‘Artsnight: Nina Conti’ – On the Box

I am not a regular viewer of Artsnight or Newsnight. I guess I’ve always thought it was a bit pretentious for my tastes, on the other side of the culture divide to me. Sure I like a bit of Shakespeare, I wander round art galleries every now and then, and I’ve been to see the ballet once, but I’m happiest at the low end of the culture scale. High culture is for people who learned Latin at school and not for the likes of me.

Obviously this is ridiculous, and a series of stereotypes that need to be overturned, but it’s a rich vein for comedy. The co-presenter of Nina Conti’s Artsnight was keen to play with this whenever anything troubled her finely-tuned bullshit meter “I know this is Artsnight Nina, but there’s no need to sound like such a pretentious wanker”. Good advice, especially coming from a glove puppet monkey.

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Blog Business

Hello blog fans!

This is an unusual post, not strictly telly related, but a matter of business that I’m excited about. I’ve just started the super-popular WordPress Blogging 101 course to learn how to write a better blog. These past five months I’ve really enjoyed the experience of writing a blog because tv is a genuine interest of mine, something I do as part of my daily routine. It’s a pleasure to focus on one interest as opposed to past scatter-gun attempts where anything and everything could be a blog post. That just got overwhelming and it was easy to give up and forget about writing altogether.

People have been really kind and told me they like my writing, but I know it could be better. I worry that as I’ve not really written creatively since I was in school my writing style might be a bit stunted. Like y’know… I don’t want to like… sound like a sixteen-year-old forever OMG! I’ve tried to break the habit of calling everyone dude, so I need to do that in the way I write too.

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‘Adam Pearson: Freak Show’ – On the Box

The best kind of documentaries are the ones that encourage you to stare. If you tried this in the street you’d get a smack in the mouth, and deserve it. People who wear veils, who have disabilities or who look different in some way usually have enough shit to deal with without you staring and making them feel uncomfortable. But if you can’t ask questions or take a good look at someone how will you ever get to know them and learn to accept them?

Adam Pearson is an actor and tv presenter. He has a rare condition called neurofibromatosis which causes tumours to grow on his face. He’s had this condition since he was little and has suffered with abuse and hurtful nicknames on the school playground. The one he really hated was ‘freak’.

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Not on the box – Viewpoint

Ladies and gentlemen of the internet. Come on a journey with me to the dark side – a cavernous living room where there’s no focal point, where sofas sit facing each other… a world in which all of the pixels are dead! Witness the insufferable smugness!

We know them, we come across them in all walks of life – the uber-poseurs (the ones who know it really should be written über). They lean in to you over their flat white, and bristle your arm slightly with their elegantly tailored Belstaff coat as they smirk and say “Oh no, I haven’t got a television” BEFORE THEY’VE EVEN BEEN ASKED. You swear you didn’t ask the question, or even think it, but they’re desperate to tell you about it. They’re like the vegans of the entertainment world.

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‘Celebrity Big Brother’ – Viewpoint

Don’t worry, it’s not suddenly become culturally relevant again, if it ever was. And you’re right, it’s not something I normally watch.

Do you remember back in the heady days of 2000 when Big Brother started, when it was billed by Channel 4 as a grand social experiment? Turns out the social experiment was on the British public – how long would we put up with this intrusive, demeaning, ridiculous shit for? And we were all sucked in – I was foolish enough to expect a quality programme. What I actually saw was a bunch of slightly unhinged people  stuck in a claustrophobic environment, becoming increasingly paranoid and unpleasant as the weeks dragged on. Every series ended up with arguing (usually full-on screaming and crying) about some perceived slight or whose turn it was to do the washing-up. Who needs telly? I could have looked in the mirror if I wanted to see that.

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‘And Then There Were None’ – On the Box

Oh my! How grizzly, how gruesome, how horrible!

I’m an Agatha Christie fan and I knew despite the veneer of respectability that she liked it dark. And bloody. And sinister. Even little old Miss Marple has a dark side. But in all that time I never realised Agatha Christie was a frustrated horror writer. This all became clear watching And Then There Were None (BBC1), a period murder mystery based on Christie’s novel of the same name. Even George R R Martin (aka the butcher of all your favourite characters) would have said “Come on now Agatha, don’t you think nine elaborate murders based on a racist nursery rhyme that drive a young woman to suicide in a mansion on a deserted island is a bit much? Death by dipping a guy in molten gold is one thing, but this is just nasty!”

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Christmas Telly Round-Up 2016

Happy 2016 everyone! As we stumble outside and face the grey drizzly dawn of another new year let’s enjoy a round-up of the best and worst telly from the past two weeks. If we concentrate really hard maybe we can still pretend we’re comatose on the sofa in a Batman onesie surrounded by Quality Street wrappers and fighting about whose turn it is to put the kettle on. Ah, happier times.

So in no particular order…

We’re Doomed! The Dad’s Army Story (BBC2)

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Photo: bbc.co.uk

Lovely looking comedy drama – very swinging 60s, very yeah baby – but I was expecting to learn a lot more about the beloved show. The focus was almost entirely on the bromantic writing process, like they ran out of time to discuss the actors, their relationships or how the show developed during filming. If they’d had an extra 30 minutes this could have been great, like BBC4 did for Monty Python in Holy Flying Circus. Watching the theme tune being recorded by a total geezer with such confidence in one take was lovely.

Sherlock (BBC1)

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Photo: bbc.co.uk

It seems no one liked this, apart from me. It was messy, frantic and confused (I’m not sure Sherlock should be allowed to borrow the Tardis again), but despite this I loved it. The cleverness and the silliness, the bizarre deus ex machina and the strange, sometimes strained, relationship between Sherlock and Dr Watson is all there in the original books. I’ve no idea who thought making the KKK (who were the baddies in The Five Orange Pips that this was very loosley based on) into feminists would be a good idea. Even the much derided Steven Moffat would have paused for thought on this one, right? Never mind. Still good.

Dickensian (BBC1)

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Photo: radiotimes.co.uk

It seems everyone liked this, apart from me. A brave and clever adaptation from former Eastenders scriptwriter Tony Jordan. When you think about it a regular serial with a large and varied cast living as near neighbours in London is a Venn diagram that Eastenders and Dickens fits into nicely.  I’ve only read two Dickens novels (A Christmas Carol and Bleak House, in case you were wondering) so I couldn’t play character spotting (that satisfied ‘a-ha!’ when you work out who someone is) or place them in any context. So I wasn’t entertained by seeing them out of context. And I know Dickens famously goes on a bit, but 20 episodes?! That’s too much for me.

Stick Man (BBC1)

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Photo: theguardian.co.uk

Julia Donaldson’s most terrifying picture book (The Gruffalo is a walk in the park by comparison) adapted for tv, and for your nightmares. I had no idea picture books were this scary. Martin Freeman’s Stick Man is separated from his family for a full year, and survives seemingly endless horrors on his long and distressing journey to be reunited with them. It was like an animated version of 12 months in the life of a Syrian refugee. Absolutely horrific!

A Grand Night In: The Story of Aardman (BBC1)

This is more like it. A really interesting documentary celebrating 40 years of Bristol’s Aardman Animation studios from their early beginnings in 1976 with Morph, through the Oscar winning successes of Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit, and the forays off into big-budget Hollywood films with Chicken Run and The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! It was a gentle and kindly look at a great British institution filled with proper adorable eccentrics, devoted to their pain-staking jobs. Turns out it’s not the clay models who are the real superstars.

A Gert Lush Christmas (BBC2)

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Badly photoshopped photo: radiotimes.co.uk

Russell Howard is a long way from my favourite stand-up comedian, but he does a great job with well-polished satire on BBC3. A lot of comics make the leap from stand-up to their own series, so I was interested enough to give his family Christmas in the West Country a try. But it didn’t make me laugh once in the first 15 minutes so I turned it off. This was despite Russell’s real sister – the magnificent Kerry Howard from Him & Her – turning up as his screen sister, and Neil Morrissey as his Dad. If they couldn’t help it work, no one can. Unwatchable.

Downton Abbey (ITV)

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Photo: radiotimes.co.uk

Downton’s finale did feel very Christmassy – the family and staff reunited and patching over their long-standing grudges, while the viewer tries to guess which one will die in a car accident this time. So festive! Especially because the unexpected twist was no one died! Lord Grantham didn’t cough up blood all over the turkey. Bates and Anna finally had a baby. And even Lady Forgettable-Middle-Sister found a happy ending with a guy who seemed to be a very dull version of Bertie Worcester. I’ve been a loyal viewer for so long (so very, very long) that it was with squishy, weepy and slightly mixed emotions that I finally said goodbye. But the overriding feeling was that of relief that finally it’s all over.

So that’s it. Normal service has been resumed. Take the decorations down and shove them in a box ready for next year. But before you go, can you manage one more teeeny leetle chocolate?

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Photo: stuartdalby.co.uk