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-Game–of–Thrones-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).
That’s a goldfinch. But what the bloomin’ heck was this?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Zapped 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.
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.