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.

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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He’ll be back

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SPOILER ALERT

NO, REALLY, SPOILER ALERT!!!!

IF YOU HAVEN’T YET SEEN THE SEASON SIX FINALE OF THE WALKING DEAD AND DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS AT THE END OF IT, PLEASE STEP AWAY FROM THE BLOG.

Good. I’m among friends. The man with his back to us in the screengrab above is Negan. He is a bad man. One of the worst men. All through Season 6 of The Walking Dead (AMC; Fox), we’ve scented him. Negan, a name top-loaded with negativity and carefully chosen to rhyme with “Reagan”, has struck fear into us since Episode 8, when Daryl, Abraham and Sasha are held up by some organised bandits called the Saviours who explain, “Your property now belongs to Negan.” From hereon in, Negan took on mythic status, and when he finally stepped out of his trailer, inscousiant and grinning, like Jeffery Dean Morgan’s investigator Jason Crouse over on network TV in The Good Wife except with menaces and a sporting implement, it was almost a relief.

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If you’re reading the source comics (which I’m not, although I occasionally dip in to see what a character looks like on the page for comparison to the televisual incarnation), you’re ahead of the series. You know what Negan is capable of, and what he actually does (“KRAKK!”); more crucially, you’ll know which of our heroes gets beaten to probable death at the end of Episode 16, Last Day on Earth. We, the hapless viewer, can only guess. Then wait six months to find out. And there’s the rub.

I have read that “fans” are displeased by this cliffhanger. I don’t really know who these “fans” are, as I don’t frequent TWD forums, or search social media for consensus. I can’t think of anything worse than having my phone to hand while watching a TV show, all the better to scroll through Twitter and find out what people I’ve never met think of the TV show I’m in the process of watching. I find watching stimulus enough, with perhaps occasional real-time comment with a close family member. In this regard, perhaps I am not a “fan”, although having watching TWD from Episode 1, and only dipped out during Season 2, I feel like one. You have to mean it, man. It’s an arduous watch sometimes, and intended to be. It can be existentially dispiriting and doomy. It is, after all, a metaphor for the world we live in, always on the edge of collapse and feral survivalism. There but for the grace of God etc.

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Dread, recoil, tension, disgust, these are its tag words. Smiles are rare. Laughs rarer. Relief from the grinding, death-stalked misery and paranoia comes only fleetingly, a portent of further grinding, death-stalked misery and paranoia. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his ever-evolving band of bedraggled brothers and sisters have moved home a number of times, but it’s never a wise idea to put out too many framed photos on the bedside table. The Walking Dead is uniquely horrible, and that’s why I love it. We tend to tape it and watch it early in the evening, rather than last thing at night. Because who would want to submit to sleep with nightmares already sloshing around?

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Like any “fan”, I have my ups and downs with the show. But what “fans” seem pissed off about after Season 6 is the manipulative nature of the cliffhanger. Which of our assembled 11 goodies – Rick, Glenn, Daryl, Michonne, Maggie, Rosita, Aaron, Sasha, Abraham, Carl, Eugene – has been beaten to death by Lucille, Negan’s pet name for his barbed-wired-wrapped baseball bat? This is cable TV, after all, and Game of Thrones, another gory fantasy based on a literary property, has helped establish the unsettling lottery of principal-character mortality in the line of narrative duty. Nothing is sacred. No-one is immune. That said, it won’t be Rick. (Or Aaron – who would care if Aaron died?) Lest we forget, the mid-season cliffhanger showed Glenn (Steven Yeun), another seemingly “safe” character, having his guts pulled decisively out by a scrum of walkers. But he survived. (They weren’t his guts; he was trapped beneath Nicholas, whose viscera they were.) Was this a cheek? Cheap fanbait? Was it manipulative? (Of course it was, it’s fiction, it manipulates.)

Ever since Dallas left us hanging over the small matter of who shot J.R., long-running drama has used a big question mark to keep us on the hook. The “death” or otherwise of Jon Snow on GoT in the show’s Season 5 cliffhanger is another recent case in point. In an over-connected world of chatter, such trifles get talked about to death. Jon Snow may or may not be dead, but the discussion is. (The Walking Dead’s companion show is called The Talking Dead. I have never watched it. I don’t want to see the actors out of costume, mucking about in a chat show setting as it breaks the spell.) I will find a way to survive for the next six months in what is necessarily a break from the show. “Fans” can discuss it until they’re left with nothing but a husk. Me, I have wondered who might have had their skull caved in by Negan, but I’m not losing sleep over it. I’m fairly sure it’s not Maggie, a pregnant woman, although that would be the brave choice for Scott M. Gimple and his 100 producers.

One thing I have learned re: the Negan Cliffhanger is that there are two distinct kinds of Walking Dead SPOILER: the TV SPOILER, and the comic-book SPOILER. A moany Guardian blog (“Fans had to wait almost a month to find out if Glenn made it out alive”) warned at the top of a TV spoiler, but gaily gave away who Negan caved in by way of a comic-book SPOILER. (This, by the way, is a SPOILER I won’t repeat. This is Telly Addict, not Comics Addict.)

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As a GoT “fan” who tried to read the first page of George RR Martin’s first Ice and Fire novel (“Now a major TV series!”) and couldn’t get further than halfway down it, I am a very content TV-only consumer. If you can stomach fantasy literature, and millions can, then you’re going to be watching GoT in a totally different way: largely unshockable, and a bit superior, knowing that the Red Wedding is coming and all that. The comic-book early adopters of TWD will be the equivalent. How much sleep they must lose over the fact that Negan doesn’t look like Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the comics? (I understand he’s supposed to look like Henry Rollins.)

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It’s possible to be a “fan” and not continually rail against the makers of the show you’re a fan of when things don’t pan out precisely how you want them to. It’s a commercial product on a commercial television channel, designed to sell advertising space, merchandise and DVDs, not a charity. Call it “Negan-omics.” If Season 6 ended in the middle of an innocuous sentence about growing sorghum wheat, rather than the showstoppingly violent death of one of 11 beloved-ish regulars, complaints would still be lodged at the highest level (ie. on a forum or Twitter). I look forward to finding out who is dead when the time comes. And then we’ll move on to the next cliffhanger.

KRAKK!