Telly Addict #17! In the house! (I personally like the new Thursday release date – it gives me more time to prepare at the start of the week, and can comfortably take in weekend viewing should that be required.) So, as everybody now seems to begin every sentence they say, even if “so” is meaningless at the beginning of it: one big-box brand returns this week, along with another high-end HBO drama product (based on an existing brand, as it happens), a comedy that shouldn’t be funny but is, and another return to Dave of a format that has turned into a brand (and, actually, started out in a different medium on stage before finding its wings on telly).
I already believed in the Westworld (HBO, Sky Atlantic), as the 1973 film, by Michael Crichton, was a favourite when I was a teenager, and I had the Theatre of Hate single that went with it. In it, the robots go wrong in a futuristic theme park. It was a warning from the future not to make robots. Crichton returned to a similar theme in his novel Jurassic Park (which would also make a good film, come to think of it), where dinosaurs are made from DNA, and also go wrong; another warning we didn’t listen to. In Westworld the TV spin-off (the second attempt, in fact), JJ Abrams is at the executive helm, and Christopher Nolan’s brother Jonathan has co-created, or adapted, the original, with tons more money and pixels than ever could have been dreamed of by people in 1973.
The set-up is the same: rich tourists go on holiday in a western, and some evil corporation or other runs it for profit with only passing regard for ethics or safety. It’s run by some fantastic actors: Sidse Babett Knudsen from Borgen and, suddenly, everything else; Jeffrey Wright; Anthony Hopkins (yes, I know, on the telly! – the tables truly have turned); and this man forming his mouth into an “f” sound, Simon Quarterman, who’s English and not previously on my radar (although I understand he’s been in EastEnders). If I name some of the equally fine actors playing the robots, or “hosts”, bear in mind that we can’t really be sure who’s a robot and who’s not: James Marsden, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, possibly Ed Harris. It’s such a high concept show, I wonder how they can keep it but after two episodes, I’m intrigued as to how they’ll do that. Things are already going wrong.
Eighteen digital marketing managers are competing once again to get their hands on some of the 95th richest person in Britain’s money in The Apprentice (BBC One), a format I long since parted company with. (Frankly, after the very people who appear on it caused the global financial meltdown in 2007, it lost some of its innate comedy value.) I sat through episode one, and it was exactly the same, just as the Bake Off is (or was) exactly the same, and Strictly is exactly the same. This is not a crime. But there are all sorts of original things flying about on Netflix and Amazon and US cable, so who has the time to laugh, again, at the ineptitude and hubris of money-motivated 20-30-year-olds?
I am head over heels in love with Damned (Channel 4), the latest plank in Jo Brand’s plan for world domination through social-realist comedy about social services. Set in children’s services, but only nominally about that, it’s an office comedy but a mordant one, and one that runs on its own nervous energy, while Brand herself plays a character who runs at half-speed and seems all the happier for it. Alan Davies is playing himself but if he’d not found comedy and had worked for social services: genial, exasperated (because life’s complicated enough) and shaggily handsome. I loved when in episode one he told Aisling Bea’s clearly abused single mum, “It’s not my job to care.” Please watch this: it’s depressing and downbeat and uses cancer as a punchline. Recommendation enough? Now, for some socially-unrealist comedy.
I’ve hymned Taskmaster (Dave) before. And, full disclosure, I have a “relationship” with it, in that I hosted its press launch, have worked with Greg Davies, have coffee and cake with its director, it’s made by the TV production company of whose management arm I am a client, and it airs on Dave, part of UKTV, who produce Telly Addict. I’ve also asked Greg and Alex Horne if I can be on it, and they told me I couldn’t because I asked, and that disqualifies me from being on it – a tactical error apparently also made by Rachel Riley, who can’t be on it either, for the same reason. My love of the show cannot, therefore, be trusted. Even though it is sincere.
Thanks for watching, as I always say. Here I am attempting to whistle while reading the 1963 Collins Guide to Bird Watching. We spend way too long setting up the bit at the beginning where I have an object on the coffee table, but it make us happy.