s get to it. (That’s ten we’ve clocked up now under UKTV’s guidance and patronage: they’re all stacked up here.) I’ve had an epiphany. Just when I thought I was going to get through the Rio Olympics (BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Four etc.) without meaningfully seeing any of it, this 6,000-word New Yorker article on dressage drew me in. I fell in love with Charlotte DuJardin and Velagro (who must appear as a duo, they can’t exist outside of each other), who – spoiler alert – won the expected freestyle Gold. Bring them on.

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In fact, there’s a subliminal animal theme to this week’s Telly Addict. As well as being enchanted by Velagro, I was pretty smitten with Kate Humble’s sheepdog and her, on Kate Humble: My Sheepdog and Me (BBC Two). Here’s Kate with her three farm dogs, two rescues, and one, Teg, who has to be “put to work”, herding sheep – the thrust of this idyllic, animal-loving one-off. See the way Teg, on the right, gazes up at her beloved owner and says, with her David Bowie eyes, “Why do I have to go to work while these two mongrels get to sit around and do nothing all day?”

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Kate rather sweetly called Teg her “ginger monster”. The four-parter Highlands: Scotland’s Wild Heart (BBC Two), first shown in May, is back on iPlayer thanks to a repeat showing for Olympics widows like myself. It is full of gorgeous ginger monsters in a glorious setting, and narrated by Ewan McGregor, whose voice could melt winter from 50 paces.

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If you need a break from beautiful British animals leaping, mating, herding, surviving and, in one case, dancing to Brazilian carnival music, there’s a different kind of wildlife in Gomorrah (Sky Atlantic), the Sky Italia co-production now into its second operatic, violent, moody, Naples-based crime/family melodrama but available on demand through Sky. In it, Italian men passive-aggressively grab the cheeks of other Italian men in dual love and threat.

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I have raved about Gomorrah before – here’s my review of the season-one box set in the now-defunct Guardian section Your Next Box Set, a newspaper I used to work for, but seemingly, now, not so much – if anything, season two is tighter and more deadly, and stunningly framed by director Stefano Sollima.

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First Dates (Channel 4) is back, after what must be a whole fortnight off air. If you’re not already long-since-hooked by the format, which uses a laser-guided dating algorithm to set up couples of all ages and persuasions who really might get along. Damien (left), a beardy Northern Irishman with Channel 4’s favourite neuropsychiatric condition, Tourette’s, was a great fit for personal trainer Kai, if you took away the Tourette’s (which is probably fairly rare on a box-ticking list) but you have to see it to enjoy its full ramifications beyond one dater’s impediment-of-the-week. The show may be currently setting up its waiting staff for a TOWIE-style amateur drama, but they remain cute.

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You can see this 55-year-old gym member in his pants, too, if you don’t ordinarily watch Match of the Day. His possibly depilated flesh makes a change from all the fur, fluff, feathers and Gaelic beard elsewhere. If anything, this week is the bitty calm before the blockbusting storm. Next week, the new terms is almost upon us, and the big hitters come out: The Bake Off, Ripper Street, An Important New Four-Part BBC One Drama, followed by Poldark, The Missing, Cold Feet, Strictly … I’m glad to be back. And I hope the appearance of the slightly sinister puppet I made at school when I was eight years old doesn’t haunt your dreams. Literally: don’t have nightmares.

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Gold!!!

Woah! Eleven minutes and seven seconds?! What happened there? By all means watch all nine Telly Addicts so far and compare the running times. I do try my hardest to keep them under ten minutes, but sometimes – as with this week’s – I find that the clips are just so good, I have to let them run. There’s a full-scale Laura Kuenssberg montage! And two very long but exquisite pauses from Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag (BBC3; BBC Two, like all BBC3 shows), which I feel sure you’ll appreciate. We are all in the appreciation game, after all. AA Gill, Marmite TV critic of the Sunday Times, made a poignant remark in his review of the new Clive James book about binge-watching box sets, basically asking how any TV critic could possibly criticise TV if they hated TV? You have to love it, he said, in order to dislike it. If you didn’t care about it, why would you criticise it? What would be the point. I know what he means. Anyway.

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The good news: Versailles (BBC Two), that addictive slice of wiggy court life flounced to its conclusion, with an announcement over the end credits promising a second series “next year”. Hooray! I have loved every second of this pricey-looking historical romp with its tendency to slip into Ultravox video mode and have fallen for its – to me – previously unknown stars George Blagden and Alexander Vlahos (the king and his brother). I’ve also appreciated Kate Williams and Greg Jenner’s polite little lectures, Inside Versailles (BBC Two) after each episode. So gossipy and yet informative at the same time. And it has an easel. Not enough shows have easels.

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Sad to hear of the cancellation of The Living and the Dead (BBC Two) this week – the Yin to the previous piece of news’s Yang. Another of my favourites since taking Telly Addict to the badlands of YouTube, the bucolic ghostbusting mystery shall be sorely missed in my house. Fingers crossed for a return for Brief Encounters

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To Fleabag, then. Waller-Bridge is 30, I think, but has her finger on the pulse of what it is to be young and urban and anxious, and a daughter, and a sister, and a lover, and single, and in a relationship. This show might have slipped under my demographic radar had I not been alerted to its beauty by other critics. So thanks to them, I am now watching a sex comedy. We’ve seen “mockumentaries” before (we’ll be seeing one again in a minute), and post-Office naturalism (ha ha, Post Office) done to death, but Waller-Bridge’s theatrical trick of talking, or gurning, to camera so that ONLY WE CAN SEE HER is its genius move. And the guy with the false teeth in the grab above, Jamie Demetriou, was in Fleabag this week, and also in this mockumentary:

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I understand why jobbing actors end up in two things that end up being on at the same time on different channels, but I like it when it happens. It’s sort of spooky and foretold. And Demetriou is very funny at nice but dim, as proven by Ep1 of Fleabag, and Ep1 of Borderline (Channel 5), about which I was cautious, although I met its star Jackie Clune at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2000 and she was lovely company, and a caution. She’s the only really familiar face in this new comedy set in a tiny airport, but the rest of the cast, who seem to freewheel, are excellent, especially James Michie, whose name I looked up especially. I am often reluctant to criticise comedies, as I write comedy and comedies, but it’s nice when two come along at the same time that are funny, and appealing to me.

Here’s something a bit more grave.

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A clip of Michael Gove when he was Government Chief Whip and not that important, before he became important, and then stopped being important again, once the thing he was important enough to be trusted in selling to the electorate actually happened and then he went away again, thank God. In the clip, for James Delingpole’s YouTube channel (hey, we YouTubers should stick together, but maybe not all of us), Gove compares himself to Tyrion Lannister. Watch Telly Addict to see the full horror. Laura Kuenssberg really proves her mettle in this otherwise depressing film, Brexit: the Battle for Britain (BBC Two, again) which was really well made.

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I wasn’t expecting to see hopeless Labour leadership hopeful Owen Smith turn up on Dragons’ Den (BBC Two), selling a thimble, which he can use to collect all his votes in. Hey, enough of my Trotskyist propaganda! I only watched the Den see if it had changed, and it hasn’t (they’re still using that ancient looking air conditioning system out of Saw, but three of the Dragons who were on it last time I tuned in have been replaced by other Dragons, whose provenance is not yet known to me).

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And finally … Parks & Rec (Dave), which nears the end of its road. But by forwarding the action by three years, the writers have invigorated the arc for its valedictory run of 13. I will be bereft. If you haven’t yet viewed Telly Addict #9, look out for my cuddly sparrow, bought from a garden centre and made in China for the RSPB. It makes a realistic sparrow noise when squeezed. I thoroughly recommend one for therapy in this squalid world. We didn’t start the fire.

It takes a game man

Did Gregg Wallace really say this on last week’s finale of Celebrity MasterChef (BBC One)? “It’s a gay man who comes on to a final of MasterChef and does octopus.”

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No. It turns out he didn’t. But it sounded like he did when he said, “It’s a game man who comes on to a final of MasterChef and does octopus.” (Surely it’s a game man who comes on and does partridge?) On this week’s Telly Addict, I wave a fond farewell to one programme with the prefix “Celebrity” and say a cautious and transient hello to another programme with the prefix “Celebrity“. It all seemed so optimistic for pantomime dame Christopher Biggins when he went into the Celebrity Big Brother (Channel 5) house with every intention, one assumes, of not coming straight out again after insulting bisexuals and a Jewish woman (I had stopped watching by then, so have to take the tabloids’ word for it).

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From one game man to another bunch of game men. It’s a funny time of the year for TV. Most of it is now filled with the Olympics, which I’m boycotting, as I don’t really enjoy the Olympics, and it’s a bit of a silly season for the rest of telly. I’m delighted that my favourite gay drama Looking (HBO/Sky Atlantic) came back for a valedictory, feature-length episode, and I beamed all the way through it, wishing I lived in San Francisco and moved in this social circle as the token heterosexual. It would have been preferable, of course, for Looking to have continued with a third, fourth and fifth season, but it was not to be.

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This is a grab of me giving a sideways look at TV. Why? I am honouring pop historian Dominic Sandbrook and his trademark three-quarters-on delivery style. I’ve had my quibbles with some of his previous 20th century history lessons, not least the Thatcherite way he looks at the past, but since his new series The 80s With Dominic Sandbrook (BBC Two) is about the Thatcher Years, one can hardly complain. (Except, of course, he says it isn’t about Thatcher, it’s about us, somewhat letting her off the hook.)

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As you’ll see in the various clips used in this week’s Telly Addict, Jimmy Osmond, runner-up on Celebrity MasterChef, is one of my heroes of 2016, for his joie de vivre and his propensity to cry while still calling everyone and everything “Awesome.” No, you are!  He’s come a long way from Andy Williams to Gregg Wallace.

Oh, and look out for the tiny clockwork mouse on the coffee table at the beginning. I found it in my goodie bag after the National Cat Awards at the Savoy during the week, at which I am proud to say I was a judge! Here’s a photo of me with some fellow dignitaries, and then one of me with the judges and the winners! Awesome!!!!

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As ever, you can view the full YouTube playlist of every UKTV Telly Addict here. Why not subscribe? I do.

I wish I was a little bit taller

I wish I was a baller. Actually, I don’t wish I was one, judging by the portrayal of that particular lifestyle of the rich and fatuous on sharp and sharp-suited comedy Ballers (HBO/Sky Atlantic), returning for a second season of wry, self-lacerating Cribs-style aspiration. As I say in my review on the new Telly Addict, which features an expensively animated duck, the parts for women may be few and far between on this show about insecure Miami-based football players and the men – and it is apparently always men – who move their money around, but the gentlemen don’t come out of it that well. They’re just big babies. And Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson even looks like one. In a suit.

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Sticking with HBO, I celebrate the return after one of those irksome “breaks” of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight (HBO/Sky Atlantic), just in time for the aftershock of the Conventions. I am a little bit in love with John Oliver, although we are stablemates at the same management company, so I should probably work on that. I’ve genuflected at his creative use of HBO-excused swearing in the past (and sometimes calling Donald Trump a “fucking asshole” is the only sensible response, even for a Wildean wit), but this week, he brought the house down on the much less promising subject of Hillary’s running mate Tim Kaine with a simple, “Is it?”

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I’m saving the new HBO comedy from the people who brought you Eastbound & Down, namely Vice Principals, until next week, for fear of an HBOverload. The Amazon Prime sensation Mr Robot (Universal) arrives on steam-powered TV, while the early adopters binge on Season Two, which is already up on the bookshop. I’m hooked, as I knew I would be, and if I’m hallucinating the gentle allusions to The Third Man (more paranoia in supposed peacetime), I apologise. But I like TV fiction that encourages that kind of tangential response.

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The BBC seems to be spoiling us beyond its usual Ferrero Rocher pyramid of music documentaries this summer, with – and look out for clickable links to that garden of earthly delights BBC iPlayer – Julian Temple’s archetypally esoteric Keith Richards film The Origin of the Species (BBC Two), Jon Savage and Paul Tickell’s 1966: 50 Years Ago Today (BBC Four), from Savage’s book of the same year, and part two of the ongoing People’s History of Pop (BBC Four), wherein Danny Baker proved the eager and appreciative conduit for other folks’ curios and souvenirs from 1966-76. A very good sort-of-decade. Watch all of these programmes, please.

I expect if you’re a diehard fan of Robot Wars (BBC Two), you’ll need no cue from me to watch its return to the Corporation after a “lend” to Channel 5. This amiable, foam-finger-waving scrapheap challenge is aimed at me in no way whatsoever, but I do get why people go nuts for it. And it celebrates ingenuity, hobbyism and craftspersonship, as well as Sunday league-style competition. I am more than able to wield a screwdriver or bradawl when required, but I am no mechanic and find Robot Wars a little outside my comfort zone, but far more nerdy than nearest touchstone Top Gear, and I mean that in a positive way, clearly.

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Afore we go, a promise that if you’ve never before sat down to view Friday Night Dinner (Channel 4) by Robert Popper, an autobiographical Whitehall farce set not in a bedroom but, mostly, a dining room, it will not let you down, so please do remedy that. You can box-set all three previous series on All 4. It is a joy. Brilliantly cast, with Tamsin Greig, Paul Ritter, Tom Rosenthal and Simon Bird as the family, and Mark Heap as neighbour Jim, and various supporting players, its most recent episode had the most satisfying one-line ending (after half an hour of ever-spiralling disaster that seemed to know no end) I almost stood up and saluted.

Here’s that duck. (Forgive me, but I haven’t forgotten which Collings & Herrin fan gave it to me as a thoughtful gift circa 2009, but if it’s you: look, I’ve still got it!)

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