Naughty

Again, apologies for the delay, but Telly Addict‘s benefactors at UKTV were not in the office yesterday. I have no idea why. In any case, one of my favourite televisual experiences of last week was All Aboard! The Country Bus (BBC Four), a two-hour journey of the actual kind (as opposed to the emotional “journey” usually taken on TV today) from Richmond in North Yorkshire across the Dales, in real time, as part of the Slow TV movement originated in Norway.

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If you require volume, there’s always Joe Wicks: the Body Coach (Channel 4), a cross between Jamie Oliver and Russell Brand who’s already a superstar on Instagram, which is something you can be in this day and age. If he’s real, and not a sensational hoax played by a genius character comic who created him for an Edinburgh show, then I warn you against him if you find “healthy eating” anathema. I quite like him, in tiny doses. (Spot the difference in the following two photos.)

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I remain vexed by the BBC’s Sitcom Season (BBC One, BBC Two), which marks 60 years since the corporation broadcast but didn’t record or keep Hancock’s Half Hour. Rather more reverence is afforded the form these days, but not in the case of Are You Being Served? (BBC One), a karaoke version with a top-drawer cast having the time of their life doing impressions of beloved characters from the 70s and early 80s. I loved this show between the ages of seven and 12. And I don’t blame seasoned Benidorm writer Derren Litten (with whom I briefly worked on the early days of Not Going Out), for taking it on and pushing the envelope of taste (there’s a double entendre about “seamen” that might not have made it in 1972). But I just don’t know why it was on my telly. Surely you celebrate classic sitcoms by showing them, not remaking and rebooting them?

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Victoria (ITV) started well, and beat Poldark (BBC One) in the overnights. That’s despite Poldark giving its hyperventilating fans (I’m among them) a pumped male torso glistening with sweat in the first 20 minutes. Victoria has no such titilation, just upstairs-downstairs intrigues and protocols for the Downton crowd. I’m hooked already.

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I’m also hooked on The Night Of (Sky Atlantic), a remake, eight years after the event, of Peter Moffat’s legal drama Criminal Justice, re-set in New York and New Jersey and inflated to eight episodes. By the time you read this, I may well have binged on the whole series, which is utterly addictive. Even if, as I do, you remember the original really well, including the outcome, which I hope they’ve changed. One objection: the credit “Created by Richard Price and Steve Zaillian”. Created? Really? Like Derren Litten “created” Are You Being Served?

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A nod to John Bishop, whose In Conversation With (it’s on W, which always look odd when typed) chat show slot is proving worthwhile. It’s no mean feat for a man who talks for a living (I’ve interviewed him – he’s a superb guest) to shut up so respectfully and professionally, leaving guests like James Corden and Charlotte Church to take centre stage for the best part of an hour.

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There is no prize for working out what’s on the coffee table this week (because there never is), but someone out there might get it. Here are all the Telly Addicts gathered in a YouTube playlist.

Water cooler moment

Hooray, Telly Addict No.5 is up on time! View it here and check out Telly Addicts Nos. 1-4 while you’re there.

And here is your actual Water Cooler Moment from this week’s TV: an actual water cooler in a rented office from the first half of the first episode of Channel 4’s newest reality TV format The Job Interview, bubbling away to itself. It is, as gently hinted at by its title, based around job interviews, which are filmed for our entertainment, and, one presumes, the participants’ narcissism.

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Channel 4 have built a wall around their new show by calling back the top brass off of Very British Problems, who sit and unravel anecdote by the yard in what I always assume are NOT their kitchens to camera, and getting them to say similarly pithy things about employment for My Worst Job. Is this Jimmy Carr’s kitchen? Or the kitchen of one of the show’s producers?

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There’s a new season of glossy US legal drama Suits on Dave, who are owned by the same people who own me, although I was already a fan, so happy to report back from Episode 1, which makes me wonder why I wandered away from Season 5. It’s still super-slick, glamorous, alpha and a little bit eugenic in its casting, but the beautiful people at Pearson Specter Litt are in trouble and that’s always a good place to start. I’m already a fan of First Dates, as you’ll known, and I approve of Celebrity First Dates on a purely anthropological level. Here are its charming waiting staff, craning their necks at someone who they partially recognise.

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And finally, this week’s What’s On The Coffee Table? It’s a promotional Masterchef apron, which I am fond of, even though it gets its own catchphrase wrong (“Cooking doesn’t get better than this”?!) I’ve noticed that the pastries always look like they are for giants, when in real life, they are normal pastry-sized. The lies that TV tells.

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Returning officer

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Huh? What just happened? A promising, seemingly self-contained, issue-driven crime drama by an assured and reliable writer reached its finale and, after seven weeks that should have been six, a nation started shouting at the telly. Undercover (BBC One) began so well and ended so badly. (That it was egregiously scheduled over five consecutive Sundays, with a week off to make way for the Baftas last Sunday, and then this finale two weeks later was a mistake to rival the random first two weeks of Dickensian. Talk about kicking your loyal audience in the teeth. Over on ITV, Marcella is being given the “event” treatment, with its last two episodes of eight being scheduled across two consecutive nights. Sometimes the BBC is its own worst enemy.)

The plausibility of Undercover was already strained when the BBC rested it for a fortnight after episode five, but still we waited, patiently. We wanted to find out how it would end after Adrian Lester’s undercover officer was finally unmasked by his incidentally epileptic Director of Public Prosecutions wife after 20 years of deceit. Actually, I’ve no idea what might constitute a plausible reaction to discovering that the man you fell in love with, married and raised three children with was lying to you the whole time and investigating from the outset (although this issue is a live one and has happened). But aside from giving Sophie Okonedo ample opportunity to cry and rage and shout and lash out, it didn’t feel right. She didn’t even kick him out of bed. And in this damningly suspect final episode, the entire family of four literally dashed to his aid in the woods to prevent a showdown that explained nothing.

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That Undercover offered no equivalent of the Big Reveal in the drawing room need not be a crime in these more sophisticated TV times; that it muffed any kind of comprehensible conclusion, save for a montage of bad guys having their collars felt, someone innocent getting caught in the crossfire, and a headline-only revelation linking Dennis Haysbert’s Christ-like death-row survivor’s parallel story to the one at home, was heinous. It felt to me like the ending had been tampered with in the name of “leaving things open” for a second series, with entire jigsaw pieces missing to keep us in the game. A crushing irony, this, because anecdotally it seems that these loose ends, implausibilities and ambiguities left a loyal audience vowing not to watch a second series. This wasn’t as headline-grabbingly mercenary as the end of the first series of The Fall – in which a delicious cat-and-mouse between a cop and a killer was cynically left hanging so that it could become a serial – but it was similarly ambiguous and greedy. Okonedo and Haysbert spoke in tongues about “going big” throughout, and in this final episode, she promised to “go bigger,” which is exactly what we didn’t want. Going somewhere is what we wanted.

Early Release

I won’t ask the question: why do they do it? We know why. They do it because even the BBC is under pressure to produce saleable goods; returning series, brands, properties. (In this respect, all broadcasters are commercial.) The days of single, self-justifying dramatic plays are long gone. We must be enticed to tune in again. But with the recent crowd-pleasing likes of Line Of Duty, Unforgotten, Happy Valley and – although I found it hokey – The Night Manager delivering big returning audiences and paying back our week-on-week loyalty with skill, rigour and invention, it’s unacceptable to muff a finale. And you certainly can’t have Adrian Lester being asked by his wife, in front of his injured family, to tell them his real name, and the screen going black just before he opens his mouth. What? So it’s tune in next year to find out what his real name is? We don’t care that much. His name is the least of those on our list of questions. What did the mayor of Baton Rouge have to do with it? Why was the DPP allowed to spend half her time in America? Why was the grizzled old hack in the woods? Why the glamorous Louisiana subplot in the first place? To tick some boxes for BBC America? (God, I hope not.)

I return to Chris Chibnall’s sound advice, “Give every character a secret.” Well, Moffat’s entire series rested on Adrian Lester’s secret – a secret going back 20 years – but once it was out of the bag, and the immediate fallout had been swiftly cauterised, Undercover seemed to flail about looking for other ways to keep us interested: the woolly newspaper-journalist subplot; the Haysbert death row case’s preposterous court hearing in which Okonedo became Atticus Finch and an apparent zombie gave evidence; the blameless autistic son being honey-trapped; Vincent Regan’s out-of-nowhere paedophile excuse. Some good acting was put in along the way – Okonedo’s seizures were excellent, and both Alastair Petrie and Derek Riddell shone as the baddies – but it was all thrown away by that final episode. As anyone in law will tell you, you have to get the jury onside, and keep them onside until they make their judgement. We have made ours: guilty.

 

PS: If you’re looking to join a support group for disappointed Undercover viewers, try below-the-line at Kate Abbott’s witty episode guide on the Guardian website. There is a definite consensus there.