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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As you know, we shoot Telly Addict on a Wednesday morning for a Thursday airdate. This mean we shot Telly Addict #21 on the morning of 9 November, 2016, an historic date and not a nice one. I’d already written it and chosen the clips. I added in a brand new opening based upon the US Presidential Election of the night before. Like a lot of people, I get my headlines from the Internet, but turn to the TV for context, then to the newspaper for analysis. As such, I rely on TV news to confirm or deny what I’ve already gleaned online. This reflects my age, my generation, born in the 60s, raised on analogue TV, an early adopter of video, then DVD, satellite and more recently streaming. If someone dies, I need to see it on TV before I fully believe it. On Wednesday morning, I turned on the TV to see the full horror of Donald Trump’s tsunami.

It did not put me in a tremendous mood to pretend nothing had happened and film some humorous links about some telly I’d watched in the previous seven days. But I’m a professional, and here it is. (The very first Telly Addict for my new patrons UKTV was filmed just after the EU Referendum. So we have form in this area.)

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Life goes on. Life must go on. Regardless of the US Election result, I knew it was never going to be a “slow news week”, so, in an attempt to build in a sense of calm, I ran the story of a pygmy three-toed sloth and his quest for a mate throughout Telly Addict. It was a rare non-fatal, danger-free strand from the first part of that wise old Galapagos tortoise David Attenborough’s latest bulletin from the natural world, Planet Earth II (BBC One) – a rather blunt title, I find, for such a display of wonder.

I’ve long been a fan of Dave Gorman’s books, shows and concepts; a man called Dave on a channel called Dave – he has found his spiritual home, and shows no signs of running out of things to point out in PowerPoint, hence we’ve reached series four of the labour-intensive Modern Life is Goodish (Dave).

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This first episode – part of which I was lucky enough to see Dave road-test, live, at the recent UKTV Live event, in a packed NFT1 at London’s SouthBank – moved seamlessly from “extractor fans” to specialist magazines (no not that kind), via Homes Under the Hammer. our genial supply teacher confirmed that he represents his own special intersection in the Venn diagram of stand-ups who are funny, stand-ups who are clever, and stand-up who use Venn diagrams.

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As you’ll have spotted, in fond tribute, I’m wearing a brand new Dave Gorman-style shirt for the occasion. But this shirt, it turns out, says something about me. I know, because 80s style commentator Peter York says so.

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In Peter York’s Hipster Handbook (BBC Four), he took a sociological-economic spin around the Captain Haddock-bearded, white, urban, entrepreneurially artisanal dandy and it was truly hilarious. Watch it. The further away from London and other urban centres you are, the funnier it will be. I live in London, and when I worked temporarily in Shoreditch in East London, I was proud to be the only clean-shaven man in the postcode at that time. Because for the hipster, a beard is the aerial that picks up signals from the cosmos. Now, more costumes …

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The really big show of the week was The Crown (Netflix), the ambitious BBC drama about the reign of the current queen, planned for six BBC series, that the BBC couldn’t afford, or afford to commit to. So it’s on Netflix. And that means all ten episodes of the first series are available NOW, if you’re signed up. Though it starts in the 1950s, a simpler age, it says everything there is to say about the current age we live in, when the BBC is no longer the broadcaster bound to be showing a drama about the royal family, written by Peter Morgan, directed by Stephen Daldry, and starring everyone. It’s forensically calibrated to appeal to an international audience and spells everything out, but you can’t fail to be awed by the sheer scale and poise of the thing.

There’s a new ruler now, and it’s Netflix.

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That said, here are two further, terrestrial catch-up recommendations for two less showy, and way less expensive dramas that won’t require you to keep coming back for future series. The first is The Moonstone (BBC One), a diversity-sensitive BBC Daytime adaptation of the Wilkie Collins whodunit that is worth your while. They kind of threw it away in five consecutive afternoons – although I guess the assumption is: people who watch telly in the afternoons watch it every afternoon. All five are here for the next couple of weeks.

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I also enjoyed HIM (ITV) – not sure why the caps lock, but that’s the way it was billed – a three-part, finite horror story about a young adult with telekinesis, which seems to be linked to having divorced parents, by Paula Milne. I admired the direction, and the writing, but especially liked the two young unknowns in the leads. All three eps are on ITV Player.

It’s been a funny week to think meaningfully about anything other than the Bad Thing, but also, therapeutic. Life really does go on. And at the beginning of Telly Addict, you will hear my Homer Simpson alarm clock, a symbol of all that is still great and not terrifying about America.

Oh, and The Moonstone even worked in a BBC Daytime Poldark moment for new face Joshua Silver. Honestly, they treat fit male actors like meat.

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Science and nature

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I’m all about the green, the brown and the pink this week on Telly Addict. We kick off with Professor Brian Cox, who once, many moons ago, lent me a vital lead when we found ourselves on the same comedy-and-science bill at the Bloomsbury Theatre and I needed to project something from my laptop to the big screen at the back of the stage. (His entire set was contained in his own laptop.) Guess what? He was a lovely bloke. His latest series Forces of Nature (BBC One) provides some instant respite from the current madness with some “beautiful” snowflakes, a “beautiful” manatee and some even more “beautiful” maths.

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Speaking of beauty, two brand new dramas were snuck out by the cover of darkness during the summer of sport, but I was too clever for the lazy schedulers and I watched them. One is the broad, 1980s-set Brief Encounters (ITV) from two of the women behind Green Wing, which might have looked for all the world like it was predominantly aimed at women, but I watched it, and liked it, and I’m not a woman, so that’s their cunning demographic plan foiled. The other, the 1890s-set The Living And The Dead (BBC One), is – as well as an intriguing Victorian X-Files-type ghosts-versus-rationale procedural set in Somerset from two of the men behind Life On Mars – stunning to look at (like Brian Cox’s show, in fact). I give a doff of the rural cap to director Alice Troughton, who made episode one look like Days Of Heaven.

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Silicon Valley (Sky Atlantic) ended its third season, but all three are available on Sky Box Sets. And if you don’t laugh at the Gogglesprogs (Channel 4) clip, you must really hate children.