It’s the point!

pointlesslogo

In 1993, my then-partner Stuart Maconie and I had a meeting in a loud Chinatown pub that’s since changed its name and become a gay bar (actually, maybe it was always a gay bar but we didn’t notice) with a gigantic, enterprising young television writer and an also-fairly-tall, equally enterprising comic actor, both in their early, postgraduate 20s. (We were both nearer to 30.) They had an idea for a radio show in which Stuart and I would play our broadcasting selves, or versions of our broadcasting selves, and the comic actor – whose name we took to be David Williams, but which he’d just changed to Walliams to avoid a clash at Equity – would play a parade of people who called in. It was a genial meeting. We were keen. We liked the men. They seemed to like us. The idea never went to the next stage, and other meetings and projects got in the way for all four of us. At the time, Stuart and I were most excited about having met the writer, Richard, who we discovered was the younger brother of Suede’s bassist Mat Osman. Mat was very much the famous Osman in 1993, and Stuart and I knew Suede well. Look! (Mat isn’t in this photo, but you get the gist of our familiarity with the younger, cooler, arseless gentlemen of Britain’s most happening band.)

cmsuede-1

We crossed paths with the less famous, non-bass-playing Osman a year or so later, when we were put up for an audition by our new showbiz agent. This took place at the production company Heyland International, who made the computer game show GamesMaster and were looking for two new presenters for a similar but nightly show called GamesWorld. Richard worked there as a researcher – his first proper job in TV, I have since learned. If we took his presence as a lucky charm, we were wrong to do so. We gave it our best shot, commentating on some gameplay, but even though Stuart and I loved playing on the NES in my flat, we were out of depth.

All of which makes me feel a lot older, and dovetails nicely into an appreciation of Pointless, the BBC daytime quiz show that has recently passed its 1,000th edition and leaves all other daytime quiz shows in the dust. While surely nobody could object to the ease with which Alexander (“Xander”) Armstrong has slipped into the role of quiz show host, it is the high regard and public profile Pointless has bestowed upon Richard Osman that is its most important and unexpected achievement. He was, after all, a backroom boy at Endemol UK, the production company which conceived the format and according to origins fable only filled in as co-presenter in a demo for the BBC. (Execs liked him so much, they commissioned him into the format. Had he not been, he would still be one of the six who can lay claim to the format.) Quiz show hosts are traditionally drawn from the pool of recognisable entertainment figures, usually comic – think of Bob Monkhouse, Terry Wogan, Les Dawson, Bruce Forsyth, Lily Savage, Chris Tarrant, Bradley Walsh and even, latterly, Mark Williams and Mark Benton – but in the case of Pointless, a star has been born.

I have my Mum and Dad to thank for getting me hooked on Pointless. Each time I go back to Northampton to visit them and stay overnight, I willingly succumb to their routine of catching up with their favourite shows, which includes Pointless, The Chase and Only Connect, but it’s the former that proved the revelation. Its low-key geniality is deceptive; this is a true test of general knowledge in pairs and singly that’s about so much more than getting the “right” answer. While the early rounds, which eliminate two out of the four opening pairs of pals, siblings, relatives and partners, can be built around a straightforward binary right-or-wrong answer to the clue, anagram or picture, the best are those that offer up a potential pool of answers, such as US Presidents whose surname comes alphabetically between Bush and Reagan. The “pointless” part is the pivot – indeed, its “point”; whatever the composition of each round (or “pass”), the more obscure your answer, the less points you notch up.

I have been attached to Pointless for a long time now – although I cannot claim to have been in at the ground floor (a claim I cannot make for The Great British Bake Off, or Masterchef: The Professionals either, but both became staples once I saw the light) – and once you’re in, there are repeats and Celebrities editions to catch up with. It’s the gift that goes on giving. While it’s fun to see the celebrities paired up in themed shows, it’s the civilian shows that really describe the comfort and joy of the format. As the world gets darker – and I can’t remember a time since the 80s when it felt so irredeemably insane – Pointless becomes ever more of a beacon.

pointlesscelebskidstv

It’s eight affable people who, whether academic or self-taught, take sufficient note of the world around them to take an educated guess at some assorted subjects (“Words” “Famous People” “Countries”), be they celebrities or non-celebrities – and in fact, the non-celebrities are nearly always more impressive, if not, in the case of sportspeople, more competitive. (Rhona Cameron is one of very few celebs to actually embarrass themselves on the show by being too triumphant, and for failing to stay on her mark.) When Pointless began, in 2009, the world was a much happier place. As events have ground grimly on in the intervening years, its place in the world seems ever more vital to our sanity. Even after a hard day at the coalface of sanity in the face of almost insurmountable vulgarity, avarice and violence, Pointless calms the nerves. The banter between Armstrong and Osman – warm, spontaneous, genuine, without malice – is a balm for a broken world.

The duo are co-hosting this year’s Radio Times Covers Party next week. After the ceremony, I shall be accosting that young researcher in person and volunteering for the next Pointless Celebrities with a radio theme. I got two pointless answers in the final last night – cast members of the film Rush.

If only Osman and Armstrong could co-host Earth.

tauktv19pointless

Advertisements

Zen arcade 2016

Behold, the promised Telly Addict: Zen Roundup of The Year! Officially Telly Addict #26, the 26th Telly Addict of my half-year contract with UKTV, who resurrected the show and treated it with care, attention, love, personnel, marketing and doughnuts during that allotted time – so a big thanks to all who sailed in her, not least Dave, Joel, Matt, Cherish and Justine (upstairs). It’s not over yet, but there will be a hiatus, during which I shall endeavour to maintain the blog, and with a prevailing wind and a bit of luck, the Telly Addict brand will continue in a modified form. You watch this space, and I’ll keep watching the glowing box in the corner of the room.

Rather than spoil the show, here are a few screengrabs in the traditional style that, I think, cumulatively say “the second half of 2016 in televisual terms”. If you want to ease our passage into the New Year, all comments, views, thumbs-ups, “likes” and shares either here, on YouTube, or on Twitter, will help make the case for its free-to-air return. There will be no crowdsourcing – I don’t feel comfortable begging for money – but where there’s an audience, there’s a way. If you haven’t watched all the 25 previous Telly Addicts yet, why not go back and do so: every hit helps. If you find a TA with a lowly view-total of around a thousand to 1,500 , give the runt a glance.

Thanks for watching thus far. See you on the other side.

tauktv17firstpigeontauktv12bus1tauktv21crowntauktv20gbboTAUKTV9ParksRectauktv15natt1tauktv16hiphopTAUKTV9VersTAUKTV9Fleabtauktv14nightofcattauktv17missingEuroGERUKRballoonkeeflw3

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.)

tauktv25missing

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.)

tauktv25rill

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.”

tauktv25mps

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.

tauktv25ub

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.

This is the Fall group

Tuesdays are so last week. Telly Addict has moved to Thursdays, so … hello! (The new slot is intended to make it easier for me to review hot shows from the weekend, which are harder to do if I have to prepare the script and clips on a Friday to make a Monday morning shoot feasible. If we record on a Wednesday morning, I can more easily cover the big shows on Saturday and Sunday night without having to work all weekend, as I understand the weekend is traditionally intended to be two days of rest.) The impact of this is mainly that this week’s covers nine days of telly, instead of seven. So we have a lot to pack in. First, some other people who watch television for a living.

tauktv16goggle

I dare to assume you know my official ties to Gogglebox (Channel 4). If not, I spent quality time with all of the main households last spring as research for the second companion book, Gogglebook, which came out for Christmas and was a joy. It thrills me still to see the Malones, the Tappers, the Siddiquis et al, having actually sat between them on those sofas and watched TV. What the experience failed to do was dampen my ardour for the programme, which I still watch religiously, and miss terribly when it’s not on. It’s always great to have it back, and to simply be a viewer and fan again.

tauktv16goggle2I guess the big news for this, the eighth series, is the introduction of three new households, two in Bristol, one in Dorset. I will assess the newcomers (unfortunate word after Westworld) in a future week when they’ve had time to bed in. The other big return last week was The Fall (BBC Two), the serial-killer thriller that might have been a classic had it ended after series one, but market forces demanded that it not end and to return. So it did. And it strained credibility. I tuned in to what ought to have been an even less necessary third series, and was pleasantly surprised.

tauktv16fall

Not surprised that hunky murderer Paul Spector (played by hunky star of 50 Shades of Grey Jamie Dornan) was in a critical condition after being shot at the end of series two, but surprised at the courage of devoting the whole of episode one to an almost-real-time A&E procedural. Richard Coyle was phenomenal as the doctor in charge, and while Jamie was manhandled about, doing very little, and Gillian Anderson did some of her best, wordless face-acting, the other actors got all the screen time: John Lynch, Colin Morgan, newcomer Aisling Bea. It was a superb, taut, believable return. I hope they keep it up.

tauktv16gbbowag

Another great British bird spotting moment on the Great British Bake Off (still BBC One) last week. It’s a grey wagtail.

tauktv16art

Another return: Dr James Fox, with a one-off Who’s Afraid of Conceptual Art? (BBC Four), a personal journey through the prickly subject by the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan lookalike, which failed to answer the big question: why are so many prominent conceptual artists working in this country Scottish? Answers on screwed-up ball of paper please. It’s on iPlayer here – very much worth a look. So, less self-evidently, is this:

tauktv16retre

I have never knowingly watched DIY SOS, but three of its team – presenter Nick Knowles, builder Jules, electrician Billy – were convinced to attend a 28-day spiritual, psychological and gastric detox, and the result was The Retreat (BBC Two); it ran across five consecutive nights last week and can be viewed here, if you fancy casting aside your prejudices about Reiki and colonics – as our three heroes sort of eventually did – and open your mind to what Nick and Jules keep dismissing as “hippie stuff”. And finally …

tauktv16morg

No, not Sue Perkins. Talented mimic Morgana Robinson doing a decent impression of Sue Perkins in her new vehicle, The Agency (BBC Two). I admit I have a soft spot for the form, having been raised in the 70s, when you couldn’t move for impressionists on TV, as they were the kings of light entertainment comedy. Morgana is versatile and smart, and her writers are good, so the result, though clearly formulaic, is above average. I particularly enjoyed her Adele, her Fearne, and her Natalie Cassidy, who I worked with on a project that never came to fruition a few years ago and like very much. Morgana’s impression of her is accurate and seemed to me to be not overtly cruel. (Natalie may feel differently.) Here it is! When I say I don’t think she should do Danny Dyer I’m not being sexist, I just don’t think she’s as good at his voice as she is at Miranda or Joanna Lumley.

Also, please watch The Hip Hop World News (BBC Four), a 90-minute personal journey through the prickly world of hip hop by Rodney P, who allowed us to see a tearful epiphany he experienced at Chuck D’s ancestral home. It’s a golden TV moment and reflects well upon Rodney for letting it go out.

tauktv16damned

If you want to see more Aisling Bea, she’s very good in Jo Brand’s latest knockabout comedy set in the social services, Damned (BBC Two), which I’ll review on next week’s Telly Addict, along with Westworld (Sky Atlantic), The Apprentice (BBC One) and Taskmaster (Dave). See you then … and here’s the object on the coffee table, for your pleasure and consternation. See you next Tues … Thursday!

tauktv16intro

Embed

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.

UKTVYouTubeSTATS26Jun16

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.

YouTubegrabstats29Jul16

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.

Titlegrab

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.

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

Take a seat

Firstly, please do click this link and visit the YouTube page, get the conversation going below the line. Thank you!

There will be spoilers, as this week on the slightly delayed Telly Addict #3 I’m daring to assess the two-episode finale of Season Six of Game Of Thrones. (I was once admonished below the line at the Guardian not for the content of a GoT-bearing Telly Addict, but for the use of a supplied publicity still for Season Three at the top of the page, which enraged one particularly tardy user still catching up with the box set of Season Two because the very act of illustrating my review with a photo that contained some characters from Season Three meant that those characters didn’t die in Season Two. Incidentally, those characters had been heavily featured on hoardings placed by Sky Atlantic advertising the new series.) Clearly, if you haven’t seen it yet, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WATCH THIS EDITION OF TELLY ADDICT.

IronThrone

For me, Season Six of Game Of Thrones scored in the 87th minute, and washed away the clogging, A-to-B frustration of what went before. Stuff happened in episodes 9 and 10, and I mean really happened. They won on penalties.

BillionsDLPG

As well as GoT, the new Telly Addict also reviews Billions (Showtime/Sky Atlantic), which you can also read in written form on this blog here. It’s halfway through its run on Sky, but it’s been available to subscribers as a series-dump box set since May. I am currently considering re-watching the whole thing for a second time. That’s how prime I feel it is. To mangle Paul Giamatti’s US attorney: the decisions it makes, the judgements it brings, have weight. Talking of serious, there’s a defence of Bettany Hughes’ Nietzsche programme from Genius Of The Modern World (BBC Four) – I say “defence” as I’ve read a couple of sniffy reviews from critics who want to make plain how much they already know about the subject (also, Freud, Marx). I was eager to learn.

CelebMChefRichardCjpeg

Throw in a couple of references to the Euros, Celebrity Masterchef and the ongoing delight that is Versailles, plus a weird HBO animation called Animals, and it looks like we’ve got ourselves an under-ten-minute YouTube show. Keep clicking and subscribing and liking and all that. It’s your visible support that will make Telly Addict V 2.0 a going concern at the garden of earthly delights that is UKTV, where there are pastries, and skills, and facilities. Tune in, turn on, turn in.

Bigmouth_bannercorrected

Multimedia postscript: you can also hear me discussing Game of Thrones S6 on the brand new and tremendous Bigmouth podcast with regulars Andrew Harrison and Matt Hall (who, incidentally, produced the first Telly Addict in 2011 when he worked at the Guardian), and fellow “Thronehead” Sarah Bee, who knows GoT in a far more profound way than I, and was thus confident enough to be even more critical of the way it’s been going since they waved goodbye to the novels. Listen to it here. (We also discuss Glastonbury and Roisin Murphy’s splendid new album.)

Back after the break

 

Please do click on this link and visit the YouTube page, as our future depends on your support!

On 12 April, 2016, the Guardian ran its last edition of Telly Addict. My weekly fixed-shot, to-camera review of what was on the television the week before had run for 249 episodes, beginning in May 2011, and named after my TV review column in the still-missed Word magazine, which ran between 2004 and 2006 (itself named after the BBC quiz show Telly Addicts, on which my family had appeared in 1990). It had been a good innings, and Telly Addict had survived a number of opaque regime changes in the multimedia department, which seemed to exist as a kind of republic within the vast Guardian kingdom. Reviewing TV for the website certainly didn’t bestow upon me any sort of journalistic legitimacy at the newspaper itself, where I remained largely on the outside of the glass, looking in. I will always be grateful to have had the chance to make a short film about TV every week, pretty much without a break, for five years, and under the banner of a world-class news brand.

TApilot2011grab

Producer Matt Hall (whom I’d known since my earliest days in the media when we worked on the old Radio Five) called me in, in March 2011, and we made a couple of modest pilots. (Quite why I was getting to do this and not one of the paper’s regular TV writers was a mystery.) This is a rare still from one of the first two non-broadcast pilots. As you can see, the chair was visible, and so were my arms. These were cropped out in a tighter shot that, give or take the angle I sat at, remained fixed for the next five years. We went live on 6 May, 2011; I reviewed two BBC dramas, Exile and The Shadow Line, and a brand new fantasy from HBO which I understand is still going. Matt left a couple of years in, leaving me without an executive champion at the department, but the whole operation was so self-contained, with one overworked member of staff thanklessly lighting, shooting, directing, producing and editing (for the larger part of its life, Andy, for the final year, Mona), we just sort of carried on doing it and nobody “upstairs” seemed to mind, or perhaps notice. It was not always easy to find Telly Addict in the maelstrom of a constantly refreshed newspaper website (with a rare 24-hour window of promotion at the very foot of the homepage and then all bets were off) and when they rolled out a major redesign of the site I was among a large constituency who could no longer view Telly Addict comfortably on a Mac (which I suspect lost us a lot of regular viewers). But I did my best to promote it through the usual means. I loved doing it, and I loved the finished product.

TA178grab

The writing was on the wall in the final six months, when budgets everywhere were being cut, and the Guardian Film Show (a much longer programme that involved three Guardian staffers or contracted freelancers a week, which started the same time as Telly Addict) went first. The final Telly Addict went up on 12 April, a sad review of the past five years, and the laments, farewells and tributes poured in below the line – where, over five years, I like to think we’d evolved an uncharacteristically sensible, positive, witty, well-informed and largely troll-free community. This was one of the reasons I launched this blog. It was a way of staying in touch with that community (or the most steadfast of its acolytes).

Titlegrab

The good news is, Telly Addict is reborn. Last week, it was “soft-launched” at its new home, broadcaster UKTV (umbrella over the boutique channels Dave, Gold, W, Yesterday, Really, Alibi, Eden, Good Food and Home), who are expanding their online presence, with previews, clips and self-produced shorts on their YouTube channel. The first edition [above] is effectively the broadcast pilot. I hope you like it. The show will now run every Tuesday. Normal service, you might say, is resumed. There is a tyranny of stats on YouTube, of course. Nobody at the Guardian ever seemed to want to tell me how many people watched Telly Addict. Well, there’s no hiding place any more.

UKTVYouTubeSTATS26Jun16

I’m sure the “likes” and “dislikes” will give me nightmares, but overall, it already feels great to have a new home. After all, UKTV make television programmes. And Telly Addict is a television programme about other people’s television programmes. And the folk who work there are real TV enthusiasts, with a certain spring in their step which is not always a given in television. (I’ve worked with their channels as a moderator at a number of events in the past.)

On the matter of my obligation to review shows that are on UKTV, I will only be reviewing new or returning or “event” shows that I might I have reviewed on Telly Addict anyway, and I have 100% editorial independence. Frankly, if I don’t like a new sitcom on Gold, I won’t cover it (if you know anything about me as a critic, you’ll know that I do not slag programmes off for the sport of it; I prefer to celebrate the best of what’s on the telly). The other upside is that there are no ads on the UKTV YouTube channel, whereas the Guardian tagged each episode with an embedded ad that you couldn’t skip.

For the record, all 249 episode of Telly Addict for the Guardian remained archived here.

You can see why we held back any big announcements or press releases or flypasts on Thursday and Friday this week, so next week it is. It’s great to be back. You will recognise one or two of the shirts.

Home and away

Early Release

Three British dramas I’m currently enjoying for different reasons. Undercover (BBC One) is a taut, perhaps over-stuffed contemporary “issue”-boiler from ex-barrister Peter Moffat (North Square, Criminal Justice, Silk); The Durrells (ITV) is a much softer, holiday-brochure Sunday nighter based on zoo man Gerald Durrell’s beloved childhood memoirs, adapted by Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly); and Marcella (ITV) is a Scandi-bleak contemporary psychological crime thriller and a vehicle for its star.

The first begins in Louisiana, where a black prisoner is on death row and where it’s quite clearly South Africa. (I can’t always spot faked locations, but I had a feeling about this one that turned out to have grounds. And we all know South Africa is a cost-effective location.) Sophie Okonedo is a British lawyer representing the prisoner, whose end is nigh (and who’s Dennis Haysbert from 24), and, back home, Adrian Lester is her husband and apparent primary carer; their older two kids are watching the countdown to the lethal injection online. What is an issue for Haysbert’s character isn’t an issue for the other characters in these establishing scenes: colour.

Undercoverpair

To all intents and purposes, the fact that Lester, Okonedo and their kids are black is irrelevant. (That the son seems to be on the autism spectrum is also treated lightly and not as a big deal.) This is a refreshing thing in British TV, reflecting perhaps a new age of diversity-awareness and increased colourblind casting. She didn’t need to be black to defend a black prisoner. She just is. Neither is his apparent job anything to do with race: I think he’s training to be a swimmer? The big early reveal is that he’s an undercover police officer. However, in their shared past, 20 years ago – fed to us in lengthy flashback because it feeds the present-day narrative – their being black is pertinent, as he’s been specifically prepared to enter a racially sensitive world, that of anti-racist activism.

The future couple meet cute at the rally of a black-power activist (Sope Dirisu from Humans), who plays a key part in the story, which hinges in the present on Okonedo being considered as the Director of Public Prosecutions, which, if she landed the top job, would make her the first ever black DPP – again, a detail that fires a lot of the story. Thus, it turns out that Undercover – although written by a white writer – is a black story, on BBC One. That in itself is something to be proud of. It features black lawkeepers and black lawbreakers, political and apolitical. And at the rally, Okonedo’s bouncer-shaped then-boyfriend (Thomas Dominique) is perceived to be “blacker” than Lester’s undercover cop (he speaks in Jamaican patois), which creates an interesting, almost class- or caste-based friction.

There’s lots going on here, lots to process – too much, arguably – but you know with Moffat that he knows precisely where he’s going and he balances the two timeframes like a chef.

TheDurrells

The Durrells is something approaching the polar opposite of Undercover. It’s set in the past, indeed an idealised past, and based on the childhood memoirs of Gerald Durrell. That it fills ITV’s early Sunday evening slot should come as no surprise. Set in the years between 1935 and the start of the Second World War, and beginning with the beloved volume My Family and Other Animals, it was brought to you by Men Behaving Badly crowd-pleaser Simon Nye (who adapted the trilogy for a one-off in 2005, which is unlikely to be shown again in a hurry as it starred Chris Langham as Theodore Stephanides). Thus it has a light comic touch, poking gentle fun at the silly ways of an English family abroad, and basking in the glory of the Greek island location.

theDurrellsKH

It must be weird for Nye to have already adapted the three books into a 90-minuter, and to adapt the same material into six hour-long eps. (I never saw the first version so I’m unable to confirm or deny if he’s recycled his original dialogue?) But there’s little doubting his comfort with the stories and the tone, and it has a pleasing confidence, and is, again, deftly cast, with Keeley Hawes, simultaneously severe as DI Lindsey Denton in Line Of Duty, making brisk work of the jolly-hockey-sticks Mrs Durrell, widowed into action and determined to make a go of this moving to Greece lark, despite the laziness of her brood, keener to moon, shoot, foster animals and get drunk than help out in their wreck of a house. She was almost ten years older in 1935 than Hawes is now, but she does a clever job of upping her mumsiness and clomps around the island with a mixture of innocent-abroad and the-world-on-her-shoulders. It’s fun. It’s funny. And there can be no harm in that. (I also like the fact that it’s directed, very fetchingly and with not too many drone shots, by Steve Barron, who directed Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean video and whom I interviewed for the NME in 1990 about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie!)

MarcellaAF

Staying on ITV, something that’s no fun, but that’s the point. Marcella (pronounced “March-ella”) is an English-language, London-set departure for The Bridge creator Hans Rosenfeldt, so it’s a crime thriller with a fairly high concept: the titular lead investigator, returning to work after maternity leave, suffers from blackouts. You have to accept that she gets to hold down a responsible job with this condition, which she keeps secret. What could possibly go wrong. I disliked the last thing I saw Anna Friel in – Homeland-influenced NBC thriller American Odyssey (I lasted one episode; NBC lasted 13) – but liked the thing I saw her in before that, Norwegian-Danish-British wartime true-adventure The Saboteurs, in which she played a fictitious British intelligence officer. I’m for her in general. Like Sarah Lancashire, she’s put her soap immortality behind her. Here, she’s believable enough as a cop – less so her resentful boss, played by Ray Panthaki – and as the wife of a philandering City-type husband (Nicholas Pinnock). The “baddies”, who, naturally, all work in Canary Wharf and build high buildings (a-boo!), are less nuanced: Sinead Cusack, Patrick Baladi, Maeve Dermody. Maybe their characters would seem exotic and aloof if they spoke in Danish or Swedish? In English, they’re a bit panto.

MarcellaLDN

But I really like the fact that it’s set in London, and features recognisable but ordinary places like Edgware Road Tube station – as well as the ugly City skyline like a row of tramp’s teeth – and I think Friel carries it, playing both victim (of her illness and an unfaithful husband) and protagonist. It’s sweet to see former star export Jamie Bamber in a supporting role as the decent detective Marcella once didn’t sleep with. Remember when he was the thrusting, brave Apollo of Battlestar Galactica and then it went all quiet? I’m happy to see him again on British TV. I wonder if he’s moved back here?

All the current fuss is quite rightly being made about Line Of Duty, which I’m also hooked on. But there is a strong drama unfolding elsewhere and I’m starting to think we may be going through a purple patch, terrestrially.

Check the guy’s track record

PeopleVsOJline

The People Vs OJ Simpson (FX; showing here on BBC2) comes under the anthology title American Crime Story, itself spun off from the anthology title American Horror Story, the ingeniously regenerative device of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk that has given us the thoroughly unpleasant Murder House, Asylum, Coven, Freak Show and Hotel (I watched all of the first three with glee, but bailed on Freak Show and have boycotted Hotel because Lady Gaga seems to be in it). Despite the wily, self-aggrandising rebrand, The People Vs OJ Simpson is a horror story as well as a crime story. Murphy and Falchuk treat those two impostors just the same. In their eyes, all stories are camp. This would remain the case if they launched American Sports Story, or American Accounting Story. And I hope they do.

RunOfHisLife

I know the OJ saga is in the public domain (and I remember the highlights of the legal circus from the time), but I have taken an unusual path with The People Vs OJ: I bought the book. I became instantly smitten with the show: its heightened tone, its showboat casting, its fixed setting at eleven. And after two episodes (there are ten), I sent off for Jeffery Toobin’s The Run Of His Life, published in 1997, which seems to reign as the definitive article. Five episodes in now, and I’ve finished reading it, unable to put it down. Way more than a court transcript, it does what the New Yorker does, which is to say: humanise reams of information. (Toobin began his story covering the trial for the New Yorker, and quickly became part of it, when police detective Mark Fuhrman sued defence lawyer Bob Shapiro, Toobin and the magazine over a leak.)

I usually make a point of not reading books that are going to be made into films. Indeed, I’ve been evangelical about it in the past. But I read Room by Emma Donaghue specifically because I knew it was coming out as a film, and I was glad I did. Even though it meant I knew where the story was going when I subsequently saw it, I felt that the experience of reading it (told from the point of view of the captive five year old son) was improved by having no pre-warning. I started reading High-Rise by JG Ballard in advance of the film, too, and in doing so, I better understand why the film didn’t quite work: it’s JG Ballard’s fault! Reading The Run Of His Life has been entirely different. We all know the outcome. We watched it on the news in 1995. Toobin’s book is predicated on the understanding that we know the ending, and that the ending is a grotesque travesty of justice; that OJ Simpson did murder Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in cold blood.

The book was safe to read. But having now read it, I am getting so much more out of the TV show. I know that it’s based on fact. It’s a matter of record. Sure, it’s exaggerated for effect – in real life, Shapiro and Johnnie Cochran’s legal team did not file into Judge Ito’s courtroom in slow motion on the day that they discovered that the prosecution had strategically added Deputy District Attorney Christopher Darden to the team, nor did they do so to the lowdown mid-90s G-funk tune Black Superman – but it’s factually accurate, it’s on the books (it was on Court TV, if you cared to watch it, and lived in America). Any surgical enhancement by the writers Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski, D. V. DeVincentis, Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky and Joe Robert Cole is rooted in fact. Except maybe the retro-fitted bits featuring the Kardashians. But the case is open and shut. If I hadn’t read the book, I might not have believed what went on actually went on.

PeopleVsOJFX

It’s a cliché, but you couldn’t make it up. When prosecutor William Hodgman (Christian Clemenson) has a panic attack and faints in court, as a viewer, you’re assuming this must be made up. It’s dramatised for effect, but it pretty much happened. There it is on page 259 of Toobin’s account: “Hodgman noticed a strange feeling in his chest … a tightening … the sensation didn’t go away … paramedics were called.” That the actual trial descended into grave farce is a gift. I can’t wait for the black glove. I can’t wait for prosecutor Marcia Clark’s mid-trial haircut, according to Toobin “a much-admired transformation that landed her hairdresser on Oprah.” (Sarah Paulson is my favourite among a stellar cast – I’ve seen pictures of Clark and the resemblance is sound, although it’s reading about her on the page that paints the clearest picture and Paulson has worked it all into her performance.)

PeopleVsOJSPaulson

Dramatising “actual events” is a common thread on modern TV, true crime is so fashionable people will even listen to it on a podcast, never mind on glossy cable TV, and actors seem to spend most of their careers now doing “karaoke” turns as real people. But we all accept  artistic licence, otherwise you’re literally just watching great actors read out transcripts. The skill, I think, with The People Vs OJ, is in organising the material in such a way that it slots neatly into ten episodes. See how they used the famous white Bronco chase to tease us from episode one into episode two (“The Bronco’s gone!” gulps David Schwimmer’s pathetic Robert Kardashian, a line that only works if we know exactly where the Bronco has gone and is going). Episode five ends with an imagined vignette of Furhman listening to what sounds like Wagner while admiring an Iron Cross among his collection of Nazi memorabilia. This was a cheaper trick – like a cliffhanger from Dallas – but it works as television. And this is fabulous television.

Just let me know when American Gardening Story starts and I’ll be there.