See you this Tuesday

This is confusing. The most recent Telly Addict went live on Friday afternoon. And here’s a new one? Already? Yes, the people upstairs at the Guardian have decided to spread out their video content across the week, so that it doesn’t bottleneck at the weekends. We negotiated Monday as a new write-and-record date, with a view to “publishing” on a Tuesday morning at around 10am. This will hopefully give us a better chance of being picked up and, even better, viewed. (User numbers predictably drop off at weekends.) Due to the “short week” (ie. the weekend), I have reviewed four comedies that are currently on – and the exquisite Hunderby on Sky Altantic, which has just finished – so, eyes down for the multi-award-winning Fresh Meat, which has returned for its second series to C4; Modern Family, whose fourth season has just started on Sky1; and Nurse Jackie, whose fourth season has just started on Sky Atlantic. If you are a Sky refusenik, then just enjoy the clips of some of the best comedy on telly at the moment, in my opinion. And put Tuesday in your diary. (The Great British Bake Off final will be reviewed then, safely after the event, so that I can actually name the winner and not enrage spoiler-alert whiners!)


Gates open

People often ask me what it takes to write for TV. I’ll tell you: patience. Actually, patience and perseverance. It was in December 2009 that I was first approached by the exec producer of what would eventually become Gates, a sitcom put into development by Sky. (The series was actually commissioned, if I remember rightly, in April 2011.) Although the kernel of an idea was in place at that stage – a comedy about the comings and goings at the school gates, with particular emphasis on the parents, rather than the kids – the nuts and bolts were yet to be assembled. The producer, Laurence, gathered half a dozen writers from various quarters of the TV firmament and sat them around his kitchen table in February 2010. It’s OK to name us all now, as the show is finally ready to air, next month, on Sky Living – me, Abi Wilson (Jam & Jerusalem), Richard Preddy (Green Wing), Dan Sefton (Holby City) and stand-up Ava Vidal, with Jennifer Saunders at all of the development meetings and acting as script editor on the pilot. Perhaps you’d like to see the very first one-minute trailer? If so, it’s here.

At those early kitchen-table meetings, we grew the entire cast of characters from scratch and created a number of storylines for them. These were then honed into episodes. With the first script written, using a complicated system of farming out various scenes/characters to various writers having all pitched in on the structure in group sessions, we cast for a read-through and the first episode was performed to the bigwigs from Sky. Although very few of the actors survived from that first temporary casting, we were able to forge on with a full series of six once we had the green light, and the final cast were assembled in time for a summer shoot, on location in North London.

Among those cast were Tom Ellis, Joanna Page, Sue Johnston, Will Andrews (seen, incidentally, on Mid Morning Matters on Sky last week on an exercise bike), Nick Mohammed, Catherine Shepherd (seen only the other night on the final Twenty Twelve), Tony Gardner, Ella Kenyon and Adam Deacon. Casting is an inexact science, buffeted by availability and timing, but the cards did seem to fall very well for Gates. I would say that. But there you go.

The cast and crew attended a screening of the first couple of episodes at the end of last year, and then the waiting game began. We learned, to our initial chagrin, that Gates was being held back until the autumn and this felt like an eternity away at the time. But the wait is over. Sky Living is a more “female-friendly” version of Sky One, if I may roll out the virtual flipchart for a moment. As such, I can see why Gates has been chosen to premiere there, as it has a strong female voice, with a female producer (Izzy), female writers and a female script editor for the first episode. (It was commissioned by a female, too!) I’m happy to have played a male part in it. It was like a family. No, really. A family under siege, obviously.

I’m really looking forward to Gates entering the public domain. We all put a lot of work into it, and to have been involved at the ground floor gives an enormous sense of satisfaction. Equally, it’s good for the ego to have worked in a team. No single episode belongs to a single writer – we all worked on all of them, to varying degrees. A lot of what I did was essentially editing, but that’s fine by me. It couldn’t be more different from working solo on Mr Blue Sky. It’s far easier to skulk individually away from a collaborative effort if people don’t like it, or it fails. I don’t anticipate this happening with Gates. As soon as I have the exact TX date, I’ll Tweet the arse out of it.

This is the blog entry I wrote during the shoot last summer, when we all believed that Gates would air in the New Year. There are some nice, esoteric location pics, and a bit more detail about the production, should you be on a course, or something. (I didn’t realised I’d used the same punning title.)

This just in: Episode 1 airs at 8.30 on Tuesday August 14.

I Skyed it

Apologies to all Sky refuseniks, as this week, I am forced by professional obligation to cover three whole programmes on Telly Addict that are only available to subscribers to the $3.76bn-contributing eighth of News Corp that provides satellite television. At least you can see a few clips, eh? We’re talking about Sky Atlantic’s big Monday Night Is Comedy Night launch, which includes Alan Partridge: Welcome To The Places Of My Life, Sky Atlantic; Veep, Sky Atlantic; and Walking & Talking, Sky Atlantic. I’ve also subjected myself to Man V Food on Dave; and its new sequel Man V Food Nation on The Good Food Channel. However, terrestrially, we have the terrific new cop show Line Of Duty on BBC2, so stop complaining, and, if you refuse to give money to Sky, I hope you didn’t pay to see Prometheus, which also goes to Rupert Murdoch, because News Corp owns 20th Century Fox, which forms a $6.9bn-contributing sixth of his media empire.

After Henry V

The new Telly Addict is available in the usual place, but in a new shirt (thanks). As an antidote to the Jubilee glut on television, I offer you: The Bafta Television Awards on BBC1; Panorama: Stadiums Of Hate on BBC1; How To Be England Manager on BBC3; Game Of Thrones on Sky Atlantic; and Hit & Miss on Sky Atlantic. (Sorry about the double dose of Sky Atlantic if you haven’t got Sky, but the former is really only a clip, featuring the great Peter Dinklage having his Henry V moment.) Send her victorious etc.

Look! A Mitford!

This week’s Telly Addict – in which you will see that I have eschewed the now-traditional jacket to reflect this glorious weather – contains no adult language whatsoever and no scenes that viewers may find disturbing unless a man fishing some soiled underpants out of a public toilet cistern at Chatsworth House falls under that heading. Despite the kind comment under last week’s complaining that the Guardian clearly doesn’t “train” its “journos” how to present TV properly (idiot: I’m not a Guardian “journo”!), I soldier on and amateurishly review Chatsworth on BBC1; Starlings on Sky1; and Silk on BBC1. Ideally, interested parties will discuss the shows under review. Alternatively, they can criticise my technique and question my professionalism, in the mistaken belief that watching Telly Addict is compulsory and not voluntary.

Anything good on?

This week’s Telly Addict is up a day early due to it being Good Friday tomorrow. In it, I am assessing Game Of Thrones on Sky Atlantic; Words of Captain Scott on ITV1; Damien Hirst: First Look on C4; and Silent Witness, season 16(!) on BBC1.

It was lovely to see the Guardian put us on the main homepage last week, and with a nice new picture they took of me inside an old telly. I dig that.

Oh, and at the top is a shot I took this morning of what it looks like to be me, doing Telly Addict. Exclusive! Have a nice Easter, even if you are not a Christian.


Telly Addict number 46 – not that anybody’s counting – is up. This week, I’m all over Richard Bacon’s The Anti-Social Network on BBC3; the new one from Heroes creator Tim Kring, Touch, on Sky1; and Hit The Road Jack on C4. Can’t believe we’ve been doing this for almost a year. (When The Apprentice and Four Rooms returned this week, it was like Groundhog Day. I’m not watching The Apprentice this year, I’m afraid, but Four Rooms has yet to jump the shark. I might review series two next week, although I’m duty bound to cover The Voice and Britain’s Got Talent too, and Titanic, and maybe the final TV Burp?) I can’t imagine why you’d want to, but if you’re new to these weekly antics, all 46 are archived here.

Sky sports

Having emerged from the full-on, round-the-clock, seven-days-a-week flotation tank of Mr Blue Sky, I am now in the luxurious position – for the first time since Christmas – to occasionally write blog entries about films and telly for the simple pleasure of doing so, which I’m sure is something I used to do?

First, then, let us consider two US imports, both showing on Sky Atlantic (sorry about that, Sky refuseniks), one brand new, the other six years old, both linked by one defining fact. They make me interested in a world of sport that I have zero interest in.

The first is Luck, which comes from HBO, top-heavy with talent from the movies, and created by TV deity David Milch (NYPD Blue, Deadwood – not that I’ve ever seen Deadwood; you may start ordering me to rectify this … now). I am not big on sport in general. I was obsessed by football as a kid, mainly in the 1970s, and could name every ground of every club in the first division, and draw its club badge from memory. I drifted away from it in the 80s, when films and post-punk music filled my head. I’ve never been that interested in other sports. And I’ve certainly never cared about horse racing. Luck, now at its fourth episode, is set in the world of horse racing, and in the subculture of gambling that emanates from it.

Not only do I not care about it as a sport, as an animal lover I am alarmed by the cruel way in which racehorses are treated, and dispatched when injured. I believe I am right in saying that five horses died at the recent Cheltenham Gold Cup? (Apparently, the British Horse Racing Authority say that with 90,000 horses running a year in Britain, this is a minimal fatality rate.) But great drama does not rely upon an audience’s foreknowledge of, nor participation in, a specific field. It should educate and enlighten. Luck does this in dazzling, tactile style. From the moment Michael Mann’s first episode started, we were dropped into a rich ecosystem of trainers, owners, riders, agents, gamblers and gangsters – not to mention animals.

It looks incredible. Even an average HBO series looks as good as any Hollywood movie, and this is above-average. It takes you from the stands onto the track and then behind the scenes, into the stables, and to the places where deals are done, and horses are traded. It then leaks out into the bars and hotels where business continues while the horses sleep. With talent like Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, Dennis Farina, Kevin Dunn and John Ortiz on show – not to mention Joan Allen, who’s just been introduced, and Michael Gambon, who’s promised – it’s human drama of a particularly salty type. Mumbled? Yes, Luck is one of those shows for grown-ups, like The Wire or Generation Kill, that speaks its own language and assumes you are alert and patient enough to catch up.

Because of the initial impenetrability of the world it inhabits (and we are looking here at people who appear to do nothing but think about horses – except perhaps Hoffman’s mobster, who thinks chiefly about money), it took me until Episode 3 to truly click with it. But it was a revelation. You have to work at a series like this. But what payback.

So, my Saturday nights are now illuminated and clouded with steaming equine breath by Luck. Friday nights, which actually occur on Tuesday nights, are lit up by Friday Night Lights, an NBC series about high school football which ran for five seasons from 2006 and is now showing, box set style, on Sky Atlantic, having previously been patchily and lovelessly shown on ITV4. Here, again, is a show about sport, and about fanatical local devotion to sport, which is a world away from my own, but which has hooked me right in.

Created by Peter Berg – it began with a movie of the same name – it takes a factual basis and fictionalises it in the made-up small town of Dillon, Texas, where the local Panthers are less a team, more a way of life and death. Regardless of the sport, which still strikes me as lumpy and brutish and detrimentally constructed around intervals, this presents a further layer of devotion that’s foreign to me. But it’s conveyed with such warmth, understanding and empathy, again, you’d be hard-hearted not to get drawn in.

Kyle Chandler plays the new coach, whose reputation hinges on the score of a game at the end of each week, and among the stars of his young team are Taylor Kitsch as the Keanu Reeves-like airhead Tim Riggins, Scott Porter’s paralysed Jason Street and Zach Gilford’s chorus-girl ingenue Matt Saracen. Connie Britton is exceptional, too, as the Coach’s wife. It’s a soap – a description I used on this week’s Telly Addict and which drew some ire from fans of the show, although I would never use “soap” as a qualitative term. FNL is a show that centres around a whole town’s worth of characters and traces their interconnected lives on a weekly basis, which is pure soap opera. And it’s sublime stuff, fluidly filmed in hand-held style, and run on the natural authenticity of partly improvised dialogue and blocking.

I love these two shows, albeit FNL with a more romantic devotion and not a single caveat, which can’t be said for Luck, which will never even reach its second season, let alone its fifth. Either way, I find myself currently caring about the result of fictional horse races and football games.

As for the unhappy fate of Luck: I was naturally horrified to find that two horses were actually euthanised after injury in the making of its pilot and one subsequent episode, although in many ways, the horses were just racing for the cameras, as they would be if racing for real – neither is crueller than the other, you might argue. But after a recent third injury, which also resulted in an animal being put down, Luck basically cancelled itself, with regret, and with representatives from PETA fuming that their dire warnings were not heeded.

Animals can never be categorised as “actors”, as they do not volunteer. You can train them, but they are always working animals, not thespians. And no worker, human or otherwise, should be put in danger.

So, Luck is about to run out, and FNL has already finished (albeit with around 70 episodes yet to air – yippee). It would be better if both shows were broadcast on a free-to-air channel, but Friday Night Lights is already boxed, up to Season 3 at least for Region 2. It really is – as fans have been insisting for some time – one of the modern greats, and worth seeking out.

You won’t see me at Cheltenham any time soon, but then nor would you see me volunteering for the army, and I love dramas about world wars. The best can take you somewhere you haven’t been.


This week’s Telly Addict looks at White Heat, BBC2; The Sarah Millican Television Programme, BBC2; and Friday Night Lights, currently showing from the beginning on Sky Altantic. Apparently, in a Guardian editorial meeting my name came up in a positive light for the way I deal with people in the comments section under Telly Addict. Hey, all I do is enter into a dialogue with anybody who’s being friendly and discussing the TV shows, and hold back from typing the first thing that comes into my head when a troll has an anonymous pop.

Please be upstanding

This week’s Telly Addict, once again published by the Guardian on a Friday evening – so much better that way! – covers the Oscars on Sky Movies, Catholics on BBC4, Pramface on BBC3 and The Ronnie Wood Show on Sky Arts. (I love the comment left underneath on the webpage: “Andrew, you reviewed The Oscars not Sky’s presentation of The Oscars.” Yes, I did. You got me there. It’s a crying shame I didn’t review the UK pundits sat with Alex Zane, filling in the time while the lengthy US ad breaks went out, that would have been fair more interesting and enlightening. Honestly.)