It’s the point!

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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This is the Fall group

Tuesdays are so last week. Telly Addict has moved to Thursdays, so … hello! (The new slot is intended to make it easier for me to review hot shows from the weekend, which are harder to do if I have to prepare the script and clips on a Friday to make a Monday morning shoot feasible. If we record on a Wednesday morning, I can more easily cover the big shows on Saturday and Sunday night without having to work all weekend, as I understand the weekend is traditionally intended to be two days of rest.) The impact of this is mainly that this week’s covers nine days of telly, instead of seven. So we have a lot to pack in. First, some other people who watch television for a living.

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I dare to assume you know my official ties to Gogglebox (Channel 4). If not, I spent quality time with all of the main households last spring as research for the second companion book, Gogglebook, which came out for Christmas and was a joy. It thrills me still to see the Malones, the Tappers, the Siddiquis et al, having actually sat between them on those sofas and watched TV. What the experience failed to do was dampen my ardour for the programme, which I still watch religiously, and miss terribly when it’s not on. It’s always great to have it back, and to simply be a viewer and fan again.

tauktv16goggle2I guess the big news for this, the eighth series, is the introduction of three new households, two in Bristol, one in Dorset. I will assess the newcomers (unfortunate word after Westworld) in a future week when they’ve had time to bed in. The other big return last week was The Fall (BBC Two), the serial-killer thriller that might have been a classic had it ended after series one, but market forces demanded that it not end and to return. So it did. And it strained credibility. I tuned in to what ought to have been an even less necessary third series, and was pleasantly surprised.

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Not surprised that hunky murderer Paul Spector (played by hunky star of 50 Shades of Grey Jamie Dornan) was in a critical condition after being shot at the end of series two, but surprised at the courage of devoting the whole of episode one to an almost-real-time A&E procedural. Richard Coyle was phenomenal as the doctor in charge, and while Jamie was manhandled about, doing very little, and Gillian Anderson did some of her best, wordless face-acting, the other actors got all the screen time: John Lynch, Colin Morgan, newcomer Aisling Bea. It was a superb, taut, believable return. I hope they keep it up.

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Another great British bird spotting moment on the Great British Bake Off (still BBC One) last week. It’s a grey wagtail.

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Another return: Dr James Fox, with a one-off Who’s Afraid of Conceptual Art? (BBC Four), a personal journey through the prickly subject by the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan lookalike, which failed to answer the big question: why are so many prominent conceptual artists working in this country Scottish? Answers on screwed-up ball of paper please. It’s on iPlayer here – very much worth a look. So, less self-evidently, is this:

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I have never knowingly watched DIY SOS, but three of its team – presenter Nick Knowles, builder Jules, electrician Billy – were convinced to attend a 28-day spiritual, psychological and gastric detox, and the result was The Retreat (BBC Two); it ran across five consecutive nights last week and can be viewed here, if you fancy casting aside your prejudices about Reiki and colonics – as our three heroes sort of eventually did – and open your mind to what Nick and Jules keep dismissing as “hippie stuff”. And finally …

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No, not Sue Perkins. Talented mimic Morgana Robinson doing a decent impression of Sue Perkins in her new vehicle, The Agency (BBC Two). I admit I have a soft spot for the form, having been raised in the 70s, when you couldn’t move for impressionists on TV, as they were the kings of light entertainment comedy. Morgana is versatile and smart, and her writers are good, so the result, though clearly formulaic, is above average. I particularly enjoyed her Adele, her Fearne, and her Natalie Cassidy, who I worked with on a project that never came to fruition a few years ago and like very much. Morgana’s impression of her is accurate and seemed to me to be not overtly cruel. (Natalie may feel differently.) Here it is! When I say I don’t think she should do Danny Dyer I’m not being sexist, I just don’t think she’s as good at his voice as she is at Miranda or Joanna Lumley.

Also, please watch The Hip Hop World News (BBC Four), a 90-minute personal journey through the prickly world of hip hop by Rodney P, who allowed us to see a tearful epiphany he experienced at Chuck D’s ancestral home. It’s a golden TV moment and reflects well upon Rodney for letting it go out.

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If you want to see more Aisling Bea, she’s very good in Jo Brand’s latest knockabout comedy set in the social services, Damned (BBC Two), which I’ll review on next week’s Telly Addict, along with Westworld (Sky Atlantic), The Apprentice (BBC One) and Taskmaster (Dave). See you then … and here’s the object on the coffee table, for your pleasure and consternation. See you next Tues … Thursday!

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Textual Ealing

Warning! Not many laughs at the top of this week’s NEW! IMPROVED! Telly Addict (we have a new crew and we’ve changed the lighting to a more complimentary hue, as well as bringing the caption style in line, and making the first, “wide” shot a little longer, so that you get longer to gaze in awe at the object on the coffee table). That’s because the lead show is National Treasure (Channel 4), an “issue”-led drama from the unstoppable Jack Thorne, which reunites director Marc Munden and composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer from the mighty Utopia. It’s about a beloved entertainer, bulked out in every single way, including emotionally, by the great Robbie Coltrane, accused of “historic” rape, at which his life begins to fall apart.

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I can’t fault it. It’s a fictionalised tale but all too raw, played with sensitivity and ambiguity by a cast led by Tim McInnerny as Coltrane’s comedy partner, Julie Walters as his loyal wife, Andrea Riseborough as his damaged daughter, and Jeremy Swift as a showbiz manager, and pitched at a world that has long since been tarnished by its collective past (whether physical, mental and sexual abuse, abuse of power/celebrity, or the crime of looking the other way). It begins at an awards ceremony – where else? – where Coltrane’s veteran, walking with a stick, is greeted with the respect of his younger peers, represented by Frank Skinner, Robert Webb and Alan Carr, playing “themselves”. A bold move. As was the decision to mic Robbie up so that we could hear his laboured breathing – which reminded me of our intimate relationship with Tony Soprano. Brave, too, to have his character take the name of Savile in vain.

For laughs, we must turn to an even more distant past.

Richard E Grant on Ealing Comedies (Gold – Gold! – a channel whose name should always be sung in the voice of Tony Hadley) is a three-parter designed to tell you again, and again, and again (because it’s true), that the classic comedies made by Ealing studios during and after the war, are quintessentially British. You might say quintessentially English if not for The Maggie and Whisky Galore!, which are quintessentially Scottish – actually, quintessentially Hebridean – but the pitch is usually the same: little people stand up to authority, whether in the form of bureaucrats or industrialists or Americans. The documentary is an excuse for Richard E Grant to have a marvellous time, whether operating a steam train’s whistle or thumbing through the archives at tins of film. He’s a superb guide. But the talking heads are of a top stripe, too – Paul Whitehouse, Celia Imrie, Matthew Sweet – and even though it lacks a certain depth of analysis thus far, there are two more episodes to go. Gold – Gold! – have also been showing some of the films, too. I hope you’ve taped them.

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Dave, the channel, not the Dave who produces Telly Addict, although he also works for Dave, resurrected Red Dwarf for its tenth series, and the eleventh has begun, showing on UKTVPlay first, and Dave second. There are 51 episodes available on UKTV Play, which is handy for me, as when I sat down to review Red Dwarf XI, I checked my records and realised I hadn’t watched it since 1989, somewhere in the middle of series three. It looks amazing in its new incarnation, and draws a huge crowd, but then, reassuringly, it’s exactly the same.

I didn’t much care for Paranoid (ITV), the latest crime drama in which socially inept detectives must solve the grisly murder of a woman – in this case, stabbed horribly to death in broad daylight at a children’s playground in full view of other parents and toddlers – but I commend director Mark Tonderai, who staged the murder well, and who used to be a DJ on Radio 1 when I was, in the early 90s! Solidarity.

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For supreme writing, may I again recommend Ripper Street (Amazon Prime/BBC Two), still hurtling eloquently towards its series-four conclusion, intertwining three series arcs with a case-of-the-week and never once dropping the ball, even during this football-themed episode. My favourite line? “You diagram fastidiously, Sir!”, uttered by Matthew Mcfadyen. No other shows speaks like this, so all hail its writing staff, especially creator Richard Warlow, who minted the technique, and my own personal favourite Toby Finlay, who leads a double life as a Nazi-hunter on Twitter.

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This week’s object on the coffee table is an excellent new non-fiction book, The Bottom Corner, by my old Word magazine cohort Nige Tassell looking at non-league football. When the top of the game looks as dodgy and greed-riven as it does after the Allardyce sting, this book makes an even more pertinent case for those toiling nobly and for little more than a hot meal at the bottom.

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Oh, and if you didn’t catch Keith Richards’ Lost Weekend (BBC Four) – three nights of Keef lustily and chalkily remembering his long life and honouring the films, cartoons, TV shows and footage that helped shape him, as directed by his new medium, Julien Temple, who collects musical icons like football cards – catch it while ti-i-i-ime is on your side. (Temple’s evocative, witty, thought-provoking feature-length doc, London Babylon, was among the delights curated by Mr Richards: a must-see for all Londoner either born, bred or adopted.) All 17 of the interlinking parts of varying length remain on iPlayer, if not the nuggets Keef selected. These three nights justified the £145.50 Licence Fee alone.

Wow!

Since last week’s Telly Addict, the hoo-hah about the Bake Off hit the fan. And the fans. Actually, I liked the way its BBC audience grew as if in an act of defiance (“We are going to watch the show even more! That’ll show Channel 4 and Love Productions!”), but the outlook is still grim. (Oh, and check the caption on the grab below.)

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It’s all over, too, except without manhandling, for Parks & Recreation (Dave), which also switched channels in the UK, but found a fond permanent home for its latter seasons at Dave, and even though I have to admit the final season was a bit soppy – loads of hugging, plenty of learning – I devoured it hungrily all the same, until the plate was empty. On this Telly Addict, I present a masterclass in glancing to camera.

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Also on Dave, it’s Dara O Brain with his massive briain! This time hosting Go 8 Bit, which is a big-hearted videogame show based around the universally acknowledged truth that games were better in the old days. The first episode, authoritatively co-helmed by games journalist Ellie Gibson, saw Susan Calman and David James throwing themselves all around the sofa-based set in the name of Tetris and Tekken.

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BBC Scotland put together some preeminent talking heads for British Sitcom: 60 Years of Laughing at Ourselves (BBC Four) and the forgot to give their jobs in the captions. I ought to be a lot more bitter about the fact that the one successful mainstream sitcom I have been involved in was tossed off in a quick montage at the end, but 60 years is 60 years, and I’m proud to have made it into a footnote (albeit represented by a clip that I had no hand in writing – I did come up with the title!)

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Joanna Lumley, who might as well just change her name to Joanna Luvley and be done with it, proved a briskly enthusiastic tour guide in Joanna Lumley’s Japan (ITV), a three-parter so full of breathless exclamations it ought to have an exclamation mark at the end of it. (Incidentally, if you think Joanna is being a bit of an air-miles Pollyanna, in Ep1 she does visit the contaminated site of the Fukushima nuclear accident, with a Geiger counter in hand, and in Ep2, which I have yet to see, she watches dolphins being slaughtered on a beach.)

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And it’s safe to enjoy this beautiful cat from HBO whodunit The Night Of (Sky Atlantic) without fear of it giving away who the murderer is, or are.

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Oh, and here’s a little DVD extra:

We, the Telly Addict crew, made a five-minute film at UKTV Live, the industry showcase that took place the other week at London’s BFI Southbank. It was nice to get out.

Top team

Burning question. How do you pronounce Poldark (BBC One)? I sense that it’s perhaps more authentically Cornish to put the emphasis on the second syllable: Pol-dark. But the more homogeneous acceptance puts the accent on “Pole”, as in Pol-dark. Most people are spending no time worrying about this, as they are too preoccupied with the view. As Francis Poldark says of his condemned cousin in Episode 2 of the surprisingly downbeat new series, “Which of us does not secretly adore him?”

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It took just 20 minutes in Ep1 for Aidan Turner to lose his shirt and oil up down the mine, but there are other lovely things to look at: the cliffs, the hills, sky, the exquisite tailoring. Without a masterplan – as I just review what I have watched on the telly – this week’s Telly Addict, #13 if you’re taking inventory, I seem to have reviewed four dramas, but of four different stripes. Pol-dark/Pol-dark covers costume/historical drama sumptuously, while contemporary drama, albeit one that’s been away for 13 years so still feels distinctly 90s, is embodied by Cold Feet (ITV), which I understand drew a consolidated audience (and what other kind is there?) of 7.9 million last Monday. I have no idea if anyone under 40 tuned in, but if not, there are enough of us ancients to keep it a hit.

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It’s not all hugs, pints, amigos and jokes about James Nesbitt’s hair transplant (“Have you got more hair?”) – indeed, it is to life-chronicler Mike Bullen’s credit that the comeback already hits a gloomy note. “I wish my future was still ahead of me,” says Pete. “I’m not happy,” says David, in some of the  best acting of the show so far. This was not melodrama; it was closer, in fact, to Scandinavian theatre.

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It will not be for everyone, but the return of The Strain (Channel W, as I call it) is a camp, comic-book classic from Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan about a vampocalypse in New York (as usual played by Toronto) , and at least star Corey Stoll (above) has been allowed to lose his ridiculous wig. I can’t imagine how much fun it must be for Brits David Bradley and new arrival Rupert Penry-Jones to play this kind of schlock.

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More fine British acting talent dominates the educational re-enactment show Barbarians Rising (the History Channel), where thesps at the level of Nicholas Pinnock (above) battle against the might of diagrams, computer simulation and retired four-star American Generals as talking heads. I love it. That is all of drama, I believe. And Telly Addict’s Moment of Zen is another fabulous, sentient scene from Ripper Street (Amazon Prime/BBC Two), in which Matthew Macfadyen and Jerome Flynn might well be discussing the resurrected show itself.

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Even though literally NOBODY is interested in the unusual, personal objects I leave on the coffee table each week, I’m sticking with the unloved extra. Anybody have any feelings at all about Top Team?

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No?

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Incidentally, after recording this week’s, the big news about The Great British Bake Off (BBC One/Channel 4) broke. None of us knows exactly what went on behind closed doors during production company Love and the BBC, but it has been mentioned that Channel 4 poached the Corporation’s most successful format by bidding three times what they’re currently paying for it. If that’s true, it reflects badly on capitalism and its precarious relationship with a Tory-diminished public sector. I admire Mel and Sue for declaring their independence so soon; this at least means that a commercial incarnation will not be the same. I can think of nothing more irksome than having to watch a show we have come to enjoy uninterrupted shot through with ads and, worse, bumpers paid for by Mr Kipling or Smeg fridges. Such a transfer from public to private has happened to plenty of beloved US imports like Seinfeld, The Simpsons and Mad Men, which, manhandled by the BBC, found happier homes on smaller, commercial channels, but very rarely has a format migrated. When BBC stars have been transferred, it has nearly always been a terrible disaster – I think of Morecambe and Wise, the Goodies, Trinny and Susannah?

I guess we Bake Off fans will have to enjoy this series while it lasts. It’s not been a classic so far. Although the glimpse of a Red Kite almost made up for its deficiencies of contestant.

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