Robin’s quest

It’s – as Noddy Holder says – Christmas. It must be. The lights are up. The crackers are in the shops. And the battle for the hearts, minds and wallets of the nation has begun in over-tinseled earnest. Telly Addict #22 checks to see if indeed the adverts are better than the programmes. They’re shorter. And cost about the same (except The Crown, which costs more than anything ever).  I’ve watched them all, so that you don’t have to, and can keep on fast-forwarding past.

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Britain’s fifth biggest chain Aldi remains very much an outlier when it comes to the annual battle for the hearts and wallets of the seasonally vulnerable, but they did well to hire national treasure Jim Broadbent to narrate their underpowered living carrot fable, which is undermined, festively speaking, by its message of abduction and cruelty. Like the carrot’s family, the little Waitrose girl also leaves a mince pie out, but for a robin. No mythic gift-givers or flying sleighs here, just a non-anthropomorphic bird and a girl. It’s my favourite.

Marks & Spencer plays the celebrity card, with dame-in-all-but-name Janet McTeer as Mrs Christmas. It’s overblown, unconvincing and explicitly links love to consumer goods made in a Chinese factory. Not sure what the colour-coded yetis are saying about Argos. That their products are abominable? John Lewis seems to have captured the national imagination AND annoyed nature charities with its bouncing wildlife (don’t try this with foxes, hedgehogs or dogs at home, kids).

I’m interested in the current campaign, Stop Funding Hate, to pressure big chains to stop advertising in newspapers that peddle hate speech. The link to their Facebook page is here. It may inspire you to put pressure on your local supermarket via head office. It worked on Co-op, and Lego!

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Right, all those mince pies are making me hungry.

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That Steak Diane from last week’s opening round of Masterchef: The Professionals (BBC Two) has taken my appetite away, and it was made by judge Marcus Wareing! As a lifelong fan of Masterchef, I used to be wary of Masterchef: The Professionals – back for its ninth series – as I couldn’t see the schadenfreude in trained chefs competing with trained chefs. But it’s actually fascinating and I’m delighted to have it back. Not least for the little silent movies acted out by the judges. There’s a montage of these, and of Greg Wallace’s best gurns and exclamations in Telly Addict.

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The BBC risks accusations of nationalism and tokenism by branding November #BlackandBritish, but so far, I’ve enjoyed British-Nigerian historian David Olusoga’s Forgotten History (BBC Two), which seeks to look even further back than the current casting crisis for black British actors, to African Roman Centurions and black Georgians.

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I read AA Gill in the Sunday Times knocking this series for being everything that’s box-tickingly wrong with the BBC but I disrespectfully disagree. In light of current global shifts to the “alt-right” – and the belated wake-up at the BBC and elsewhere to actual diversity, it’s a pretty vital warning from history.

Lionised British dramatist Stephen Poliakoff – whose last lauded drama for the BBC, Dancing on the Edge, was about a black British jazz band in the 1930s – is not my cup of tea. I vowed to give his new one, set after the war, a chance, but I only lasted 15 minutes. It’s just decent actors declaiming stuff that nobody says.

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I assume he actually instructed Jim Sturgess to do an impression of Sean Connery.

There’s a lovely moment of Zen comes from Planet Earth II, a series whose only misstep is to not have used the Duran Duran song as its theme.

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Oh, and regular visitors to this blog will know exactly what the object on the coffee table is.

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Do not dicker with me

Ah. The first Bank Holiday-delayed Telly Addict. It feels like a milestone. Shot on Tuesday morning instead of Monday, we apologise for its late running. After a couple of weeks of scouting the listings for shows worth reviewing – and in many cases, finding valuable things that I might ordinarily have missed – it’s all on a plate for me from now ’til Christmas. The new season is with us. And what better signifier than the return of The Great British Bake Off (BBC One)? Back for its seventh series, it is, I am happy to report, the same. This is what we want. Mary Berry makes the early claim that she is “expecting the unexpected,” but she has the wrong end of the spatula. It is the expected we expect.

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There is no point in me trying to convince you of the Bake Off’s value if you remain immune. If you didn’t like it before, you won’t suddenly like it now. Indeed, at some point it will surely have to stop rising, as it were, and plateau, or gateau. The last series averaged 12.3 million viewers, making it the most popular show on the BBC, and possibly on TV, outside of international sporting occasions. It’s a dozen bakers baking. That’s it.

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Certainly, the smutty annotation of Mel and Sue is vital to its appeal, and the cold, hard stare of Paul Hollywood, and the wet bunting, flapping, and the occasional squirrel (or, possibly a first for this series, a pheasant). We don’t need a scandal involving bins, or theft, or fridges, just 12 well-intentioned home cooks, cooking – and helping each other. You don’t get that on most competitive shows.

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By the way, I’ve said this on Telly Addict and typed it on Twitter and it was tumbleweeds both times, so allow me one final crack at it. The Bake Off contestant whose name is Selasi is promising. This is my assessment of him: I rate Selasi highly. [long pause] No? [longer pause] No? [even longer pause] Alright. [tumbleweeds bounce across the lawn at Welford Park]

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I was encouraged to give MasterChef Australia (shown here on the disarmingly named channel W) a look, as I’m such a fan of the UK version, and the first 16 minutes of the opening show of its eighth series – which runs for 63 episodes! – made me appreciate MasterChef UK even more. Gosh, it’s run at such a high pitch. Everybody’s shouting and squealing and fanning their faces (unless that’s just because it’s Australia and it’s hot) and whooping and cheering. I feel tired just typing about it. But for all the reasons I like Bake Off and some of you don’t, you might like the sheer volume of MasterChef Australia. After a brief taste of it, the prospect of Gregg shouting in my ear seems like a blessed relief.

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The big guns are being rolled out by the terrestrial channels. Although Versailles turned out to be a surprise hit, by shoving it out during the summer holidays, the BBC weren’t exactly cooking with confidence. Likewise Brief Encounters on ITV, which also seemed to create a buzz. (Sorry.) Ripper Street (BBC Two) and One Of Us (BBC One) are the first two big new dramas of the season, one returning for its fourth series – having been on Amazon Prime since January! – the other something fresh and seemingly self-contained like an Agatha Christie made by Universal Studios in 1931. I’ve made my ardent feelings about Ripper Street known before. If anything it has improved since Amazon re-mortgaged it. Though three years have passed and a lot of scrubbing up has taken place in Whitechapel, its principals, and its principles, are intact, and we rejoin the story.

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I have never forgotten Matthew Macfadyen’s Inspector Reid warning a wrong’un back in series one, “Do not dicker with me.” Who wouldn’t be thrilled by such rich, fruity, arcane language? I once wrongly attributed an absolute belter of a speech by Reid to chief writer and creator Richard Warlow when it was, in fact, penned by Toby Finlay, and these things matter. His overt presence shall be missed this series (or is it season, now they’ve gone all Amazon?), but I feel him lurking in the dugout.

One Of Us, not so keen. I am hugely enamoured of writing brothers Harry and Jack Williams after their astonishing, fleet-footed first series of The Missing and cannot wait for the second. But this doesn’t hit the same heights of subtlety and nuance. It’s a Gothic melodrama in which everybody’s a suspect and  thunder and lightning and torrential rain stand in for jeopardy, even though there’s plenty of jeopardy already. It’s too hysterical for my tastes. But I look forward to The Missing.

Here’s a pheasant instead. Exit, pursued by air.

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Oh, and the “item on the coffee table” this week is a Puzzled puzzle book from 1987 for which I drew the cartoon cover. It was, at the time, my job. I had to eat.

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The tube

The return of Telly Addict. Can it really have been a whole week since the first “soft launch” broadcast pilot went live under my new roof at UKTV’s YouTube site? I have yet to wean myself off the “refresh” key, as it’s a new toy to me. There was no way of monitoring views on the Guardian website, but YouTube make it too easy to fixate and tap. We’re also under a whole new dictatorship of stats, so when I ask if you wouldn’t mind awfully clicking on “like” and “subscribe”, be gentle with me. I’m new here. It’s fortuitous that Celebrity Masterchef gets a nod this week. Regular viewers will know that I have no defences against this brand and have even succumbed to Masterchef The Professionals, thus swelling my portfolio. It’s a tired old dig to remark that you have not heard of some of the “celebrities” on Celebrity-prefixed formats, but having been on Celebrity Mastermind myself (I came second), I can hardly mither. Not knowing who this young gentleman was is my failing, not his.

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He’s Marcus Butler, 24, and he has over 4.5 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, despite not enunciating his words very well. He seems nice enough. hey, I am over the moon to have had 817 views of the first Telly Addict. But give me time. (Oh, I watched the first of Marcus’s clips, and it seemed to be about him saying that men should be more empathic of women, and then trying to put on a pair of tights as if to prove what a hard life women have. It was pretty thin stuff.) I am not in competition with Marcus Butler. I’m not in competition with anybody. I review three or four programmes that I watched last week, which this week also includes: the series finale of Penny Dreadful (Sky Atlantic), the series finale of The Good Wife (More4), and, to please my UKTV overlords, the new series of format-of-formats Taskmaster (Dave), which I raved about on Telly Addict long before UKTV came to my rescue. Also, a tip of the hat to The Secret Life of a Bus Garage (ITV), which is on ITV Hub here. It’s a heart-warming, pre-Brexit vision of a functioning South West London multicultural utopia, in a place of work where 50 languages are spoken. I hope everybody we see on the show still has a job and has not started getting sly abuse from emboldened thickos.

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