Narc de triomphe

Here is the latest Zelig-style shot of me standing next to some famous people. Actually, you probably don’t recognise them, although the gentlemen on the right was in Betty Blue, among many other French films. He is the urbane Jean-Hughes Anglade, one of the four principals in smash hit French cop drama Braquo, whose second season begins on French cable channel Canal+ in November, and whose first season premieres here on FX from October 30. I’ve seen the first four episodes. It’s fantastic. I’m in. And on Friday, I hosted a Q&A about the show at London’s Soho Hotel for the British media, with three of the cast, plus executive producer Claude Chelli, who is on the left. The other gentleman, whose impressive head is why many commentators are already calling it “the French Shield“, is Joseph Malerba. Here is his head, in character, alongside Anglade’s moustache. Their co-stars are Nicholas Duvauchelle (who wasn’t in London for the Q&A) and Karole Rocher (who didn’t hang around at the reception afterwards).

Critic Stephen Armstrong, who was also on the panel on Friday, wrote a very good introductory piece about Braquo for the Sunday TimesCulture, which is not much use to you here, as it will be hidden behind the Times‘ paywall. So this is all you need to know in advance:

Braquo will also, inevitably, be compared to The Wire – a comparison underwritten by the fact that Canal+, effectively France’s “fourth TV channel”, seems to have been forged in the image of HBO, with its strong adult fare and subscription base. It bears some similarity: it’s gritty and handheld and exposes the dark underbelly of a large city, in this instance Paris; its central quartet of cops are prone to “crossing the line” in order to bring justice to scumbags, and their maverick methodology means they rub up against their chiefs on a regular basis. What makes it different from The Wire is that it is not especially interested in the criminals. So let’s put a stop to the Wire comparisons. Although, having said that, Braquo‘s creator, writer and predominant season-one director Olivier Marchal, was once a cop, so he has that in common with The Wire‘s co-creator Ed Burns. Oh, and it also employs novelists as writers.

I shall warn you now, it’s violent. In the opening scene of the first episode of eight, it sets out its stall. This is strong stuff. As it’s subtitled, we must hope we are getting the full impact of the writing, which is sexually frank and full of expletives. It was odd to watch this episode on the big screen before the Q&A with the French-speaking cast and producer, who were watching it with the English translation. Of the four, Chelli was the most fluent English speaker, and he said he was satisfied with the way it had been subtitled. (It’s been done for a British audience – we get “bog” for toilet, for instance.) The cinematically dingy warehouse that seems to pass as a police station in the suburbs of Paris is an atmospheric, tactile base for our rogue cops; it even has its own bar – which, it turns out, is not a wishful fantasy. So this is a glimpse into the world of French urban policing that has its own attractions for a foreign audience.

All cops shows genuflect to American culture, and it’s there in Braquo, but it’s peculiarly Gallic, too, very moody and a touch existential. There are few laughs. There is little banter. It’s incredibly dark, and if the first four episodes are anything to go by, Eddy (Anglade), Theo (Duvauchelle), Roxanne (Rocher) and Walter (Malerba), these four have a habit of making things worse with their reckless procedural ways. And demons? They’ve got ‘em!

What I like is that FX are getting into the imported foreign-language drama groove. BBC4 have made it their trademark with The Killing and Spiral (whose Law & Order-style equal emphasis on the legal system makes it much more officey than Braquo, so the pair can be watched as companions to one another), and SkyArts are currently following suit with the Italian Romanzo Criminale, a period mafia origins story set in Rome whose first episode I enjoyed. I say, the more subtitled dramas the merrier. Who would have guessed five or ten years ago that the boutique channels would be fighting over imports with writing at the bottom of the screen? Let they fight. We, the viewers, are the winner.

It was fun to host a Q&A whose panel were not English, and one of whom, Rocher, spoke through a translator. (I’m hoping that watching Braquo will help me with my French, which is schoolboy at best, and hasn’t been tried out in the field since 2005 when I last went to Paris.) I discovered that US imports are all over French TV, and that, less predictably, the biggest bought-in shows out there are The Mentalist, and CSI in all its forms. As for British shows, Chelli was a big fan of The Shadow Line, which hasn’t been shown in France, and Red Riding, which has. I was interested to find out that one of the key influences on Marchal in terms of style and story was the lesser-known American cop drama, Joe Carnahan’s Narc from 2002, starring Ray Liotta, which I must admit I loved, as it seemed to hark back to 70s classics like The French Connection, which is nice, as there really is a French connection now. (Before the Q&A we had a lively discussion about how the best American cinema was influenced by the French New Wave, and yet, this grew out of a bunch of French critics’ love of classic Hollywood directors like Hawks and Hitchcock, so the give-and-take between the two cultures has always been potent.)

Anyway, looks out for Braquo, if you have access to FX. They’re about to start work on Season Three in France. And no, Monsieur Anglade didn’t really want to talk about Betty Blue. I tried.

King Alan

Sorry I haven’t posted all week. I’ve been ridiculously busy. Here is one of the things I have been busy doing: the second Telly Addict TV review column for the Guardian. In it, I review Made In Chelsea, The Apprentice, Two Greedy Italians and the pirates episode of Doctor Who. Unfortunately, they have added a comments section at the bottom this week, which they didn’t do last week. On doctor’s orders, I am going to use all my willpower not to read the Guardian comments, as they can be crueler and more dismissive than anything you’ll read under articles on the Mail or Telegraph websites, and my mental health must be preserved. I’m all for dialogue and debate and interaction, but I mustn’t get dragged in. Hope you enjoy the new column. I am enjoying doing it. One day, I’ll successfully embed it. But not yet.

My face, your computer

It can be revealed. For the last month, I have been piloting with the Guardian – a newspaper I have “taken”, near-exclusively, for the entirety of my adult, newspaper-reading life, but have pretty much continually failed to get a job with – a brand new TV review column. Except not a column in the newspaper. Get with it, Granddad. This will be a column that you actually watch, with your eyes, and listen to, with your ears. It is called Telly Addict. Naturally, at this early stage, I appear to be unable to embed it, so you’ll have to use this link for now.

The idea is, every Friday (or Saturday morning, as they will load it up at midnight), you will get a new one, right there on your screen, and my little face will move its mouth about and words of wit and wisdom will come out of it. And the words will be about three or four programmes that have been on the telly, and which I have watched, on the telly. Our aim is for me to talk about those programmes which have been on, and which you might have seen, rather than watch advance tapes or DVDs from the needy broadcasters. I already watch a lot of telly, so this should not present a problem.

These are some grabs from one of the three, yes three, full pilots we have already made in the run-up to today’s actual launch. (They are produced in the Guardian‘s actual TV studios, and are made by Matt and Andy.) You must pilot, so that you can make mistakes away from the public gaze, and we fiddled with the chair, and the angle, and the crop, and the zoom, and we seem to be satisfied with the one that is displayed in the embedded film above. I hope you are too.

Having been stung by the vitriolic mania of the Guardian comments sections before, I fear what may be left there by crotchety human beings, so I might just stay here, and take your considered comments onboard instead. It’s just a man talking about telly. You are encouraged to disagree, but don’t – as the visitors to the Guardian website will – leave cruel comments about my face. I can’t really do much about my face.

Everybody happy?

I read a fascinating quote from Christopher Eccleston in the Observer magazine yesterday: “The staples of drama are not people who have been happy. Nobody wants to watch a drama about a happy person.” Let’s just run that past again: Nobody wants to watch a drama about a happy person. I really like Christopher Eccleston; he’s my third favourite Doctor and I was lucky enough to interview him for Elizabeth and he turned out to be exactly as I wanted him to be: earnest, serious, but not above self-lacerating honesty and good humour. So, I take what he says seriously. Especially about acting and drama. And this quote has been churning around in my mind ever since. (Probably because I’ve been painting; stuff churns in your mind when you’re doing DIY.)

Last night I eagerly sat down to watch one of four new homegrown TV programmes starting this week: Exile on BBC1. (There’s also Vera, Case Sensitive and The Shadow Line.) Inevitably, it’s in three parts, but those three parts play out over consecutive nights because today’s terrestrial TV schedulers think we’ll forget everything in seven days. Ironically, Exile is about a man who forgets more than just what happened in a TV programme. In fact, what it is, is TV’s first Alzheimer’s thriller. As tricky as that may seem, creator Paul Abbott and his star protegee Danny Brocklehurst have welded two genres to create a third, and for that, you must applaud their guts and determination. And BBC1′s.

Exile began last night with John Simm’s lad-mag writer losing his job and his girlfriend (somebody else’s wife, naturally), and heading North, in the driving rain, to somewhere suburban in Lancashire to rehabilitate. (He’s also a coke-snorter, so it’s literal as well as emotional.) He returns to the family home, where his dad, Jim Broadbent, a former campaining journalist, is in the throes of Alzheimer’s, looked after, round the clock, by saintly daughter and Simm’s older sister Olivia Coleman. Although, well-written, she’s not saintly in the beyond-belief sense, just less selfish than John Simm, who hasn’t been back for years. The house is brilliantly grey and gloomy – as who’s got time to redecorate? – which means it is frozen in time, just like Broadbent, and its ghosts are still in the walls, which makes Exile about the past, and about reconnecting with it. It’s also an acting gift for Simm and Broadbent, who get to do two-handers about fathers and sons, and inevitably rise to the occasion. Apart from the heinous crime of having Simm call Coleman “Sis” when they first speak – in case we are too stupid to work out that a man and a woman who know each other and have the same dad are brother and sister – Brocklehurst does his best to sidestep the usual drama cliches, and instead layers on the reality of the frankly unbearable situation with subtlety and wit.

The thriller begins to emerge towards the end of part one, when a memory sparked by being back in the old house reignites Simm’s curiosity about a story his dad was working on before he started to lose his mind. The audacity of drawing a conspiracy thriller out of what feels like a traditional family chamber piece with a box-ticking “issue” at its core is head-spinning. But don’t come here looking for glamour or flashy thrills. It’s clearly going to be a depressing ride. Episode one ground lovelessly from failure and despondence to family tragedy and unsavoury symptomatic detail to rushed sex and a spin round the Co-Op with admirable commitment to the dreary and everyday that are the hallmarks of Jimmy McGovern and Paul Abbott’s work. Except it’s Abbott that has carved thrillers out of this morass, and you detect his hand here.

Brocklehurst has proved his licks on Shameless and Clocking Off, and we’re in able company here, but we go back to Eccleston’s theory: Nobody wants to watch a drama about a happy person. Let’s hope not, or nobody’s going to watch Exile. In this country we do gloom and grit so well. I loved it when Simm re-entered his teenage bedroom, now stripped of all posters, but still with the “same curtains.” It was like something out of Tim Burton: all wonky angles and tiny window and a headboard from Hell. Just making sure nobody thought Exile was a light drawing room comedy. Let’s see where it goes next.

Oh, and some of you will have spotted this already, if you’ve been reading: I have just created a drama, or a comedy drama, about a happy person. Still, I don’t expect anybody to watch it, as it’s on the radio.

A jazz thing

The Sopranos ended in 2007, The Wire in 2008. So, what did HBO do next? Well, it gave the creators of those two epic, HBO-defining shows free range to do whatever the hell they wanted. David Simon, co-creator of The Wire, went off with writer-producer Eric Overmeyer to New Orleans and made Treme, which premiered way back in April 2010 on HBO, and has finally reached our shores via Sky Atlantic. David Chase, who created The Sopranos, is currently developing a miniseries for HBO about the birth of cinema called The Ribbon Of Dreams; meanwhile, the core writers and producers of The Sopranos have spread out to form a quality drama platoon, Matthew Weiner defecting to Showtime to produce the magnificent Mad Men, Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess creating the contemporary NYPD family procedural Blue Bloods for CBS, and Terence Winter sticking around to create Boardwalk Empire.

So, three of the four major post-Sopranos shows are period pieces. Interesting. The Wire‘s David Simon, meanwhile, a man of the streets, is too interested in the drama around him to go backwards, which is why Treme, though set three months after Katrina in 2005, is all about now. Treme and Boardwalk are defining shows for Sky Atlantic, now airing on Friday and Saturday night, respectively. We’re a number of episodes in, so worth assessing where we’re at.

Treme is, in many ways, nothing like The Wire. But it gets under the skin of New Orleans just like Simon’s previous show did with Baltimore. Treme, or Tremé, is a district not totally decimated by the hurricane, but predominantly black, and serves as a capsule for the themes that run through the city like wire. The main theme, though, is music. I’ve never visited New Orleans but I know loads of people who have – or certainly did, before Katrina – and they all say the same thing: wherever you go, there is music. Although Simon is a writer fixated on people, and against institutions (we saw them all ticked off in The Wire), he and Overmeyer have allowed music to be the heart and soul of the piece. It opens with music, it ends with music, and what’s been most thrilling about the first two episodes, is that it stops to let us listen to music. Real musicians from the district play themselves – and play, themselves – and if a sense of reality is something you require from your fiction, Treme delivers.

Fictional threads arise from the constant soundtrack (which is to say, an actual soundtrack that emanates from the story, rather than a soundtrack that is layered on afterwards), but these seem to operate at the same pace as the jazz and blues. The fine cast plays as a band, but individual actors get solos: Clarke Peters – sage-like cool customer Lester Freamon in The Wire – as a father and Mardi Gras Indian rebuilding his life in the water-damaged city; Wendell Pierce – Bunk in The Wire, although a New Orleans-based musician before that, who appeared “as himself”, a wise talking head, in Spike Lee’s epochal When The Levees Broke – as the definitive no-good wandering minstrel; Khandi Alexander – junkie Fran in Simon’s The Corner – as a bar owner in search of her brother; Steve Zahn as a white Trustafarian DJ whose love of indigenous culture seems entirely sincere (he’s seen encouraging live voodoo chicken sacrifice on the air!); John Goodman and Melissa Leo as the middle class white liberals, a teacher and a civil rights lawyer … all human life is here, going about its business, not always providing high-wire, or high-Wire, thrills, but that’s not in the nature of the beast. Profound truths about family and roots and social engineering are still told.

Some have been critical of Treme‘s pacing and lack of incident. But not all drama can be packed with events. I thought drama arose from the decisions of characters when faced with events, not from the events themselves. If so, Treme is pure drama. The event happened three months ago; these people are acting accordingly. The music interludes even give you time to think. Two episodes in, and I’m in.

Boardwalk is much more traditional and less jazzy, even though it is set in the jazz age. That Martin Scorsese is an executive producer, and directed the pilot, is apt, as each episode feels like a little movie. Not that little, actually. Again, not all critical reaction has been positive. Many find it beautifully assembled, but derivative, and calculated. It is, but who can resist returning to it, to find out what happens next?

Apparently Steve Buscemi – not a leading man by birth, but hey, guess what, one with Sopranos form (they look after their own in this universe) – is not that much like the Atlantic City treasurer Nucky Johnson his Nucky Thompson is based on, but nor, you have to assume, is Jonathan Rhys-Meyers’ Henry VIII an exact copy of the real king in The Tudors. It’s not important. As long as the stories are good. And the unfolding  twin-engine plotline of Prohibition-led, politically-exploited gangsterism and the seeds of romance in among the stony ground of sexual cruelty and opportunism (itself shaded by the suffragette and temperance movements) is enough to be going along with. Buscemi’s let’s-say unconventional allure to all women is partly explained away by power, but it’s more of a stretch to understand why Kelly Macdonald’s Margaret would have any time for him, despite an early kindness afforded her. That’s a bigger leap of faith for the viewer than the obviously computer-generated seafront. (Actually, echoing the food-poisoning “dream” episodes of The Sopranos, it does give the show an aesthetically pleasing unreality, a bit like the compound in Big Love.)

We’re six episodes into Boardwalk, so I have a more confident handle on it than I do as yet with Treme – my appreciation of which is at gut level – but I can feel the tensions rising. It’s totally HBO, in that its violence is unflinching (the vandalism of Jimmy’s girl with ambitions to become a starlet a particularly nasty moment), and its sex is raw and full-frontal, albeit usually between an ugly, immobile grunting man and a beautiful, shapely, composed woman – do the men who make these films feel more comfortable with the soft-porn exploitation of actresses’ bodies if the men are always presented in less than pretty form? That said, the interrelationships and intrigues and historical and social context would sit easily after 9pm on a terrestrial channel. I wonder if HBO programmes use the word “cunt” and flash their reproductive organs because they can?

This has not been an advertisement for Sky Atlantic. DVD box sets and illegal downloading are or will be available. (Treme is out in the UK in April; Boardwalk not yet listed.)

Don, don!

So, Mad Men Season 4 began last night – watched, one imagines, by hundreds on BBC4. For those of us who’ve been with it from the start (and I don’t mean that to sound superior; I’m very rarely in at the ground floor with the best US imports, as you’ll know from past experience with The Wire, Battlestar, Curb, 30 Rock and, most conspicuously, House), the current media hoo-hah seems a little after the event. In fact, if I’d been watching it for the very first time last night, not having seen it before, I might even have wondered what the fuss was all about. Sure, it looks pretty, and the 60s setting is interesting and the suits well cut, but who are these people with rods up their arses, and why should I care if they win this account or lose that one? Well, rare indeed is the TV show that can live up its own hype. For my money, and I speak as an early investor, the first episode of S4 was dazzlingly clever. My heart was in my mouth on more than one occasion, and if it hadn’t been so late, and I didn’t have that stupid Derren Brown hoax to watch, I could easily have watched it all over again. They’re so finely polished these episodes, it would be a shame to delete them. They go on giving.

In breaking up the old Sterling Cooper, gradually, throughout S3, and re-established them at the bottom of the food chain, in an office with only a fabled second floor, the creators have been able to a) position Don Draper at the very apex of the business, where he always belonged, with his own “D” in the company initials (as Peggy said, those who jumped ship with him, did so because they love him), and b) cut away some of the dead wood. I’m sure we’ll see Sal and Kinsey again, but for now, it’s nice to have the sprawling cast cut back. Joan, so central to the hype – or at least Christina Hendricks has been – barely spoke in this episode. Not that her presence was reduced. The look on her face when Don sent the “two-piece” clients packing spoke volumes. But again, if I’d believed the hype, I might have assumed that the statuesque Joan was the star of Mad Men. She’s not. Never was. But she always felt like an essential internal organ, and, like so many of the supporting characters, has been fleshed out immeasurably over three seasons. Oh, and she has much bigger breasts than most women on telly. Don’t know if that’s been coyly referred to at all? Oh.

God, to hack through the think-pieces that have proliferated in the run-up to this season premiere! My own Radio Times had Kirsty Lang sounding the horn for women’s lib, as promoted by Mad Men’s pivotal role in both compartmentalising and patronising its secretarial class, while the wives and typists sought to unshackle themselves from the hob and the ribbon; no less than David Hare took the angle in the Guardian that if this is indeed a “fancy soap”, it’s one whose “governing metaphor” is authenticity (“Mad Men, at its most basic, plugs into the theme of class which powers so much great American art”); Melanie Philips fed her own bloated ego by devoting an entire column to the fact that she likes Mad Men in the mad Mail, as if this is news enough to power a page of text – oh, and she gets in a dig at modern society’s political correctness and its “hollow heart”, and dreamily retro-fetishises the smoking, drinking and “rampant predatory sexism, racism and other prejudices.”

Here I am, adding to the chatter once again. If you watched the programme for the first time last night and wondered what all the fuss was about, then please do yourself a favour and get the first, second and third seasons somehow. Borrow them, whatever. Mad Men has earned what it’s doing in Season 4. But you have to appreciate the breakdown to understand and enjoy the rebirth. “Who is Don Draper?” is only a profound question if you think you already know the answer. But even those of us who think we do, we didn’t know he liked a bit of that, now, did we?

I’ve blogged about Mad Men here before, but only briefly. Once here, and another time here.

Exterminate them all!

MySuperSweet16

I sincerely hope you have never seen the television programme My Super Sweet 16. It’s on MTV and although it’s an American show – how could it not be? – it now exists in a xeroxed British version, called My Super Sweet 16 UK . If you haven’t stumbled upon it, please don’t seek it out unless you have a strong stomach. (If you do find it, please ensure you are not wearing shoes, as you may feel the urge to kick the television set in.)

MySuperSweet162

Here’s how it goes: a spoiled brat approaching their 16th birthday is corralled by the programme-makers into throwing a party to beat all previous parties. Now, who actually pays for all this is unclear. Certainly, the parents seem well off. The “narrative” of the show, which is typically murky for a “reality” format, involves the parents being ordered around by said brat, as preparations escalate, a dance routine is rehearsed and the centre of their universe becomes ever more demanding and appalling. If the programme is to be believed, 15-year-olds in America are all rich beyond their wildest dreams and interested only in designer labels, price tags and being “popular”, a quality that can be bought with the aforementioned designer labels. Now, fair enough, most of us are pretty shallow at 15, caught between childish urges and creeping hormonal discomfort, but then most of us don’t have access to blank cheques from daddy and an overinflated sense of our own importance. The Super Sweet 16 bash – heavily formulaic, if you watch more than one episode and you mustn’t - always involves a “theme”, a “performer” (ie. someone famous appearing to mime to a record and thus make the birthday boy/girl more popular with their squealing contemporaries), that dance routine, and a tantrum, when something fails to go right. Clearly, if you are going to organise a massive party, you don’t leave stuff to the last minute, but they always do, in order for the programme to introduce some jeopardy where there really is none. Omigod, the snow machine isn’t big enough! The Bollywood dance routine won’t fit on the stage! They can’t book Kayne West! (They all seem to want to book Kanye West.)

It’s trash telly, but it’s also deeply frightening that there are kids out there this materialistic and hollow, and parents out there so unable to provide love they substitute it with money, in the process creating a monster. I’m afraid I’ve seen a number of these things now, mostly the UK ones, and if someone told me that the whole thing was set up and that the parents and kids were played by actors, I wouldn’t be surprised. Charlie Brooker, whose Screenwipe shamefully brought the show to my attention, called it “an Al-Qaeda recruitment film,” and I can’t top that for accuracy. You stagger away from watching it with the cast-iron certainty that we are all going to hell.

Of course, it can be watched for morbid fun. Midway through, the party-thrower is helicoptered or chauffeured to a photogenic location, there to hand out the invites to a scrum of schoolfriends (and I use the word “friends” in the social networking sense). It is here that “reality” comes unmoored from reality. If there really are kids like this out there in the country I live in, I want them removed from the gene pool. This may sound harsh, but if these 15 year olds grow up thinking that wealth is everything, what are their eventual offspring going to grow up thinking? (A dimwit from Essex who conspired with her “friends” not to invite any “losers” or “ugly people” to her James Bond-themed party, to which a mercenary Akon turned up to mime his song, was given a bracelet that cost as much as a car.)

As ever, I blame the parents. I am reluctant to criticise parenting, not being one myself, but the cowed, unthinking, credit-card-swiping fools on this programme (all “new money”) have misunderstood what parenting actually is.

Getting from A to B

Thoroughly enjoyed seeing Strictly Come Dancing through to the end this year (despite the inordinate amount of filler required to pad out the final to well over two hours – how many times does anyone need to see that montage of the finalists’ previous dances and rehearsal-room tears?). It was only when they introduced last year’s winner, Mark Ramprakash, who I have confirmed is a cricketer, that I realised I must not have watched it last year. This will be because I was doing my radio show on a Saturday, I expect. I definitely watched bits, if not all of the first three series, because I remember Natasha Kaplinsky and Claire Sweeney and the elegant Zoe Ball and Julian Clary being voted back in despite his lack of ballroom dancing ability, proving that the public vote with their hearts, not their heads.

This last aspect – the “human factor”” – is, one assumes, why the men always do so well (I think it was an all-male final last year): the granny vote! Well, this year’s winner, Alesha Dixon, formerly of Mis-Teeq, was a deserving one. She was easily the best dancer of the run, and – so I learned over the weekend – not professionally trained, which I had assumed, her being a pop singer and all. Good on her. Matt Di Angelo should have been disqualified for looking like a scruffy bastard with that facial hair anyway.

The reason I mention the show, which I like for reasons unprofound, is that the final reached new levels of vacuity. Every contestant or friend/relative of contestant interviewed used the phrase “journey” to describe what had been some ballroom dance training. I’ve noticed this a lot in 2007. One can no longer have an experience; one must go on a “journey”. Thus, Alesha Dixon did not perform an increasing number of different dances on telly over 12 weeks; she went on an incredible “journey.” Equally, Matt Di Angelo, formely of EastEnders (although I’ve no idea who he played), did not perform an increasing number of different dances on telly over 12 weeks, only to be beaten on the night, he went on an amazing “journey”. (Presumably, his “journey” wasn’t as good as Alesha’s, since it ended in defeat on national television, but it was a “journey” nonetheless – a bit like going on holiday, which is also a “journey” and finding out your hotel doesn’t look like it did on the website.)

I think we can guess where this new obsession with “journeys” come from. The United States of America, perhaps? The world of therapy, perhaps? (I have absolutely nothing against therapy, by the way, and am in fact fascinated by human psychology, but when phrases like “journey” and “closure” seep into everyday language, I fear for the future efficacy of therapy itself. You’re going to get patients turning up and talking about their “journey” as if they know what they’re talking about.) It’s been weird since the death of Princess Diana and the first flush of success in the country of Jerry Springer, to see a nation mutate from monosyllabic emotionally constipated introverts to one of externalising, emotionally incontinent extroverts, where a problem aired is a problem halved, and if a confession of infidelity or sexual malpractice isn’t made on television, it hasn’t been made at all. Who knew we British would get so good at talking about how we feel? In many ways, this is healthy. But we are in danger of going too far, and bestowing unimportant, mundane, easily-explained experiences with psychological and emotional significance that they don’t merit.

Not everything we do is a “journey”. I’ve just wrapped some Christmas presents. It wasn’t a “journey”. It was a task. I went to Waitrose yesterday: now that was a journey. But not a “journey”. The year is coming to a close. It’s been an experience with ups and downs in it, a few changes, a few new things, a few old things – but it’s not necessary to analyse it as a whole and discover what kind of “journey” it’s been.

Well, I’m glad I got that off my chest. I needed closure on it.

2007AD

pied wagtail

Let’s just run through some of the best things of 2007, lest this potentially oppressive and wrongheaded time of year get us down. I’ve done singles and albums, but these are a few of the cultural and social equivalents of the life-affirming pied wagtail:

Books
Rumsfeld: An American Disaster by Andrew Cockburn
The Road by Cormac McCarthy – quite the most depressing novel I think I’ve ever read in my life, but compelling like no other
Fiasco by Thomas E Ricks
Al Qaeda by Jason Burke (came out in 2006 in hardback, but let’s not quibble) – I had this in my bag when I was stopped and searched last week under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The police officer didn’t see it.
Bit Of A Blur by Alex James
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan – short but sweet
The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein – actually I’m still in the process of reading this (it’s my bedside read, which is often the slowest of my on-the-go books, as I tend to go to bed to go to sleep), but it’s proving a powerful join-the-dots exercise
Shepperton Babylon by Matthew Sweet
The Damned Utd by David Peace – another oldie, but I’m catching up with this exciting British-born, Tokyo-based writer, and enjoying GB84 at the moment
Imperial Life In The Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran – also halfway through, but considering how much other reading I’ve done on the Iraq war this year, it adds a refreshing perspective by focusing on one aspect of the fiasco
Believe In The Sign by Mark Hodkinson – he sent me a copy of it, as he’s a self-publisher, which is in itself admirable, and I get sent a lot of books on a nostalgia/memoir theme which aren’t always worth reading, but this one, about supporting Rochdale in the 70s, is
Tescopoly by Andrew Simms
The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright
Jamie At Home by Jamie Oliver – a cook book I’ve actually used

Films (because they come out on DVD so quickly now, some of these are already available on DVD, but if I start including DVDs we’ll end up with last year’s list of best films, and there will be no demarcation between one year and the next – and then where will we be?!)
The Lives Of Others – a tie for Film Of 2007 with …
Control
Tell No One
Hot Fuzz
The Bourne Ultimatum
Letters From Iwo Jima
Zodiac
Sicko
Michael Clayton
3:10 To Yuma
Knocked Up
This Is England
Half Nelson

TV programmes
Cranford, BBC1 – thought I’d throw something homegrown in at the top, before we turn into the 51st State of Televisual America
The Mighty Boosh, BBC3 – haven’t had time to write about the third series yet, but I think it may be their best; certainly their most cohesive and together, and the episode about Howard’s birthday was almost Seinfeldian in the way the plot strands met up at the end
Ghosts Of Abu Ghraib, C4
Comics Britannia, BBC4
Heroes, Sci-Fi, then BBC2
The Sopranos, E4, C4 – the final Season was elegiac, slow, confident and magnificent; also, not in any way predictable
The Wire, FX – in my opinion, Season Four was as good as any that have gone before, right up there with Season Two
Californication, Five – I note that this is not everybody’s cup of tea and I don’t watch it for the scenes of a sexual nature, it’s Duchovny who carries it
Entourage, ITV2 – can’t believe I’m so late with this: loving Season Three, and now into Season One on DVD
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
The Riches, Virgin 1 – truly, an acquired taste, but one I’ve been more than prepared to acquire – unlike Dexter and 30 Rock and Ugly Betty, which failed to ring the appropriate bells and made Sky+ life a little easier to manage
Britz, C4 – not perfect, but as good as way as any to prove that C4′s still got it, drama-wise, in its 25th birthday year
Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, C4 – can’t watch The F Word, but this is Gordon doing something useful
Monarchy, BBC1 – documentary series of the year
Malcolm & Barbara, ITV1 – one-off documentary of the year; its images may never leave me (what a shame it was entangled in the “fakery” rows – a piece of publicity-chasing that should have been beneath everyone involved)
Strictly Come Dancing, BBC1 – the crown prince of talent shows, it shouldn’t have worked, but it does, chiefly because it’s about ability and learning and self-improvement, and these are not bad things to find in a BBC programme at this difficult time. Unlike Big Brother, which I watched all the way through this year, witnessing some people ballroom dancing for coins and compliments does not make me feel dirty afterwards
Saxondale, BBC2 – sitcom improves in second series: not an easy trick to pull off
Jamie At Home, C4
[I'm bound to have forgotten a few TV shows, so chuck a few more into the pot]

Live events
Carter USM reunion, Brixton Academy – specifically, singing along at the tops of our lungs to The Impossible Dream
Marcus Brigstocke & Friends, Canizaro Park, Wimbledon – part of a local festival it brought together an amazing lineup of Brigstocke, Jeff Green, Rich Hall, Adam Hills and compere Shappi Khorsandi: weird layout, constant drizzle, it being the summer, but a fine crowd and a good time had by all
Aracde Fire, Brixton Academy – do I only go to gigs at Brixton Academy? It seems so; a quasi-religious occasion
Swan Lake, English National Ballet, Royal Albert Hall – My First Ballet, and a minor revelation, not least the fantastic percussion of toes on wood, which I wasn’t expecting
Porgy & Bess, Savoy Theatre – made doubly thrilling for the unexpected chance to see Clarke Peters (he plays Lester Freamon on The Wire) live
Guys & Dolls, Piccadilly Theatre
Live Earth, BBC – only joking, it was shit beyond belief; I actually preferred Concert For Diana

Highs
Winning the RTS Breakthrough award and the Rose D’Or for the unfashionable sitcom Not Going Out (plus two untelevised British Comedy Awards)
Appearing on Richard & Judy for the first – and, it seems, last – time
Becoming Mark Kermode’s regular understudy on News 24 (next slot: January 4)
Attracting goldfinches, blue tits, great tits, coal tits, robins, greenfinches, starlings and the occasional woodpecker to my bird feeders (with the odd wren pecking around on the ground)
The lost child benefit CDs and the fact that this howling error may have torpedoed Labour’s hopes of bringing in ID cards
All those pheromones I released at the gym
The Day The Music Died
Cancelling MySpace
Ignoring Facebook

Alright, just for balance:

Lows
Constant headaches from orchestrated lobbying and cowardly abuse on this blog
BT meltdown
Losing my old laptop in flooding (although I like my new one better)
The BBC phone-in “scandals” and the glee with which certain quarters of the media met the news of resultant job losses (including that of my friend Leona)
Driving through the West End of London after 1am, following stints on 6 Music, and realising just how many businesses leave their lights on all night – it really is business as usual isn’t it?
Deciding to stop taking the Guardian on grounds of its conservative views on medicine, then having to go back as the Independent was just boring – ah well! So much for the principled stand!
Having the blog described by someone called Stella on the 6 Music message boards as “lots of poorly-written TV reviews” – actually, this made me smile!
Anticlimactic publication of That’s Me In The Corner, accompanied by almost no reviews and through-the-floor sales (but thanks to those who sought it out in darkened corners of bookshops and actually enjoyed it)

High/Lows
Leaving 6 Music in March after five years. I was sad to go, but at the same time it was liberating, not having to project unbiassed BBC views any more, and as for getting my weekends back – sweet!

Happy Christmas and may your God go with you!

As unseen on TV

British Comedy Awards dog

So, wish us luck tonight at the first ever untelevised British Comedy Awards! Just my luck to finally get a nomination in the year that ITV drops the show due to the “voting irregularities” that are still under investigation after this summer’s wave of premium rate phoneline scandals. Anyway, for your information, these are the nominations:

[NB: I was going to put an asterisk after the nominee I want to win, but I started doing this and it was a flawed project, as of course I want Not Going Out to win, and in some of the categories I am not fussed one way or the other, and I've only seen half an episode of Gavin & Stacey, so can't really judge its merits. Instead I've gone out on a limb and put the asterisk next to the one I think will win ...]

BEST TELEVISION COMEDY ACTOR 2007
DAVID MITCHELL
Peep Show (Objective Productions for Channel 4)
JACK DEE *
Lead Balloon (Open Mike for BBC Four)
KEVIN BISHOP
Star Stories (Objective Productions for Channel 4)
LEE MACK
Not Going Out (Avalon for BBC One)

BEST TELEVISION COMEDY ACTRESS 2007
CATHERINE TATE
The Catherine Tate Show (Tiger Aspect for BBC Two)
LIZ SMITH
The Royal Family: The Queen of Sheba (Granada Productions for BBC One)
RUTH JONES *
Gavin & Stacey/Saxondale (Baby Cow for BBC Three/Baby Cow for BBC Two)

BEST COMEDY ENTERTAINMENT PERSONALITY 2007
ALAN CARR & JUSTIN LEE COLLINS
The Friday Night Project (Princess Productions for Channel 4)
SIMON AMSTELL *
Never Mind the Buzzcocks (Talkback Thames for BBC Two)
STEPHEN FRY
QI (Talkback Thames for BBC Two)

BEST MALE COMEDY NEWCOMER 2007
JAMES CORDEN *
Gavin & Stacey (Baby Cow for BBC Three)
MATHEW HORNE
Gavin & Stacey (Baby Cow for BBC Three)
MATT BERRY
The IT Crowd (Talkback Thames for Channel 4)

BEST FEMALE COMEDY NEWCOMER 2007
JOANNA PAGE *
Gavin & Stacey (Baby Cow for BBC Three)
RUTH JONES
Gavin & Stacey (Baby Cow for BBC Three)
SHARON HORGAN
Rob Brydon’s Annually Retentive/Pulling (Jones the Film for BBC Three/Silver River for BBC Three)

BEST NEW BRITISH TELEVISION COMEDY (Scripted) 2007
GAVIN & STACEY
Baby Cow for BBC Three
LEAD BALLOON *
Open Mike for BBC Four
NOT GOING OUT
Avalon for BBC One

BEST TELEVISION COMEDY 2007
GAVIN & STACEY *
Baby Cow for BBC Three
PEEP SHOW
Objective Productions for Channel 4
STAR STORIES
Objective Productions for Channel 4

BEST NEW COMEDY ENTERTAINMENT PROGRAMME 2007
AL MURRAY HAPPY HOUR *
Avalon for ITV1
FONEJACKER
Hat Trick for E4
THE GRAHAM NORTON SHOW
So Television for BBC Two

BEST COMEDY ENTERTAINMENT PROGRAMME 2007
HARRY HILL’S TV BURP
Avalon Television for ITV1
NEVER MIND THE BUZZCOCKS *
Talkback Thames for BBC Two
THE FRIDAY NIGHT PROJECT
Princess Productions for Channel 4

BEST LIVE STAND UP 2007
ALAN CARR
DARA O’BRIAIN *
SIMON AMSTELL

BEST INTERNATIONAL COMEDY SHOW 2007
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM *
HBO Entertainment for More 4
THE OFFICE: AN AMERICAN WORKPLACE
NBC Universal for ITV2
THE SIMPSONS
Twentieth Century Fox for Sky One / Channel 4

BEST COMEDY FILM 2007
BORAT
20th Century Fox
HOT FUZZ *
Universal
THE SIMPSONS MOVIE
20th Century Fox

Of course, these things are never an exact science, so the fact that Peep Show won last year doesn’t necessarily mean it, or David Mitchell, won’t win again this year, although it does seem a bit old now. Gavin & Stacey is such a shoo-in for Best TV Comedy, surely that leaves the field open a bit in Best New TV Comedy.

(I have been once before, way back in, I think, 1997, when myself and Stuart’s Movie Club was on, and the same production company produced Lily Savage, so we were on Paul O’Grady’s table. The main thing I remember, apart from Buster Merryfield tripping up as he walked past our table, is that at the after-show, the Chuckle Brothers said a confident and warm hello to Stuart and I, even though we’d never met them before. Maybe comedians are nicer than you thought.)