Unstoppable

 

Telly Addict #18 introduces the first long-sleeved shirt of my tenure at UKTV. In other news: The Missing (BBC One) stopped being missing; Tutankhamun (ITV) crept onto the throne vacated by Victoria, hoping the bereft post-Downton audience wouldn’t mind terribly; Zapped (Dave) zapped onto TV in a three-episode pilot that challenged E4’s Tripped to an ex-Inbetweener-in-a-parallel-GameofThrones-style-universe-off; and HBO filed for Divorce (Sky Atlantic) and hoped the bereft Sex & The City audience could suspend their disbelief that Sarah Jessica Parker is Carrie, 13 years after the series ended. More importantly, there were three bird spots. First, an easy one for armchair ornithologists on the pre-penultimate Bake Off (still BBC One).

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That’s a goldfinch. But what the bloomin’ heck was this?

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I’ll tell you. Having consulted my birding guru Dave Keech from Kettering, I can say with confidence that it’s a Muscovy duck. Native to Mexico and Central and South America, it’s also found in North American and Canada, though not ordinarily in Newbury in Berkshire. However, it is a domestic or feral bird and can live anywhere, anytime, like the Mandarin or Egyptian Goose. I shall miss this aspect of the condemned Bake Off more than all the others. Well, as much as all the others. But guess what? First Dates are trying to get in on the ornithological act. Again, an easy one to start, but encouraging nonetheless.

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One big drama, one comedy, and one comedy drama. First, The Missing, which has work to do after what I felt to be a misfire from clearly talented writing bros Jack and Harry Williams – namely, Gothic drawing-room whodunit One Of Us. Well, one episode in, and The Missing II (now an anthology with only the French detective and overcast Euro-gloom to link the two series) seems to firing on as many cylinders as it has timeframes. Oh, and it has two of my favourite actors on TV in the parent roles.

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Both are superb as the mum and dad of a girl who went missing 11 years ago and came back. I thought Tom Shankland’s direction in the first series was tremendous – atmospheric, cleverly lit and strangely beautiful – but Ben Chanan has picked up the baton with equal empathy for the wide open spaces and the expressions on people’s faces. It’s downbeat, glum stuff, but compelling. I just hope the bros have enough story for all eight episodes this time.

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We’re back on more prosaic, indeed factual, ground with Tutanhkamun, substituting for Victoria on ITV, whose outcomes we also know from the history books. Max Irons gives good buccaneering bang for our buck as Howard Carter, sticking a pick axe into ancient burial grounds in search of treasure like he owns Egypt, which of course, colonially, he sort of did. It’s somewhere between Indian Summers and one of the hot-country Poirots – not a bad axis to be on. It’s a ripping yarn that I think I shall feast upon as the darkness rolls in.

Divorce is just that: the story of a separation in photogenically chilly upstate New York. Created by Sharon Horgan, whose vituperative dialogue, sourer than the cut-and-thrust in Catastrophe – perhaps due to the lack of softening influence from Rob Delaney – feels right at home in the mouths of middle-class Americans, it’s hard to warm to, in that the characters in it sort of deserve each other, but I feel I should keep watching, as I like the idea of Sex & The City gone sour, and Talia Balsam is in it.

tauktv17zapZapped is a three-part taster of what will surely become a full-blown series, made by Baby Cow and directed by Dave Lambert, the in-house bundle of energy who directed the last thing I had on telly: the short film Colin, which I co-wrote with Simon Day and appeared under the umbrella Common Ground on Sky Atlantic. This is essentially a traditional sitcom about a character who’s trapped, except it’s in a Game of Thrones netherworld. I love the cast – James Buckley as the man who fell from earth, and Sharon Rooney, Ken Collard, Paul Kaye and Louis Emerick as the locals at a not-very local local – most of whom I interviewed when the show pre-launched at UKTV Live. All three episodes are available to watch now, for free if you are in the UK, at UKTV Play.

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Oh, there’s the object on the coffee table. It’s the first punk single I ever bought, in 1979, aged 14, after Sid Vicious had died. I hope no Nazis are offended by the fact that we censored the swastika on the shirt of the cartoon of Sid Vicious.

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Textual Ealing

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.

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.

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Woah! Eleven minutes and seven seconds?! What happened there? By all means watch all nine Telly Addicts so far and compare the running times. I do try my hardest to keep them under ten minutes, but sometimes – as with this week’s – I find that the clips are just so good, I have to let them run. There’s a full-scale Laura Kuenssberg montage! And two very long but exquisite pauses from Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag (BBC3; BBC Two, like all BBC3 shows), which I feel sure you’ll appreciate. We are all in the appreciation game, after all. AA Gill, Marmite TV critic of the Sunday Times, made a poignant remark in his review of the new Clive James book about binge-watching box sets, basically asking how any TV critic could possibly criticise TV if they hated TV? You have to love it, he said, in order to dislike it. If you didn’t care about it, why would you criticise it? What would be the point. I know what he means. Anyway.

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The good news: Versailles (BBC Two), that addictive slice of wiggy court life flounced to its conclusion, with an announcement over the end credits promising a second series “next year”. Hooray! I have loved every second of this pricey-looking historical romp with its tendency to slip into Ultravox video mode and have fallen for its – to me – previously unknown stars George Blagden and Alexander Vlahos (the king and his brother). I’ve also appreciated Kate Williams and Greg Jenner’s polite little lectures, Inside Versailles (BBC Two) after each episode. So gossipy and yet informative at the same time. And it has an easel. Not enough shows have easels.

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Sad to hear of the cancellation of The Living and the Dead (BBC Two) this week – the Yin to the previous piece of news’s Yang. Another of my favourites since taking Telly Addict to the badlands of YouTube, the bucolic ghostbusting mystery shall be sorely missed in my house. Fingers crossed for a return for Brief Encounters

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To Fleabag, then. Waller-Bridge is 30, I think, but has her finger on the pulse of what it is to be young and urban and anxious, and a daughter, and a sister, and a lover, and single, and in a relationship. This show might have slipped under my demographic radar had I not been alerted to its beauty by other critics. So thanks to them, I am now watching a sex comedy. We’ve seen “mockumentaries” before (we’ll be seeing one again in a minute), and post-Office naturalism (ha ha, Post Office) done to death, but Waller-Bridge’s theatrical trick of talking, or gurning, to camera so that ONLY WE CAN SEE HER is its genius move. And the guy with the false teeth in the grab above, Jamie Demetriou, was in Fleabag this week, and also in this mockumentary:

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I understand why jobbing actors end up in two things that end up being on at the same time on different channels, but I like it when it happens. It’s sort of spooky and foretold. And Demetriou is very funny at nice but dim, as proven by Ep1 of Fleabag, and Ep1 of Borderline (Channel 5), about which I was cautious, although I met its star Jackie Clune at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2000 and she was lovely company, and a caution. She’s the only really familiar face in this new comedy set in a tiny airport, but the rest of the cast, who seem to freewheel, are excellent, especially James Michie, whose name I looked up especially. I am often reluctant to criticise comedies, as I write comedy and comedies, but it’s nice when two come along at the same time that are funny, and appealing to me.

Here’s something a bit more grave.

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A clip of Michael Gove when he was Government Chief Whip and not that important, before he became important, and then stopped being important again, once the thing he was important enough to be trusted in selling to the electorate actually happened and then he went away again, thank God. In the clip, for James Delingpole’s YouTube channel (hey, we YouTubers should stick together, but maybe not all of us), Gove compares himself to Tyrion Lannister. Watch Telly Addict to see the full horror. Laura Kuenssberg really proves her mettle in this otherwise depressing film, Brexit: the Battle for Britain (BBC Two, again) which was really well made.

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I wasn’t expecting to see hopeless Labour leadership hopeful Owen Smith turn up on Dragons’ Den (BBC Two), selling a thimble, which he can use to collect all his votes in. Hey, enough of my Trotskyist propaganda! I only watched the Den see if it had changed, and it hasn’t (they’re still using that ancient looking air conditioning system out of Saw, but three of the Dragons who were on it last time I tuned in have been replaced by other Dragons, whose provenance is not yet known to me).

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And finally … Parks & Rec (Dave), which nears the end of its road. But by forwarding the action by three years, the writers have invigorated the arc for its valedictory run of 13. I will be bereft. If you haven’t yet viewed Telly Addict #9, look out for my cuddly sparrow, bought from a garden centre and made in China for the RSPB. It makes a realistic sparrow noise when squeezed. I thoroughly recommend one for therapy in this squalid world. We didn’t start the fire.

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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