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.

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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.

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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