You have been watching

Apologies for the delay of the blog entry of the 25th Telly Addict, which will be the last regular Telly Addict of 2016. After this week’s promised Zen round-up, which is going to be a corker, we’re taking a break. But Telly Addict will return in 2017. Look out for some special Telly Addicts in the New Year, and – fingers crossed, MPs lobbied, YouTube clips and blog entries “liked”, “shared” and Tweeted – we’ll be back under the same UKTV umbrella, the one which has kept Telly Addict dry for the last 26 weeks, after the Guardian made it homeless in April. (I have genuinely cancelled my subscription to the newspaper.)

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In the last regular Telly Addict, a review of the finale of The Missing (BBC Two), which ought to be far enough in the past now for some footage of three main characters walking through the woods in what is actually Belgium for tax reasons no longer to constitute an active spoiler. I loved this second series, perhaps even more than the first, which for me was at least one episode short of an eight episode drama. This one confidently expanded to fill the slot, and even went so far as to reveal the villain in episode six, without losing our rapt attention. Fantastic work, Jack and Harry Williams, and director Ben Chanan. The cast were top-flight, too: Roger Allam, David Morrissey, Tchéky Karyo, Anastasia Hille, Keeley Hawes (an actress so often called upon to be sad and vexed who will be smiling again in the New Year in The Durrells), Laura Fraser and Derek Riddell.

It’s ongoing, but I’m enjoying the sheer, unvarnished gloom of Rillington Place (BBC Two). Those of us who hold the movie version with Richard Attenborough dear were always going to have trouble erasing his eerie performance from our minds, but Tim  Roth, whispering his way to the gallows, gives him a run for his money, with Samantha Morton particularly strong as Ethel. Considering this is the season to be jolly, there’s not much in the drama department to support that cliché. (Even the Christmas Radio Times seems to be filled with murder and melancholy. Maybe that reflects the shitty year we’ve had.)

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A little treat to remedy the mood: We Have Been Watching (Gold), a simple knock-off of Gogglebox except with the stars of comedy watching comedy, in a couple of cases, comedies they are literally in. It works because of the rapport between the couples doing the watching. We share their excitement as, say, the Father Ted logo fades up.

The happiest bits come from Him and Her, Sarah Solemani and Russell Tovey, who seem to be the very best of pals, and the saddest bits come from Ricky Tomlinson, forced to watch the clip of him and Caroline Aherne from the 1999 Royle Family Christmas special, which has all sorts of emotions flying about and making the party hats look ironic.

Quite how three working MPs fit in to all this festivity and murder, I don’t know, but here they are, Nick Clegg, Naz Shah and the fictional character Jacob Rees-Mogg in MPs: Behind Closed Doors (Channel 5), a valuable one-off doc showing the three of them in surgery, dealing with the people who elected them, or didn’t, including some persuasive and adamant constituents who won’t take no for an answer. Not that politicians ever say yes or no, they just waffle and prevaricate and avoid confirmation or denial. Which is why Nick Clegg comes across the best. Give it a spin on catch-up. You’ll be proud to be part of the electorate, even if you disagree with the assessment that Jacob Rees-Mogg is “quite human.”

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Also recommended, if you have a strong heart as it’s very sad, is UB40: Promises & Lies (BBC Four, where else?), anything but a standard rock doc. I had caught wind of there now being two UB40s, but I had no idea how this split had destroyed the Campbell family, and how ongoing the acrimony seems to be. It’s on iPlayer for a couple more weeks, and needs to be seen.

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The final Telly Addict of the year, and for now, will be up on Thursday, that bumper round-up I was talking about. A year like the one we’ve had requires extra Zen.

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Oh boy

 

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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Gold!!!

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.

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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.