Do you believe

 

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).

tauktv17westw

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.

tauktv17westw2The 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.

tauktv17app

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?

tauktv17damn

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.

tauktv17birdbook

Advertisements

It takes a game man

Did Gregg Wallace really say this on last week’s finale of Celebrity MasterChef (BBC One)? “It’s a gay man who comes on to a final of MasterChef and does octopus.”

TAUKTV8gameman

No. It turns out he didn’t. But it sounded like he did when he said, “It’s a game man who comes on to a final of MasterChef and does octopus.” (Surely it’s a game man who comes on and does partridge?) On this week’s Telly Addict, I wave a fond farewell to one programme with the prefix “Celebrity” and say a cautious and transient hello to another programme with the prefix “Celebrity“. It all seemed so optimistic for pantomime dame Christopher Biggins when he went into the Celebrity Big Brother (Channel 5) house with every intention, one assumes, of not coming straight out again after insulting bisexuals and a Jewish woman (I had stopped watching by then, so have to take the tabloids’ word for it).

TAUKTV8CBBBig

TAUKTV8Looking

From one game man to another bunch of game men. It’s a funny time of the year for TV. Most of it is now filled with the Olympics, which I’m boycotting, as I don’t really enjoy the Olympics, and it’s a bit of a silly season for the rest of telly. I’m delighted that my favourite gay drama Looking (HBO/Sky Atlantic) came back for a valedictory, feature-length episode, and I beamed all the way through it, wishing I lived in San Francisco and moved in this social circle as the token heterosexual. It would have been preferable, of course, for Looking to have continued with a third, fourth and fifth season, but it was not to be.

TAUKTV8DomS

This is a grab of me giving a sideways look at TV. Why? I am honouring pop historian Dominic Sandbrook and his trademark three-quarters-on delivery style. I’ve had my quibbles with some of his previous 20th century history lessons, not least the Thatcherite way he looks at the past, but since his new series The 80s With Dominic Sandbrook (BBC Two) is about the Thatcher Years, one can hardly complain. (Except, of course, he says it isn’t about Thatcher, it’s about us, somewhat letting her off the hook.)

TAUKTV880s

As you’ll see in the various clips used in this week’s Telly Addict, Jimmy Osmond, runner-up on Celebrity MasterChef, is one of my heroes of 2016, for his joie de vivre and his propensity to cry while still calling everyone and everything “Awesome.” No, you are!  He’s come a long way from Andy Williams to Gregg Wallace.

Oh, and look out for the tiny clockwork mouse on the coffee table at the beginning. I found it in my goodie bag after the National Cat Awards at the Savoy during the week, at which I am proud to say I was a judge! Here’s a photo of me with some fellow dignitaries, and then one of me with the judges and the winners! Awesome!!!!

NationalCatAwardsjudgesNatCatAwardswinners-judges

As ever, you can view the full YouTube playlist of every UKTV Telly Addict here. Why not subscribe? I do.

Water cooler moment

Hooray, Telly Addict No.5 is up on time! View it here and check out Telly Addicts Nos. 1-4 while you’re there.

And here is your actual Water Cooler Moment from this week’s TV: an actual water cooler in a rented office from the first half of the first episode of Channel 4’s newest reality TV format The Job Interview, bubbling away to itself. It is, as gently hinted at by its title, based around job interviews, which are filmed for our entertainment, and, one presumes, the participants’ narcissism.

JobIntwatercoooler

Channel 4 have built a wall around their new show by calling back the top brass off of Very British Problems, who sit and unravel anecdote by the yard in what I always assume are NOT their kitchens to camera, and getting them to say similarly pithy things about employment for My Worst Job. Is this Jimmy Carr’s kitchen? Or the kitchen of one of the show’s producers?

TAUKTV5MyWorstJobTAUKTV5Suitshair

There’s a new season of glossy US legal drama Suits on Dave, who are owned by the same people who own me, although I was already a fan, so happy to report back from Episode 1, which makes me wonder why I wandered away from Season 5. It’s still super-slick, glamorous, alpha and a little bit eugenic in its casting, but the beautiful people at Pearson Specter Litt are in trouble and that’s always a good place to start. I’m already a fan of First Dates, as you’ll known, and I approve of Celebrity First Dates on a purely anthropological level. Here are its charming waiting staff, craning their necks at someone who they partially recognise.

TAUKTV5CelebFDwaiters

And finally, this week’s What’s On The Coffee Table? It’s a promotional Masterchef apron, which I am fond of, even though it gets its own catchphrase wrong (“Cooking doesn’t get better than this”?!) I’ve noticed that the pastries always look like they are for giants, when in real life, they are normal pastry-sized. The lies that TV tells.

TAUKTV5Masterchefgrab

The art of seeing

JFoxwood

Two exceptional programmes about art in as many days: Forest, Field and Sky: Art out of Nature (BBC Four), available on iPlayer here, and Grayson Perry: All Man (Channel 4), available on All 4 here. I know quite a lot about art, and I know what I like, so programmes about art have me at hello.

GPerrygrave

Dr James Fox is an art historian, and a young one, too. When I first wrote about him in a Top Trumps-style article comparing TV art buffs for Word magazine in 2011, I wasn’t sure if he or equally youthful small-screen boffin the Telegraph’s Alastair Sooke was the youngest, so I got in touch with Dr Fox via his email address at Cambridge University, where he is a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College (I couldn’t verify his date of birth anywhere and the BBC Press Office were rudely ignoring me). I didn’t expect a reply from the man himself but got a very cheery one that same afternoon. Professing himself a fan of Telly Addict, he confirmed that he was an embryonic 29 but born a few months after Alastair, so officially the youngest art critic on television! He added, self-deprecatingly, “He’s an art critic while I’m an art historian; he’s a glamorous journalist while I’m a dowdy academic.” (I liked them both on telly, but preferred dowdy.) Dr Fox and I have corresponded often in the years since, as I’ve reviewed his regular series on BBC Four and BBC Two – British Masters, A History of Art in Three Colours, A Very British Renaissance, Bright Lights Brilliant Minds – but never quite managed to buy each other the coffee at the British Library we continually threaten to do.

Freewheelin'_Bob_Dylan

I find him a bright, sincere and witty TV guide, a boyish expert with the look of the young Bob Dylan about him (something I suspect he plays up to – I recall a sequence in, I think, Three Colours which seemed deliberately to be lit and framed like the cover of Freewheelin’ – minus Suze Rotolo). His catchphrase is, “But I think …”, which comes after a preamble stating the received wisdom about a painting, or a sculpture, or an era, at which he presents his own thesis. “But I think …”

His latest excursion is very different. It’s still authored, and it’s still him, in his skinny jeans, and with his hair pointing skywards, but Forest, Field and Sky is first of all a one-off, not a series of three (Fox’s usual metier), and secondly, it features artists who, by and large, I’d never even heard of. I am an enthusiastic if not Mastermind-ready weekend art historian so can usually find a number of points of entry with even the more arcane artistic dig; not here. This was all new to me, and refreshing for that. Dr Fox wandered in search of art hewn from nature itself, beginning by forming a small pebble circle on a beach and accurately defining it as a primal “cultural act.”

JFoxsky

With this primordial beginning as a starting point, he stood in geo-agricultural awe of Andy Goldsworthy’s stone sculptures (and watched him attempt a Sisyphean dry stone wall up a tree that collapsed like a Jenga tower, twice), sat for hours in one of James Turrell’s extraordinary sky-bunkers (see: view above), found David Nash’s 1978-conceived “forever” sculpture Ash Dome in a genuinely secret corner of North Wales, lost himself in landscape architect Charles Jencks’ extraordinary Garden Of Cosmic Speculation in Dumfries, and witnessed Julie Brook building a beacon bonfire in the middle of an outer Hebrides sea loch, designed to snuff itself out with the tide, gone forever. (A London art dealer must have looked at this show and wondered, “How the hell do I make any money out of art that falls down, burns itself out or exists in secret?”)

rl__a_line_made_by_walking_1967

My only touchstone in this documentary, often about touching stones, was Richard Long, whose work I discovered through Bill Drummond (the only living artist with whom I’ve personally performed an improvised art lecture). The good Doctor walks ten miles in a straight line across Exmoor as per one of Long’s most famous pieces, which ought to come with a free pedometer. Our host’s awestruck joy at these living artworks was infectious, and in HD, you really got a sense of it. I also really felt like a good walk in North Wales or the outer Hebrides or through the Yorkshire Sculpture Park after watching it. It’s roughage enough in and of itself. But I think … a good art series will always make you want to see art.

GPerrytitle

Grayson Perry is an artist and more; just about as popular and recognisable in his field as Andy Goldsworthy and the others aren’t, even in an actual field. He’s a natural showman, or show-woman, depending on the day or the occasion, but ought on paper to be a difficult sell to a mass audience, thanks to his deal-with-it transvestism – which even in this incrementally progressive era of gender fluidity and same-sex acceptance might still be a turn-off to, say, readers of the foxhunting broadsheet paper Alastair Sooke writes for. And while our most visible and famous modern artists – Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst – make a big noise with installations and provocations, and fellow populist (but shyer human being) Antony Gormley scores through scale, Grayson is more of a humble artisan, making pots and tapestries in the mediaeval style, and his manner of drawing is that of a cartoonist, or a children’s illustrator. And even in these techniques, he dares to draft not with a pencil or a brush but an electronic pen on a CAD screen. He is a folk artist for a digital age. With a massively infectious guffaw.

GPerryminers

In brief, he refuses to conform to any of the stereotypes of what he is, including, in a previous TV adventure, an Essex man. And yet, look how comprehensively he has insinuated himself into the lives of people who might without thinking say they knew nothing about art, or cared less for cross-dressing. Perry is a sort of messiah figure – potentially divisive but actually unifying. He couldn’t be without also being a TV natural. While Hirst is boorish, and Emin fidgety and self-conscious, Perry loves the camera, and it loves him back, and this symbiosis rewards him with a vast constituency.

It seems pertinent, or at least irresistible, at this juncture to reprint the photo of me and Grayson (or, technically, Claire) at the 2014 Radio Times Covers Party, taken by choirmaster Gareth Malone, and [right] the photo of me and choirmaster Gareth Malone, taken by Claire. (I’m calling the latter an actual Grayson Perry artwork.)

He/she is as charming and down to earth as we’ve now all come to expect having seen so much of him interacting with ordinary people on TV. In All Man, he’s exploring masculinity, and in part one of three (art programmes do seem to come as triptychs), he’s in the northeast, interacting with cage fighters, ex-miners and beer drinkers mourning the loss of a friend who, with statistical inevitability and without sharing his woes, committed suicide. Whether investigating class, identity, fame or socio-geographical roots, his shtick is to meet the general public (or, in the case of Who Are You?, Rylan Clark and Chris Huhne, who are still ordinary people but made famous by extraordinary circumstances), and to turn their true stories into artworks, generally in clay or textile. All Man already cleaves to that winning formula, but once again, he takes people he’s just met into his confidence, earns their lifelong trust by giving just enough of himself, and wins them over, before exploiting their insecurities and strengths through customised earthenware.

Even if, like me, you’re a Perry completist – I’ve seen every one of his shows for Channel 4, and gazed in Dr Fox-like awe at his artworks at the National Gallery in London and the Turner Contemporary in Margate – the magic is never dulled by repetition. When he memorialised the lad who took his own life in the first episode of All Man, his mother was moved, and so were his tough mates, and so, visibly, was the artist. Some may dismiss all this as post-Diana mawkishness, but I believe it is art therapy, nothing less. And it makes us better, not worse, people.

GPerryMarg

Both James Fox’s sensibly-shod art odysseys and Grayson Perry’s more interactive and democratic art hugs are vital things to be on our tellies. It’s key that both the BBC and Channel 4, who sponsor and curate these shows, are in line to be “eviscerated” in the words of Peter Kosminsky at the Baftas. Sky Arts, funded from the private purse, has proven itself a key player, too, but without public subsidy, art withers and dies and, like a sculpture made of ash trees in the forest, can it really be said to have existed at all?