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.

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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.

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).

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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:

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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 …

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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.

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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!

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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.

Top team

Burning question. How do you pronounce Poldark (BBC One)? I sense that it’s perhaps more authentically Cornish to put the emphasis on the second syllable: Pol-dark. But the more homogeneous acceptance puts the accent on “Pole”, as in Pol-dark. Most people are spending no time worrying about this, as they are too preoccupied with the view. As Francis Poldark says of his condemned cousin in Episode 2 of the surprisingly downbeat new series, “Which of us does not secretly adore him?”

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It took just 20 minutes in Ep1 for Aidan Turner to lose his shirt and oil up down the mine, but there are other lovely things to look at: the cliffs, the hills, sky, the exquisite tailoring. Without a masterplan – as I just review what I have watched on the telly – this week’s Telly Addict, #13 if you’re taking inventory, I seem to have reviewed four dramas, but of four different stripes. Pol-dark/Pol-dark covers costume/historical drama sumptuously, while contemporary drama, albeit one that’s been away for 13 years so still feels distinctly 90s, is embodied by Cold Feet (ITV), which I understand drew a consolidated audience (and what other kind is there?) of 7.9 million last Monday. I have no idea if anyone under 40 tuned in, but if not, there are enough of us ancients to keep it a hit.

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It’s not all hugs, pints, amigos and jokes about James Nesbitt’s hair transplant (“Have you got more hair?”) – indeed, it is to life-chronicler Mike Bullen’s credit that the comeback already hits a gloomy note. “I wish my future was still ahead of me,” says Pete. “I’m not happy,” says David, in some of the  best acting of the show so far. This was not melodrama; it was closer, in fact, to Scandinavian theatre.

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It will not be for everyone, but the return of The Strain (Channel W, as I call it) is a camp, comic-book classic from Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan about a vampocalypse in New York (as usual played by Toronto) , and at least star Corey Stoll (above) has been allowed to lose his ridiculous wig. I can’t imagine how much fun it must be for Brits David Bradley and new arrival Rupert Penry-Jones to play this kind of schlock.

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More fine British acting talent dominates the educational re-enactment show Barbarians Rising (the History Channel), where thesps at the level of Nicholas Pinnock (above) battle against the might of diagrams, computer simulation and retired four-star American Generals as talking heads. I love it. That is all of drama, I believe. And Telly Addict’s Moment of Zen is another fabulous, sentient scene from Ripper Street (Amazon Prime/BBC Two), in which Matthew Macfadyen and Jerome Flynn might well be discussing the resurrected show itself.

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Even though literally NOBODY is interested in the unusual, personal objects I leave on the coffee table each week, I’m sticking with the unloved extra. Anybody have any feelings at all about Top Team?

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No?

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Incidentally, after recording this week’s, the big news about The Great British Bake Off (BBC One/Channel 4) broke. None of us knows exactly what went on behind closed doors during production company Love and the BBC, but it has been mentioned that Channel 4 poached the Corporation’s most successful format by bidding three times what they’re currently paying for it. If that’s true, it reflects badly on capitalism and its precarious relationship with a Tory-diminished public sector. I admire Mel and Sue for declaring their independence so soon; this at least means that a commercial incarnation will not be the same. I can think of nothing more irksome than having to watch a show we have come to enjoy uninterrupted shot through with ads and, worse, bumpers paid for by Mr Kipling or Smeg fridges. Such a transfer from public to private has happened to plenty of beloved US imports like Seinfeld, The Simpsons and Mad Men, which, manhandled by the BBC, found happier homes on smaller, commercial channels, but very rarely has a format migrated. When BBC stars have been transferred, it has nearly always been a terrible disaster – I think of Morecambe and Wise, the Goodies, Trinny and Susannah?

I guess we Bake Off fans will have to enjoy this series while it lasts. It’s not been a classic so far. Although the glimpse of a Red Kite almost made up for its deficiencies of contestant.

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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.

Do not dicker with me

Ah. The first Bank Holiday-delayed Telly Addict. It feels like a milestone. Shot on Tuesday morning instead of Monday, we apologise for its late running. After a couple of weeks of scouting the listings for shows worth reviewing – and in many cases, finding valuable things that I might ordinarily have missed – it’s all on a plate for me from now ’til Christmas. The new season is with us. And what better signifier than the return of The Great British Bake Off (BBC One)? Back for its seventh series, it is, I am happy to report, the same. This is what we want. Mary Berry makes the early claim that she is “expecting the unexpected,” but she has the wrong end of the spatula. It is the expected we expect.

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There is no point in me trying to convince you of the Bake Off’s value if you remain immune. If you didn’t like it before, you won’t suddenly like it now. Indeed, at some point it will surely have to stop rising, as it were, and plateau, or gateau. The last series averaged 12.3 million viewers, making it the most popular show on the BBC, and possibly on TV, outside of international sporting occasions. It’s a dozen bakers baking. That’s it.

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Certainly, the smutty annotation of Mel and Sue is vital to its appeal, and the cold, hard stare of Paul Hollywood, and the wet bunting, flapping, and the occasional squirrel (or, possibly a first for this series, a pheasant). We don’t need a scandal involving bins, or theft, or fridges, just 12 well-intentioned home cooks, cooking – and helping each other. You don’t get that on most competitive shows.

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By the way, I’ve said this on Telly Addict and typed it on Twitter and it was tumbleweeds both times, so allow me one final crack at it. The Bake Off contestant whose name is Selasi is promising. This is my assessment of him: I rate Selasi highly. [long pause] No? [longer pause] No? [even longer pause] Alright. [tumbleweeds bounce across the lawn at Welford Park]

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I was encouraged to give MasterChef Australia (shown here on the disarmingly named channel W) a look, as I’m such a fan of the UK version, and the first 16 minutes of the opening show of its eighth series – which runs for 63 episodes! – made me appreciate MasterChef UK even more. Gosh, it’s run at such a high pitch. Everybody’s shouting and squealing and fanning their faces (unless that’s just because it’s Australia and it’s hot) and whooping and cheering. I feel tired just typing about it. But for all the reasons I like Bake Off and some of you don’t, you might like the sheer volume of MasterChef Australia. After a brief taste of it, the prospect of Gregg shouting in my ear seems like a blessed relief.

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The big guns are being rolled out by the terrestrial channels. Although Versailles turned out to be a surprise hit, by shoving it out during the summer holidays, the BBC weren’t exactly cooking with confidence. Likewise Brief Encounters on ITV, which also seemed to create a buzz. (Sorry.) Ripper Street (BBC Two) and One Of Us (BBC One) are the first two big new dramas of the season, one returning for its fourth series – having been on Amazon Prime since January! – the other something fresh and seemingly self-contained like an Agatha Christie made by Universal Studios in 1931. I’ve made my ardent feelings about Ripper Street known before. If anything it has improved since Amazon re-mortgaged it. Though three years have passed and a lot of scrubbing up has taken place in Whitechapel, its principals, and its principles, are intact, and we rejoin the story.

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I have never forgotten Matthew Macfadyen’s Inspector Reid warning a wrong’un back in series one, “Do not dicker with me.” Who wouldn’t be thrilled by such rich, fruity, arcane language? I once wrongly attributed an absolute belter of a speech by Reid to chief writer and creator Richard Warlow when it was, in fact, penned by Toby Finlay, and these things matter. His overt presence shall be missed this series (or is it season, now they’ve gone all Amazon?), but I feel him lurking in the dugout.

One Of Us, not so keen. I am hugely enamoured of writing brothers Harry and Jack Williams after their astonishing, fleet-footed first series of The Missing and cannot wait for the second. But this doesn’t hit the same heights of subtlety and nuance. It’s a Gothic melodrama in which everybody’s a suspect and  thunder and lightning and torrential rain stand in for jeopardy, even though there’s plenty of jeopardy already. It’s too hysterical for my tastes. But I look forward to The Missing.

Here’s a pheasant instead. Exit, pursued by air.

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Oh, and the “item on the coffee table” this week is a Puzzled puzzle book from 1987 for which I drew the cartoon cover. It was, at the time, my job. I had to eat.

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Bring on the dancing horses

Apologies for the late running of this week’s Telly Addict. So let’s get to it. (That’s ten we’ve clocked up now under UKTV’s guidance and patronage: they’re all stacked up here.) I’ve had an epiphany. Just when I thought I was going to get through the Rio Olympics (BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Four etc.) without meaningfully seeing any of it, this 6,000-word New Yorker article on dressage drew me in. I fell in love with Charlotte DuJardin and Velagro (who must appear as a duo, they can’t exist outside of each other), who – spoiler alert – won the expected freestyle Gold. Bring them on.

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In fact, there’s a subliminal animal theme to this week’s Telly Addict. As well as being enchanted by Velagro, I was pretty smitten with Kate Humble’s sheepdog and her, on Kate Humble: My Sheepdog and Me (BBC Two). Here’s Kate with her three farm dogs, two rescues, and one, Teg, who has to be “put to work”, herding sheep – the thrust of this idyllic, animal-loving one-off. See the way Teg, on the right, gazes up at her beloved owner and says, with her David Bowie eyes, “Why do I have to go to work while these two mongrels get to sit around and do nothing all day?”

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Kate rather sweetly called Teg her “ginger monster”. The four-parter Highlands: Scotland’s Wild Heart (BBC Two), first shown in May, is back on iPlayer thanks to a repeat showing for Olympics widows like myself. It is full of gorgeous ginger monsters in a glorious setting, and narrated by Ewan McGregor, whose voice could melt winter from 50 paces.

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If you need a break from beautiful British animals leaping, mating, herding, surviving and, in one case, dancing to Brazilian carnival music, there’s a different kind of wildlife in Gomorrah (Sky Atlantic), the Sky Italia co-production now into its second operatic, violent, moody, Naples-based crime/family melodrama but available on demand through Sky. In it, Italian men passive-aggressively grab the cheeks of other Italian men in dual love and threat.

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I have raved about Gomorrah before – here’s my review of the season-one box set in the now-defunct Guardian section Your Next Box Set, a newspaper I used to work for, but seemingly, now, not so much – if anything, season two is tighter and more deadly, and stunningly framed by director Stefano Sollima.

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First Dates (Channel 4) is back, after what must be a whole fortnight off air. If you’re not already long-since-hooked by the format, which uses a laser-guided dating algorithm to set up couples of all ages and persuasions who really might get along. Damien (left), a beardy Northern Irishman with Channel 4’s favourite neuropsychiatric condition, Tourette’s, was a great fit for personal trainer Kai, if you took away the Tourette’s (which is probably fairly rare on a box-ticking list) but you have to see it to enjoy its full ramifications beyond one dater’s impediment-of-the-week. The show may be currently setting up its waiting staff for a TOWIE-style amateur drama, but they remain cute.

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You can see this 55-year-old gym member in his pants, too, if you don’t ordinarily watch Match of the Day. His possibly depilated flesh makes a change from all the fur, fluff, feathers and Gaelic beard elsewhere. If anything, this week is the bitty calm before the blockbusting storm. Next week, the new terms is almost upon us, and the big hitters come out: The Bake Off, Ripper Street, An Important New Four-Part BBC One Drama, followed by Poldark, The Missing, Cold Feet, Strictly … I’m glad to be back. And I hope the appearance of the slightly sinister puppet I made at school when I was eight years old doesn’t haunt your dreams. Literally: don’t have nightmares.

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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.”

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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).

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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.

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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.)

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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!!!!

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