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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Unstoppable

 

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-GameofThrones-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).

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That’s a goldfinch. But what the bloomin’ heck was this?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

tauktv17zapZapped 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.

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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.

Do you believe

 

Telly Addict #17! In the house! (I personally like the new Thursday release date – it gives me more time to prepare at the start of the week, and can comfortably take in weekend viewing should that be required.) So, as everybody now seems to begin every sentence they say, even if “so” is meaningless at the beginning of it: one big-box brand returns this week, along with another high-end HBO drama product (based on an existing brand, as it happens), a comedy that shouldn’t be funny but is, and another return to Dave of a format that has turned into a brand (and, actually, started out in a different medium on stage before finding its wings on telly).

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I already believed in the Westworld (HBO, Sky Atlantic), as the 1973 film, by Michael Crichton, was a favourite when I was a teenager, and I had the Theatre of Hate single that went with it. In it, the robots go wrong in a futuristic theme park. It was a warning from the future not to make robots. Crichton returned to a similar theme in his novel Jurassic Park (which would also make a good film, come to think of it), where dinosaurs are made from DNA, and also go wrong; another warning we didn’t listen to. In Westworld the TV spin-off (the second attempt, in fact), JJ Abrams is at the executive helm, and Christopher Nolan’s brother Jonathan has co-created, or adapted, the original, with tons more money and pixels than ever could have been dreamed of by people in 1973.

tauktv17westw2The set-up is the same: rich tourists go on holiday in a western, and some evil corporation or other runs it for profit with only passing regard for ethics or safety. It’s run by some fantastic actors: Sidse Babett Knudsen from Borgen and, suddenly, everything else; Jeffrey Wright; Anthony Hopkins (yes, I know, on the telly! – the tables truly have turned); and this man forming his mouth into an “f” sound, Simon Quarterman, who’s English and not previously on my radar (although I understand he’s been in EastEnders). If I name some of the equally fine actors playing the robots, or “hosts”, bear in mind that we can’t really be sure who’s a robot and who’s not: James Marsden, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, possibly Ed Harris. It’s such a high concept show, I wonder how they can keep it but after two episodes, I’m intrigued as to how they’ll do that. Things are already going wrong.

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Eighteen digital marketing managers are competing once again to get their hands on some of the 95th richest person in Britain’s money in The Apprentice (BBC One), a format I long since parted company with. (Frankly, after the very people who appear on it caused the global financial meltdown in 2007, it lost some of its innate comedy value.) I sat through episode one, and it was exactly the same, just as the Bake Off is (or was) exactly the same, and Strictly is exactly the same. This is not a crime. But there are all sorts of original things flying about on Netflix and Amazon and US cable, so who has the time to laugh, again, at the ineptitude and hubris of money-motivated 20-30-year-olds?

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I am head over heels in love with Damned (Channel 4), the latest plank in Jo Brand’s plan for world domination through social-realist comedy about social services. Set in children’s services, but only nominally about that, it’s an office comedy but a mordant one, and one that runs on its own nervous energy, while Brand herself plays a character who runs at half-speed and seems all the happier for it. Alan Davies is playing himself but if he’d not found comedy and had worked for social services: genial, exasperated (because life’s complicated enough) and shaggily handsome. I loved when in episode one he told Aisling Bea’s clearly abused single mum, “It’s not my job to care.” Please watch this: it’s depressing and downbeat and uses cancer as a punchline. Recommendation enough? Now, for some socially-unrealist comedy.

I’ve hymned Taskmaster (Dave) before. And, full disclosure, I have a “relationship” with it, in that I hosted its press launch, have worked with Greg Davies, have coffee and cake with its director, it’s made by the TV production company of whose management arm I am a client, and it airs on Dave, part of UKTV, who produce Telly Addict. I’ve also asked Greg and Alex Horne if I can be on it, and they told me I couldn’t because I asked, and that disqualifies me from being on it – a tactical error apparently also made by Rachel Riley, who can’t be on it either, for the same reason. My love of the show cannot, therefore, be trusted. Even though it is sincere.

Thanks for watching, as I always say. Here I am attempting to whistle while reading the 1963 Collins Guide to Bird Watching. We spend way too long setting up the bit at the beginning where I have an object on the coffee table, but it make us happy.

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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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