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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You have been watching

Apologies for the delay of the blog entry of the 25th Telly Addict, which will be the last regular Telly Addict of 2016. After this week’s promised Zen round-up, which is going to be a corker, we’re taking a break. But Telly Addict will return in 2017. Look out for some special Telly Addicts in the New Year, and – fingers crossed, MPs lobbied, YouTube clips and blog entries “liked”, “shared” and Tweeted – we’ll be back under the same UKTV umbrella, the one which has kept Telly Addict dry for the last 26 weeks, after the Guardian made it homeless in April. (I have genuinely cancelled my subscription to the newspaper.)

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In the last regular Telly Addict, a review of the finale of The Missing (BBC Two), which ought to be far enough in the past now for some footage of three main characters walking through the woods in what is actually Belgium for tax reasons no longer to constitute an active spoiler. I loved this second series, perhaps even more than the first, which for me was at least one episode short of an eight episode drama. This one confidently expanded to fill the slot, and even went so far as to reveal the villain in episode six, without losing our rapt attention. Fantastic work, Jack and Harry Williams, and director Ben Chanan. The cast were top-flight, too: Roger Allam, David Morrissey, Tchéky Karyo, Anastasia Hille, Keeley Hawes (an actress so often called upon to be sad and vexed who will be smiling again in the New Year in The Durrells), Laura Fraser and Derek Riddell.

It’s ongoing, but I’m enjoying the sheer, unvarnished gloom of Rillington Place (BBC Two). Those of us who hold the movie version with Richard Attenborough dear were always going to have trouble erasing his eerie performance from our minds, but Tim  Roth, whispering his way to the gallows, gives him a run for his money, with Samantha Morton particularly strong as Ethel. Considering this is the season to be jolly, there’s not much in the drama department to support that cliché. (Even the Christmas Radio Times seems to be filled with murder and melancholy. Maybe that reflects the shitty year we’ve had.)

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A little treat to remedy the mood: We Have Been Watching (Gold), a simple knock-off of Gogglebox except with the stars of comedy watching comedy, in a couple of cases, comedies they are literally in. It works because of the rapport between the couples doing the watching. We share their excitement as, say, the Father Ted logo fades up.

The happiest bits come from Him and Her, Sarah Solemani and Russell Tovey, who seem to be the very best of pals, and the saddest bits come from Ricky Tomlinson, forced to watch the clip of him and Caroline Aherne from the 1999 Royle Family Christmas special, which has all sorts of emotions flying about and making the party hats look ironic.

Quite how three working MPs fit in to all this festivity and murder, I don’t know, but here they are, Nick Clegg, Naz Shah and the fictional character Jacob Rees-Mogg in MPs: Behind Closed Doors (Channel 5), a valuable one-off doc showing the three of them in surgery, dealing with the people who elected them, or didn’t, including some persuasive and adamant constituents who won’t take no for an answer. Not that politicians ever say yes or no, they just waffle and prevaricate and avoid confirmation or denial. Which is why Nick Clegg comes across the best. Give it a spin on catch-up. You’ll be proud to be part of the electorate, even if you disagree with the assessment that Jacob Rees-Mogg is “quite human.”

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Also recommended, if you have a strong heart as it’s very sad, is UB40: Promises & Lies (BBC Four, where else?), anything but a standard rock doc. I had caught wind of there now being two UB40s, but I had no idea how this split had destroyed the Campbell family, and how ongoing the acrimony seems to be. It’s on iPlayer for a couple more weeks, and needs to be seen.

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The final Telly Addict of the year, and for now, will be up on Thursday, that bumper round-up I was talking about. A year like the one we’ve had requires extra Zen.

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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.

Late, late

Made it! To Telly Addict #6! Warning: contains topless men with their tops off.

The Poldark Moment. You’ll remember this iconic scene in the first series of Poldark, when a woman attacked Aidan Turner with a paint brush in a field.

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This was a clear homage to the Darcy Moment, which happened in olden times: the 90s. Although in that apparently more innocent epoch, a damp blouse was enough to get the pulses racing among heterosexual women and homosexual men.

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It seems pertinent that Pride & Prejudice adapter Andrew Davies had added in the scene in the pond, although, he says, not to moisten viewers but to show Darcy is a less than dignified state in time for an accidental meeting with the recalcitrant Miss Bennett. Either way, clingy shirt was enough to create a pornquake, and now it’s become a prerequisite for any vaguely nice looking male actor in a period drama who’s prepared to put in a few intensive days at the gym beforehand. Last week, we had Colin Morgan in a mid-series episode of The Living and The Dead (BBC One), actually climbing out of a pond in direct homage to Colin Firth, except without the inconvenience of a shirt. (I know the lithe Mr Morgan has a massive, swooning fan base, so you get the feeling everyone involved knew what they were doing.)

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And here’s Hans Matheson in the ill-fated ITV Yorkshire western Jericho (which I really liked) earlier this year, actually being forced to take his top off and “do a twirl” for Mark Addy’s detective character. (He’s looking for incriminating scars after an assault – that’s his excuse, anyway.)

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And here’s James Corden.

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Finally, a UK broadcaster, Sky, has bought the rights to show year-old CBS late, late show with James Corden, The Late, Late Show with James Corden. It’s only the latest in a long line of American chat shows, and not even the first to have a non-American host, but its inventive and playful “bits” as they call them, are tending to go viral, reaching an audience a hundred times larger than the show’s, which goes out at half past midnight. (I’m usually nodding off during Press Preview on Sky News and that starts at 10.30.)

And here’s a man who has and will take his top off, but only for comedic reasons: Greg Davies. Here he is, fully clothed, but in a skip, off of Man Down (Channel 4). You can’t see him. It’s one of nine shows coverered on this week’s added-value Telly Addict if you count The Late, Late Show and The Late, Late Show Carpool Karaoke Primetime Special as two shows, which you should. Also: The Secret Agent (BBC One), Eden (Channel 4), Parks & Recreation (Dave), Shades of Blue (Sky Living) and The Rebel (Gold). All in under ten minutes.

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And here’s me stroking the face of a picture of a cat in this week’s What’s On The Coffee Table? (It’s my cat-a-day cat calendar from home, and I was particularly taken with the black cat on Monday.) Incidentally, those are normal-sized croissants/pastries in my rider, but they look huge, as if perhaps they have been near a beam of radiation in a sci-fi film. You’ll be relieved to know that I don’t eat them all; one is for me, one is for producer Dave, and one is for cameraman Matt. I ask them to choose their favourite first and I take whichever is left, because that’s the kind of prima donna I’m not.

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Back after the break

 

Please do click on this link and visit the YouTube page, as our future depends on your support!

On 12 April, 2016, the Guardian ran its last edition of Telly Addict. My weekly fixed-shot, to-camera review of what was on the television the week before had run for 249 episodes, beginning in May 2011, and named after my TV review column in the still-missed Word magazine, which ran between 2004 and 2006 (itself named after the BBC quiz show Telly Addicts, on which my family had appeared in 1990). It had been a good innings, and Telly Addict had survived a number of opaque regime changes in the multimedia department, which seemed to exist as a kind of republic within the vast Guardian kingdom. Reviewing TV for the website certainly didn’t bestow upon me any sort of journalistic legitimacy at the newspaper itself, where I remained largely on the outside of the glass, looking in. I will always be grateful to have had the chance to make a short film about TV every week, pretty much without a break, for five years, and under the banner of a world-class news brand.

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Producer Matt Hall (whom I’d known since my earliest days in the media when we worked on the old Radio Five) called me in, in March 2011, and we made a couple of modest pilots. (Quite why I was getting to do this and not one of the paper’s regular TV writers was a mystery.) This is a rare still from one of the first two non-broadcast pilots. As you can see, the chair was visible, and so were my arms. These were cropped out in a tighter shot that, give or take the angle I sat at, remained fixed for the next five years. We went live on 6 May, 2011; I reviewed two BBC dramas, Exile and The Shadow Line, and a brand new fantasy from HBO which I understand is still going. Matt left a couple of years in, leaving me without an executive champion at the department, but the whole operation was so self-contained, with one overworked member of staff thanklessly lighting, shooting, directing, producing and editing (for the larger part of its life, Andy, for the final year, Mona), we just sort of carried on doing it and nobody “upstairs” seemed to mind, or perhaps notice. It was not always easy to find Telly Addict in the maelstrom of a constantly refreshed newspaper website (with a rare 24-hour window of promotion at the very foot of the homepage and then all bets were off) and when they rolled out a major redesign of the site I was among a large constituency who could no longer view Telly Addict comfortably on a Mac (which I suspect lost us a lot of regular viewers). But I did my best to promote it through the usual means. I loved doing it, and I loved the finished product.

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The writing was on the wall in the final six months, when budgets everywhere were being cut, and the Guardian Film Show (a much longer programme that involved three Guardian staffers or contracted freelancers a week, which started the same time as Telly Addict) went first. The final Telly Addict went up on 12 April, a sad review of the past five years, and the laments, farewells and tributes poured in below the line – where, over five years, I like to think we’d evolved an uncharacteristically sensible, positive, witty, well-informed and largely troll-free community. This was one of the reasons I launched this blog. It was a way of staying in touch with that community (or the most steadfast of its acolytes).

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The good news is, Telly Addict is reborn. Last week, it was “soft-launched” at its new home, broadcaster UKTV (umbrella over the boutique channels Dave, Gold, W, Yesterday, Really, Alibi, Eden, Good Food and Home), who are expanding their online presence, with previews, clips and self-produced shorts on their YouTube channel. The first edition [above] is effectively the broadcast pilot. I hope you like it. The show will now run every Tuesday. Normal service, you might say, is resumed. There is a tyranny of stats on YouTube, of course. Nobody at the Guardian ever seemed to want to tell me how many people watched Telly Addict. Well, there’s no hiding place any more.

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I’m sure the “likes” and “dislikes” will give me nightmares, but overall, it already feels great to have a new home. After all, UKTV make television programmes. And Telly Addict is a television programme about other people’s television programmes. And the folk who work there are real TV enthusiasts, with a certain spring in their step which is not always a given in television. (I’ve worked with their channels as a moderator at a number of events in the past.)

On the matter of my obligation to review shows that are on UKTV, I will only be reviewing new or returning or “event” shows that I might I have reviewed on Telly Addict anyway, and I have 100% editorial independence. Frankly, if I don’t like a new sitcom on Gold, I won’t cover it (if you know anything about me as a critic, you’ll know that I do not slag programmes off for the sport of it; I prefer to celebrate the best of what’s on the telly). The other upside is that there are no ads on the UKTV YouTube channel, whereas the Guardian tagged each episode with an embedded ad that you couldn’t skip.

For the record, all 249 episode of Telly Addict for the Guardian remained archived here.

You can see why we held back any big announcements or press releases or flypasts on Thursday and Friday this week, so next week it is. It’s great to be back. You will recognise one or two of the shirts.