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Getting the hang of this YouTube thing. Look! Look! You can gather together all the the Telly Addicts there have been so far – Episodes 1-6 – and then you can play them one after the other, rather than have to click on anything, and you can do it from the comfort of here. So, the six so far have covered telly as diverse as Euro 2016, The Good Wife, The Secret Life of a Bus Garage, Game of Thrones, Billions, Brief Encounters, Forces of Nature with Brian Cox, The Late, Late Show with James Corden, Soundbreaking, Celebrity Masterchef and Versailles. Ah, the early optimism of Episode 1, recorded on Monday 20 June in a black shirt and published on the day of the EU Referendum – who wouldn’t feel nostalgic for those more certain times?

We have only been on the air for six weeks, but in that time, England got knocked out of the European Championship by Iceland, the Prime Minister resigned, Chris Evans resigned, Nigel Farage resigned, Jeremy Corbyn refused to resign, Boris Johnson pulled out, Angela Eagle pulled out, atrocity became a near daily event and someone relaunched petty, insidious racism in the UK, a country which used to be mocked as “the sick man of Europe” during the 70s – a time of industrial unrest and a failing economy – and has now moved on to being a global laughing stock and gear-puller of an economic slowdown. Strange times. But through it all, I have been there, sitting in front of the post-apocalyptic stack of TVs, saying hello, refraining from slagging things off for the sport of it, wearing different shirts and undergoing one or two tiny adjustments to the lighting and autocue and running time and parting.

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It’s the same, but different, which is the way I like it. And I’m getting used to the tyranny of automated stats. I harbour a fantasy that it’s Telly Addict and not clips of Suits and St Kitts and Nevis playing cricket that have been driving up UKTV’s subscriber base over the last six weeks! You have to take it as a massive endorsement that three users gave us a thumbs-down in week one, two in week two, two in week three, one in week four and nobody, so far, has given Eps 5 or 6 the same downward Roman signal. We must be doing something right. I’m cheered by the fact that people seem to be going back to watch the older editions, whose number continue to click upwards. And God bless the Colin Morgan fans for sharing the links among each other.

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My little red Moleskine notebook isPhoto on 30-07-2016 at 10.21 #2 becoming ragged with notes and scribbles, the ledger into which I pre-launch my telly-watching thoughts and timings. It live, as it should, on the arm of my armchair. It’s been established that my name is Andrew Collins and I am a Telly Addict, and in many ways I feel free of unrealistic aspiration since the Guardian pulled the plug in April. Now that they’ve also discontinued Your Next Box Set in the actual newspaper – a long-time if irregular source of commerce for me, something I relished – and turned it into Stream On (yeah, I get why), I feel a little further removed. In all of the five years of reviewing the telly for the Guardian website, I was never once considered for reviewing the telly in the Guardian newspaper. I’m not entirely sure why, although factionalism between departments and fiefdoms is probably all it was. Being led in through the tradesman’s entrance and up the multimedia fire escape, thereby embedded in the Guardian building without having paid my dues, probably made me a mole. Which is why I’m so comfy at UKTV; not only are their technical facilities better, and staffing levels higher, and they provide sweetened carbohydrates, I don’t feel like I’m sneaking into the building with a blanket over my head and getting away with it. It also means I can be a Guardian reader without benefits again. It’s an infuriating thing to be, but something I choose to do and have always chosen to do in my enlightened adult life. And it comes with no strings attached. I hope it continues.

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I hope you’re enjoying Telly Addict v2.0. I am. The comments section on YouTube is way less user-friendly than a newspaper’s equivalent, and the conversation there is slow and unhelpfully formatted, but I appreciate all the comments, and we’ve had next to no trolling.

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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.

Birmingham Blues

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With one of my favourite dramas Peaky Blinders set to return to BBC Two for its third season in May (actual date yet to be confirmed), and a lot of activity at my end, having visited the set and written a story for next week’s Radio Times, it seems an opportune time to dust down this passionately corrective column on the lack of depictions of Birmingham and the West Midlands on our TV screens. It was published on the Guardian website in September 2013, but it’s still relevant. (Although who remembers crime series By Any Means?) For the record, I’ve seen the first episode of the new series, and it scales new heights. But let’s talk about Brum …

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Peaky Blinders, BBC2’s big-hitting, six-part period gangster saga may be saddled with an offputting title and unhelpful comparisons to Boardwalk Empire, but it remains a truly unique piece of dramatic television. Why? Because it’s explicitly set in Birmingham, a city that’s all but ignored, dramatically speaking, outside of soaps. Not since Slade In Residence on The Smell Of Reeves & Mortimer in 1993 have we had so many unashamed Brummie and Black Country accents in our living rooms. As a son of the East Midlands, I have an innate soft spot for the despondent downward intonation at the end of a sentence and the over-articulated “ng” sound of my Black Country and Brummie cousins. But a study of regional accents in 2008 found that Birmingham’s gave the worst impression of “perceived intelligence.” In the test, silence gave a better impression.

This certainly seems to have been taken to heart by TV commissioners. And who can blame them when, in an otherwise glowing review of Peaky Blinders in the Sunday Times, critic AA Gill complained, “It’s not that it’s impossible to sound … intelligent with a Brummie inflection. It’s that the rest of us just don’t care. We know from the first flat vowel that it’s going to be probably about boilers, or carp fishing.”

Benny from Crossroads has a lot to answer for. The infamous motel-based soap was set in the fictional Midlands village of King’s Oak and filmed in and around Brum. Many of its stars were local – Roger Tonge, Ann George, John Bentley – but it was simple-minded handyman Benny, played by local boy Paul Henry from 1974 to 1987, who came to epitomise the show; a gift to Tuxedoed impressionists. He lingers as the region’s woolly-hatted ambassador, with his entreaties to “Miss Diane” (rather, “Miss Doy-ane”).

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Brickies-abroad comedy drama Auf Wiedersehen, Pet – produced by Midlands franchisee Central – had a token Brummie: low-voltage, Wolves-supporting electrician Barry. He was so endearingly played by Timothy Spall over the show’s two decades it became impossible to extricate the Black Country accent from bumbling innocence. The rise to MTV reality-show superstardom in the noughties of damaged Aston-born rocker Ozzy Osbourne in The Osbournes did nothing to reposition popular opinion; the downward intonation signalled “lovable idiot”.

Concurrently, Jasper Carrott of Acocks Green bestrode TV like a comic colossus throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s; it’s a great accent if your job is to make people laugh, as Frank Skinner might subsequently testify. Carrott wrapped his horizontal vowels around the mock-biker anthem Funky Moped in 1975, a Top 5 hit.

It was produced by ELO’s Jeff Lynne to underline its “Brum Beat” credentials. Birmingham has long been a cradle of rock, its foundries giving birth to heavy metal and a civic fondness for leather and long hair, hence the “Grebo” movement of the late 80s. That the latter scene’s prime movers were the larky, fart-lighting Pop Will Eat Itself and acid-tongued pranksters The Wonder Stuff may not have helped the Black Country’s bid to be taken entirely seriously. (Although now that PWEI’s leader Clint Mansell is a prolific and respected Hollywood film composer, maybe detractors should check their prejudice.)

Steven Knight, creator of Peaky Blinders, former gagsmith for Carrott and a native of Small Heath, was asked by the Visit Birmingham website why Britain’s second city is so rarely represented onscreen. “Birmingham people stay in Birmingham,” he replied. “In London, you’ll meet a lot of people from Manchester and Liverpool because they want to get out. Whereas in Birmingham, people tend to stay, so that pollen doesn’t get distributed.”

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It’s a theory that, like the 160 miles of canal that helped make Birmingham “the workshop of the world” during the Industrial Revolution, holds a lot of water. The tragedy is that the bulk of Peaky Blinders was shot in Leeds and Liverpool. Meanwhile, By Any Means, BBC1’s glossy new contemporary crime show, is shot in Birmingham and produced out of the spanking BBC Drama Village in Selly Oak, but makes no mention of its geographical location. At least Doctors is set in a fictional Midlands town, Letherbridge, while the soap’s Mill Health Centre is an affectionate nod to decommissioned production hub Pebble Mill. Perhaps we’ll glimpse the incredible new Mecanoo-designed Library of Birmingham in Centenary Square in a future episode of By Any Means. Surely that wouldn’t give a bad impression of “perceived intelligence”?

As Lynne wrote in the ELO tune Birmingham Blues, “It may be kind of homely but it sure is sweet/Industrial Revolution put it on its feet.”

First published in September 2013

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!