A piece of Telly Addict that will be forever England this week, from the thoroughly English (certainly Anglican) Rev on BBC2; the thoroughly American-English Martin Amis’ England on BBC4; the thoroughly British, although surprisingly European A Very British Renaissance with the fantastic Dr James Fox on BBC2 (promoted, one might say, from BBC4); the thoroughly English Louis Theroux, who’s moved to LA and made LA Stories for … BBC2; and, not at all English, but still British, and with English subtitled, 35 Diwrnod, the latest in Welsh-language noir from S4C, which is available, subtitled, on their website, if you can’t access it via Sky or other satellites.
I’m looking back on this week’s Telly Addict to what might be regarded as “quite a night” for BBC2: Wednesday, when Line Of Duty reached its much-talked-about and much-watched conclusion after six weeks of internally investigative cop intrigue, and was directly followed by a brand new comedy, W1A, specifically pitched and designed to take the royal piss out of the BBC. This, you might argue, is what the BBC does best. Also: The Widower, Jeff Pope’s latest true-life murder tale on ITV, where he works; Undercover Doctor – Cure Me I’m Gay with Dr Christian Jessen playing the gay Louis Theoux on C4; and two 30th anniversary specials, Arena: Whatever Happened To Spitting Image? on BBC2 and The Miners’ Strike And Me on ITV.
Sorry, failed to announce last week’s Telly Addict (and the one before) on this blog, due to crashing deadlines, so here, in the traditional manner, is the alert for what is, in code, TA145, that’s the 145th weekly TV review I’ve done since April 2011. Coming up to its third birthday! And still basically dancing the same jig: what I have done watched on the telly during the week previous, discussed, with myself, in a manner than cannot meaningfully be transcribed and run as text on the Guardian website, despite constant, whining calls for this service. (The same folk must often complain to a dog that they’d rather it was a cat.) Here we go then: Mind The Gap on BBC2, a nuanced look at the way London sucks talent and money away from “the rest of the country” from Evan Davis; Gogglebox, of course, on C4, although rationed doses for this third series, as as not to do myself out of a job; Shetland on BBC1, a detective drama almost as bleak as Hinterland; the delightful Great Canal Journeys with Prunella Scales and Timothy West on More4; the misleadingly titled Michael McIntyre Chat Show on BBC1; and a clip from Astronauts: Living In Space on C4. Normal service resumed.
I doubt I’ve ever watched as much TV as I did in 2013. Self-evidently, it’s because I’ve been reviewing TV throughout the year, again, thanks to the Guardian’s continued patronage of Telly Addict, which has now reached its 134th edition. There’s a special review of the year up now, although, in the heat of trying to put together a definitive list, I forgot to mention The Returned, which is something of an omission. I’ll provide a Top 10 here, as it’s easy enough to siphon out the highest echelon from another quality-packed year. But after that, they’re in no order. All entries here are, in my fallible opinion, what the piece of furniture in the corner was made for.
1. Utopia, C4*
2. Breaking Bad, Netflix
3. Ripper Street, BBC1
4. The Returned, C4
5. Louie, Fox
6. Parks & Recreation, BBC4
7. Gogglebox, C4
8. Fresh Meat, C4
9. Game Of Thrones, Sky Atlantic
10. Broadchurch, ITV
Friday Night Lights, Sky Atlantic
The Walking Dead, Fox
Sound Of Cinema, BBC4
The Fall, BBC2
Y Gwyll, S4C
The Job Lot, ITV
In The Flesh, BBC3
The Village, BBC1
Boardwalk Empire, Sky Atlantic
Stewart Lee’s Alternative Comedy Experience, Comedy Central
The Wrong Mans, BBC2
Bates Motel, Universal
Hannibal, Sky Living
The Newsroom, Sky Atlantic
The Good Wife, More4
Fried Chicken Shop, C4
The Route Masters, BBC2
David Bowie: Five Years, BBC2
Family Tree, BBC2
The Great British Bake Off, BBC2
Mad Men, Sky Atlantic
It’s Kevin, BBC2
London Irish, C4
Oliver Stone’s Untold History Of The United States, Sky Atlantic
The United States Of Television, BBC2
Veep, Sky Atlantic
I feel certain I’ll have missed essential titles off this already fairly swollen list, so let me know if I have.
*Having named Utopia as my TV show of the year, it would be rude of me not to provide a link to it at the Channel 4 Store website, as Channel 4 DVD were kind enough to send me a copy just before Christmas when I merely asked them, via Twitter, where I might buy a physical copy at short notice (having failed to find one in my local HMV). For that, they deserve a link. It was re-watching the whole thing between Christmas and New Year that just edged it past Ripper Street in my final list. It was close run.
Tomorrow night, Tuesday, September 24, The Wrong Mans explodes onto BBC2, with only its own Hollywood-style trailer to beat. You can hardly have failed to notice that it’s one of many attempts on the popular imagination of Mr James Corden this autumn, which has also included the Toronto Film Festival premieres of imminent Billy Elliot-style Paul Potts biopic One Chance, in which he stars, and an American romcom Can A Song Save A Life?, in which he has a supporting role, plus a seventh run of A League Of Their Own on Sky1 as we speak. Of these, you get the feeling that, for the mutliple-stringed-bow-wielding Corden, The Wrongs Mans has the most riding on it, personally, and for self-evident reasons.
It’s a comedy thriller, in six parts, a feat that’s rarely attempted. A half-hour comedy that comes on like a Hollywood blockbuster – thanks to the resourceful acumen of director Jim Field Smith, and an injection of US cash from the Netflix-like Hulu. It stars Corden and co-writer Horrible Histories’ Mathew Baynton as two lowly Bracknell Council employees (actually, one actually works as a post boy for a company outsourced by the council) who get sucked into a dangerous underworld plot after Baynton picks up a discarded phone after a car crash in the opening minutes of Episode One that was make-or-break for the production. The pair almost talked themselves out of the expensive stage direction, second-guessing that it would prove a barrier to being commissioned. (It’s possible they’re being coy here – my fervent hope is that someone who co-wrote and starred in Gavin & Stacey has a bit of auto-clout in BBC pitch meetings.)
I’ve seen the first two episodes and they work on all of the levels they’re supposed to work on. They’re funny and thrilling. The action and jeopardy are real, the reactions of the clownish lead characters are comedic, but no matter how stupid they are, their decisions drive the plot. It works. When I say I’ve seen the first two episodes, I’ve seen them three times, because I hosted a preview in Edinburgh at the TV Festival last month, and a follow-up at Bafta in London at the start of this month. The pics above and below were taken by official Bafta photographer Jamie Simonds and reflect the grandeur and high cast attendance levels of the latter gig. (James couldn’t get the day off of filming Into The Woods, the Hollywood musical shooting in Pinewood and starring Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp, and sadly missed out on Edinburgh.)
For Bafta, we had Jim Field Smith, co-star Sarah Soleman, Baynton and Corden – with co-stars Nick Moran and Emelia Fox, script editor Jeremy Dyson and urbane BBC exec Mark Freeland in the audience, among other key crew – and it was a fine evening. I’ll give a few highlights of the conversation we had, but your best bet is to download or stream the Bafta podcast, which is available here. (There are plenty of others here on the Bafta Guru mini-site, too, including one from July with the cast and creators of Chickens.)
Corden and Baynton first met on the set of Telstar: The Joe Meek Story (a fine British music industry film, directed by Nick Moran, who challenged the three stars it is awarded in the Radio Times when I met him in the bar afterwards and proudly proclaimed it “a four star film”), but they came up with The Wrong Mans – terrible title, but you get used to it – when working together on Gavin & Stacey, where Baynton played Deano.
Corden: “It was at that time when everyone was starting to watch those American box sets – 24 and so on … TV with higher production values and where the stakes seemed to be a lot higher. We wondered why no one’s trying to do that in a a half-hour comedy. We’d also been to see Burn After Reading, the Coen Brothers film, and both really liked it and thought it was very funny and thought, ‘We should have a go at doing this.'”
“We had this great opening, and we wrote this script on spec. We didn’t pitch it as an idea to anyone, we just wrote 35 pages … We put in very specific details, like the fact that the car spins three times, because we wanted anyone who was reading it, a commissioner or anyone, to not be left in doubt as to what it would need to be made.”
Baynton: “Some of the stuff that you assume is expensive, isn’t. What is expensive is time.”
Field Smith: “With that car stunt we had one go at it. If that car doesn’t flip the way it’s rigged to flip, then we’re reverting to Plan B, which is a car skidding out of shot and a hubcap rolling back, which was exactly what we wanted to avoid. We tried not to make choices that are comedic choices. With so many actors coming and going some of them would show up and not necessarily know what the mood is. There were a couple of moments where I’d have to go, ‘No. Wrong show. We’re not making Naked Gun.'”
While BBC2 is screening the episodes in traditional weekly instalments, Hulu is releasing all the episodes online at the same time so if you are resident in the US, or operate on the wrong side of the law, you can binge on it like it’s House Of Cards or Orange Is The New Black or something equally hip and glamorous. Baynton says: “That’s sort of how it was written. We want people to get to the end of the episode and go, ‘Oh, I’ve got to watch the next one!'”
I suspect you will.
I must admit, I’ve loved hanging out with the Wrong Mans cast, execs and crew. I’d been dying to meet Mat Baynton ever since he played Charles Dickens as Morrissey on Horrible Histories, and although we were denied James Corden in Edinburgh, he compensated in London by hanging around afterwards for drinks when, as a fairly new dad with a wife and a two-year-old son and someone who had been in Pinewood all day, he would have been forgiven for hopping it early. It’s been a while since he shook off the prima donna reputation that dogged him around the time of Horne & Corden (I’ve met Matt Horne a number of times too, and he’s an unassumingly nice chap, too), and if anything, with nothing to prove after One Man, Two Guvnors and its Tony-magnet success on Broadway, Corden has nothing to prove. And yet he behaves as if he has. I don’t believe this is an act.
Mind you, he is a good actor. I’ve admired his work since I saw his film debut in Shane Meadows’ TwentyFourSeven when he was 18 (he played Frank Harper’s kid Tonka). He’s continually played his weight to his advantage and even though he’s slimmed down, it’s his physique next to Baynton’s wiry frame that makes their chemistry so comedic. There’s something Laurel and Hardy about them. Having been involved in the show’s promotion within the industry, I feel quite attached to it, but if I’d never met anybody connected with it and just seen the first two episodes, I’d say: watch it. It’s right on so many levels.
I love it when an accidental plan comes together, as it did with this week’s Telly Addict. It begins with Blackout, C4’s “what-if” dramumentary about a massive power cut and the inevitable slide into anarchy and death; we follow with Peaky Blinders, BBC2’s major landmark new drama – you can tell, they’ve commissioned six whole episodes – a period gangster saga set in Birmingham in 1919 when it was very dark; I mark the satisfying denouement of What Remains on BBC1, but avoid spoilers by referring you back to the body discovered in Episode 1 in the dark loft; Bates Motel on Universal, the noirish prequel to Psycho, is also pretty dingy, its neon sign emerging from the darkness; and there my random theme collapses, in time for two stories of the Jews: The Story Of The Jews by Simon Schama on BBC2, and Robert Peston Goes Shopping, a history of British retail, also on BBC2; oh, and a lovely clip from Press Preview on Sky News last week of three professional news people corpsing like schoolchildren.
We must sit on our hands and address the return of The X-Factor to ITV this week on Telly Addict, the Roman Empire of TV formats – even though I only managed to sit through ten minutes of it; on a more progressive note, HBO’s The Newsroom also returns to Sky Atlantic; the houseshare whodunit What Remains proves a welcome addition to Sunday nights on BBC1; Celebrity Masterchef goes synch crazy with the music and the cookery; Ben Miller meets His Hero Tony Hancock in My Hero on BBC2; and Chickens on Sky1 gets a quick mention because I rather like it.