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.

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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).

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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Right, all those mince pies are making me hungry.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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 …

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

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