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TV Picks: Communitychannel, 'Doctor Who,' 'Poirot: Curtain'

Robert Lloyd's TV picks: Communitychannel, a new 'Doctor Who' and the last 'Poirot'

Communitychannel (YouTube) I have been meaning to write for some time about comical Australian vlogger -- is that still a word? -- Natalie Tran. (She uses it, so I guess it is.) Now 28, Tran has been regularly posting videos since 2006 (or, as she describes it, "far too long"), when hardly anyone had even heard of the Internet; and in that time she has gathered more than a million and a half subscribers to her YouTube-based, misleadingly named Communitychannel. (Apart from her fans, she is pretty much a community of one.) Production values have steadily increased over the years -- early videos, which tend to be chattier, have the feel of a precocious, clever girl reaching out to the world from the room she grew up in; the current shorts are slicker, faster and more formatted. Older and newer, they are consistently funny.

They usually begin with a "Hi," followed by some observational proposition; then proceed from some variation on "Which got me thinking" to a series of sketches, in which Tran typically plays every part; and go on -- in the modern way of digital relation-building -- to her asking viewers to send in their own related thoughts and experiences. Possibly there will be a recounting of some public event or voyage or photos sent in by fans who have had their picture taken with her out in the world. Closing boilerplate (subscribe, tune in next time) is followed by "porno music/comment time," where she displays and responds to YouTube comments, and possibly some bloopers. (The format becomes noticeable only when you watch a lot of episodes in a row, which is easy to do, and hard not to do.) Often she will apologize for something -- not making a video the week before, the general awfulness of the ones she does make, her inconsequential subject matter, her dorkiness. Her self-deprecation, while misplaced -- in March her channel passed the half-billion mark in hits, as early as 2010 her site was earning $100,000 Australian dollars (about $93,000 U.S. dollars at the current exchange rate) from shared ad revenue, and she's what the boys down at the convenience store parking lot would call a stone fox -- feels genuinely compulsively self-defensive rather than merely disingenuous. (It's a familiar comic stance, in any case: see David Letterman.)

Her work strikes me as a kind of compact 21st-century version of the comic essays Robert Benchley used to write, back when magazines were the Internet, and of the short features (like "How to Sleep" and "Inferiority Complex") he made for MGM and Paramount back when movies were television. Like Benchley (and legions of observational comics who wonder what's up with that), Tran starts with some familiar annoyance or awkwardness and builds a baroque edifice atop it. She's young and much of her audience seems to be younger, but the subjects are not particularly generational. (You should know what a cellphone is, and what computers do.) Recent subjects include: customers in restaurants being served before you when you know they came in after you; imagining Instagram filters applied to real life; imagining "adult theme" warnings applied to real life; good hair days and how nice it would be able to bank them for when they did you some good; trying to find a phone with the ringer on silent; people who leave the door open. Also worth watching are her 2011 travel short-shorts for Lonely Planet (here she is in Los Angeles, Paris, Dubai and on a Caribbean cruise) and an apparently abandoned side series from late last year, "Love Conundrums," in which she gives very sensible relationship advice (with illustrative sketches).

"Doctor Who" (BBC America, Saturdays). The time has come, wibbling and wobbling, to welcome the fourth new Doctor of the modern era, the 12th in all, not counting noncanonical Peter Cushing, or unnumbered yet canonical John Hurt. Yeah, yeah, you'll miss Matt Smith; yeah, yeah, you never liked Matt Smith, you just want David Tennant back; and Christopher Eccleston never got his due. But Peter Capaldi, ladies and gentleman! Peter Capaldi, as overqualified an actor as ever signed on to a humble sci-fi series, is your new Time Lord. I have had specific (positive) thoughts on this casting, which insatiable readers may find here, but briefly put, I am looking forward to the new incarnation; it is the swapping out of actors, after all, that has kept the character fresh, lo these 51 years. You heard me, people who do not know that "Doctor Who" is half a century old -- 51 years. Also vital to the vitality have been the Doctor's many more companions, in a rotation of their own. Jenna Coleman, as Clara Oswald, remains from last season to partner with Capaldi, and if she never quite came into focus alongside Matt Smith (memories of Amy Pond and all that), she is an upper classman now, the senior junior member of the team, and Capaldi will give her a Doctor of her very own to play against, in a new way -- an older and, if the brief glimpses we've been afforded are any indication, a more forbidding one. I expect fans will continue to love and hate show runner Steven Moffat in roughly the same proportion; I am good with him, "The Time of the Doctor" notwithstanding. I have not been privy to Saturday's season opener, neither the official episode nor the inadvertently leaked rough cut; I am happy to go into this future together with the rest of the Doctor-loving world.

"Curtain: Poirot's Last Case" (Acorn). The title at least takes care of one spoiler. Available for the moment only via Acorn Media (online streaming , as of Monday, and on DVD on Sept. 2, with a PBS airing later in the year), this is the last of the David Suchet Poirots, adapting a novel Agatha Christie wrote early (like the "Freaks and Geeks" finale, for those of you who like your analogies pulled from "Freaks and Geeks") in case she was killed in World War II and which remained tucked away under lock and key for decades thereafter. The last of the Poirot stories and novels left to be played by Suchet, who has all but owned the part -- it has been a 25-year journey for the actor and the character -- its coming is exciting and dreadful; and that the end was made public long ago makes the viewer no less anxious, if I am anything to go by. The story takes Poirot back to Styles, the country-manor scene of his first recorded adventure -- indeed of Christie's first published novel -- and also into the company of Poirot's slow leg man and cher ami, Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser, as ever). Both the place and persons are showing their age, though the little gray cells fire as before; the episode is dark and drear and deep -- this is not your semi-comical Poirot, by a long shot -- with an emphasis on twilight blues. Suchet is fearsome, Fraser brings his own share of gravitas, and I am getting something in my eye just thinking about it.

Robert Lloyd tweets only the truth at @LATimesTVLloyd

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