It's autumn and there's a bumper crop for viewing

Liz Nicholls

Liz Nicholls

First published in Columns by

Autumn is coming. And, as we launch into September, all the fat flagship shows start sailing in. After a summer that is, as ever, an ocean of repeats, the channels will start bringing out the big guns and vying for our attention.

So, what’s your poison? A bleary-eyed Simon Cowell is already back on, with his bevy of beauties, filtering through another lorryload of tone-deaf and deluded wannabes to find The Talent (and a fresh batch of boy band contenders to cheer Louis up, of course). The X Factor is a juggernaut that chugs on all the way into winter, but, let’s face it, the first few rounds of failure are the best bit. Anyone who has accidently tuned into The Singer Takes It All on C4 over the summer should welcome back the old drama queen that is X Factor (with 10.5million viewers on its launch, which ain’t too shabby). Alan Carr’s creaky and morally dubious talent show was quite surely the most squirmworthy and shambolic primetime offering that has ever been screened.

As each contestant sang for their supper on a supermarket conveyor belt rigged up to send them forwards to a neon-flashing glory hole or backwards through the serving hatch of shame (depending on the votes of the viewers at home, when the voting system wasn’t on the blink), even Simon Cowell must have cringed. If Strictly Come Dancing is your bag, you can stuff your face on Sunday (8pm, BBC1) for another sequin-speckled bun fight, with the crown for most competitive likely to be grabbed by Masterchef “fruit and veg expert” Gregg Wallace or tennis mum Judy Murray. The best celebrity news, though, is that Brucey has gone (hurray!) making way for his replacement… Claudia Winkleman.

As ever, the Americans are set to splash on our screens with the very best drama offerings.

If you haven’t seen the creepy and compelling adverts for The Leftovers and masterfully twisted Boardwalk Empire (both on Sky Altlantic later this month, which was reason enough for me to make sure I had the channel), prepare to be hooked.

For those of us not lucky enough to get concert tickets there was Kate Bush: Running Up That Hill on BBC4. We could bask in the grande dame’s mad, magical music that really did change the face of popular culture (check out the fandom on iPlayer).

Then there’s BBC2’s Louis Theroux’s Extreme Love: Dementia. Now, Louis is adept at sniffing out the weird. His unsettling 2000 documentary When Louis Met Jimmy poked at the underbelly of the as-yet-unmasked broadcasting paedophile Jimmy Saville with unsettling results.

Extreme Love: Dementia is heartbreaking. Set in Phoenix, Arizona, America’s geriatric capital – “a world of encroaching shadows and of keeping relationships alive in circumstances among the strangest and most challenging imaginable” – this show is a delicate exploration of a fate worse than death. Louis, who could could charm the pants off off a nun, is the perfect interviewer to delve into the world of these subjects – some not even that elderly, such as the 49-year-old mum who struggles with basic cognitive tasks such as recognising numbers while her family watch her slowly forget them.

But the programme manages not to be gloomy, even with this subject matter, as an 89-year-old former model kisses her husband and sings and waltzes around The Beatitudes care home. “If you’re going to live in a fragment of time, it’s not a bad fragment, right?” says the son of one confused old lady.

Poignant and sensitive: Louis is master of the small screen.

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