This was the bravest bit of Drugs Live: Cannabis on Trial (Channel 4 Tuesday, 10pm): “Did anyone here come in with one view and have had it change during the course of the programme?” Dr Christian Jessen went there in the final minutes of this hour-and-a-half “live from London” event. A pause. “Anybody?”
Set in a studio decked out with fake brick walls in an effort to manufacture an element of integrity, insofar as a I know anything I don’t think the science could be doubted. An exploration into the differing effects of skunk vs “the old-style hash”, this was valid territory for a TV programme. But there was something resolutely 1980s about the whole endeavour, which was hosted by the aforementioned Dr Christian and Channel 4 current affairs figurehead Jon Snow. It prompted memories of the old BBC ‘…Watch’1 strand (Hospital Watch, Childwatch, Railwatch and, as it happens, Drugswatch); that notion of bringing together a group of people who know better to patiently and brightly explain an issue for the rest of us.
There was a lot of explaining. Sometimes at a giant brain model which – because I’m wired like that – made me think of another 30-year-old BBC effort Bodymatters. It didn’t help that Dr Christian was Alan-Maryon-Davis-ing for all his worth, his limbs undulating as if he was bobbing on the wake of his own words, convivially emphasising the fascination of this fascinating study. Going into the first set of ads, he was about to reveal C4’s own skunk farm. “Actually,” he said, suddenly digging in his heel, “I think I’ll show you that… after the break!”
It was this disarming attempt at friendliness that was getting on my wick. It conferred a layer of mediocrity over everything. Well, nearly. Snow’s reaction to imbibing high-grade cannabis cut through. “This was aggressive filth. This robbed me of my personality”. But at the end, the programme – which “continues to trend on twitter” – couldn’t even get it together for a good old row. The presenters darted around the studio, drawing opinion here and there, but never letting anyone interact directly. Points for and against the decriminalisation of cannabis were left to hang. “No doubt arguments will rage all evening,” said Jon Snow as they signed off.
I cottoned on late that Three Up, Two Down (BBC2 daily) is getting a repeat run. I was banging on about the ’80s a couple of paragraphs ago, and this is that decade in a capsule. With its rough diamond-meets-cut glass format, it’s broiling a very domestic concern of the time: The confluence of the working class with the Sloane Ranger set. The episode I caught (‘Just Desserts’) aired on Monday afternoon, but in 1985 went out on the same day of the week at 8.30pm. Straight after Fame. “Doctors come in all shapes and sizes, you know,” says ‘wallyish’ best friend Wilf. “It’s not compulsory to look like David Owen.”
In this one, Michael Elphick’s Life on Mars-prefiguring Sam Tyler is trying to persuade Angela Thorne’s Daphne to give up an antique case so he can use it to display his stuffed snake. He also hopes that feigning illness might prompt some show of affection from her. And Wilf’s been collecting discarded iced buns from the Rhino enclosure at the zoo. With its light jazz-funk theme and beige title sequence, two minutes of location filming, constant misunderstandings and scenes of Ms Thorne lying on the bed with her head hovering just above the pillow (lest she mush her hairdo), a lot of the vitality has since left the show. But it was a reasonable-sized deal in our house back then, one of my dad’s shows. With his marriage on the rocks, perhaps he saw a potential future for himself in the form of roguish bachelor Sam.
It’s taken me a little while to get into Let’s Play Darts for Comic Relief (BBC2 from Sunday). The opening episode, in fact, kept the first three words of the title at bay for an inordinately long time. “We’re just minutes away from the first match…” said host Gabby Logan, as if getting wind of my groaning. When the darts did finally arrive – with Lee Mack and Martin Adams playing Martin Offiah and Anastasia Dobromyslova – it didn’t quite feel as if we’d got to the point of the evening. It was a bit pedestrian, much of it told in a “we rejoin the action” synopsis. Then it was back to Gabby, who could have been in a bunker in a different town on a different day. “I was good enough just to be bad,” confessed Martin, joining her for a post-match debrief. She said they’d be back tomorrow and my heart sank.
But I’m glad they were. Over the course of the week, this has rather grown on me. The bit when Tim Vine nearly opened with 180, or Roisin Conaty checking out to secure her place in the next round, that’s great telly. Sure, I do fast-forward through the opening chat, but it knocks this down to an even nicer-sized 25 minutes.
Crappy kids’ show titles, outdated comedic archetypes, a shocking slot in the schedules, a muzak score that’s so embarrassed it hides as far back in the soundscape as possible, three writers, scenes that end on a fade to black… is there anything good to say about Matt Lucas’ Pompidou (BBC2 Sunday, 6.30pm)?
- As does the font being in Rockwell, but I think I’ve allowed myself to get waylaid by typography too much in these things of late ↩