A fertile subject for discussion

Television
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The Independent Culture
A CROWDED sofa on Friday's Good Morning (BBC1). Victoria, a tawny Scots lass pregnant at 13, sat next to her bashful paramour Barry Grubb. A whole year older than Victoria, Barry was meeting fatherhood with the kind of indignant fortitude Nigel Molesworth once brought to the new skool term. Squidged up next to Barry were the prospective grandmothers. Joan Grubb recalled that when wee Barry announced he was to be a daddy it had been a shock. You can say that again, so she did. "I was totally speechless and lost for words." Always keen to claim prurient one-offs as evidence of a worrying trend, our host Nick announced that "321 13-year-olds are currently pregnant in Scotland". Not all Barry's, surely? I mean, how did he . . . ? You didn't have long to wait. Tugging at his tie for courage, Nick broached the delicate matter of the illegal entry. "Er, was it a prank?" "No," said Barry, affronted, "we were watching telly."

Ah, television. So indispensable has the medium become that the jury at The Trial of OJ Simpson (BBC2) - denied access to the box, and thus the only people in America not watching the OJ Simpson trial - has been given special leave to see Melrose Place. The most popular show in the galaxy, MP had no rival until last year when it spawned Models Inc (Sky One). Not just a pretty face - not just 73 pretty faces - Models Inc sets out, as the press release puts it, to "expose the intrigue, deceit, envy and heartbreak of the beautiful young women struggling to succeed against the demands of one of the most sought-after professions". Oh, and it would also like to travel, found a donkey sanctuary and secure world peace.

You can't help thinking of Charlie's Angels, the show that put the Three Musketeers in Carmen rollers. Models has the same cosmetic style, the same well-douched sexuality, but without the sisterly feeling: all for none and none for all! Supermodel Teri has plunged from the 39th-floor HQ of the Hollywood agency she was about to quit. Mystery surrounds her death. How, for example, did her lovely corpse hit the ground without sustaining a scratch? Did agency head Hillary (Linda Gray, aka Dallas's Sue Ellen) mind losing Teri so much she made sure she was lost forever - if not, why does Hillary's mouth pucker and gape like a carp out of water? And what are we to make of Carrie, the older sister so cruelly denied knowledge of her missing baby by Teri and now suffering hourly flashbacks to a family tussle on the balcony? Sorting all this out - and good luck to him - is Lieutenant Soto. "His easy-going manner disguises an uncanny ability to uncover the truth." Less well- disguised is his manly pleasure at investigating this posse of pulchritude. Coming up against the famously mobile Sue Ellen pout at a moment when it is attempting to quit and join another face entirely, Soto clamps his own mouth on top of it. Hell, it might be a piece of evidence.

Viewers having trouble following the story should stick with Sarah. The ingenue from Iowa, Sarah regularly confides her plawt prawblms to Hillary's son, the lovely David: "Some motorcycle salesman tries to rip ma clothes off, people are gittin' murdered, you kiss me in New York, arms are fallin' out of coffins, ma roommates hate me fur no good reason!" David takes this pretty calmly. He narrows his eyes. You could explode a small nuclear device and David would narrow his eyes. He is a pupil - two pupils, actually - of the Ryan O'Neal School for Meaningful Squinting. His mother acts with her mouth, his girlfriend acts with her hair. In this company, Julie (Kyle Travis) stands out as a bit of an all-rounder: she can move more than one body part at the same time. That drowsy panther face belies active claws. In Julie, Kylie Minogue meets Sharon Stone and they fight to the death: every male in the country will be standing by with Elastoplast. "Things don't get this complicated in Iowa," sighs Sarah. Honey, things don't get this complicated in Revelations.

The second Modern Times (BBC2) was an atmospheric piece about an infidelity hunter. A regular slimeball with extra relish, Mike sets traps for cheating lovers. After 50 minutes, this emerged as A Bad Thing: Immorals Inc. Last Sunday, I wondered what this new documentary strand was doing with a story that the Sun would lap up. The next day, a concerned party buttonholed me: "They were told to make the series as tabloid as possible, you see. It was just fulfilling the brief." Speechless and lost for words, I went home and switched on the TV.

The view that because there is nothing new under the sun, you should take a microscope to the lowest forms of life has clearly not reached Horizon (BBC2). The present series is the finest in memory. Witty editing and blooming images that were once confined to arts shows have been applied to the greatest subjects on Earth - and beyond. Bettina Lerner's Farewell Fantastic Venus! told how the evening star, once a focus for the dreams of ET nuts and geologists had let everyone down. Because Venus is Earth's twin planet, they had visions of a sylvan paradise inhabited by Sue Ellens playing Glenn Gould records. Closer examination revealed a failed crme brule, its toffee crust shattered and sunk in seething acid. As a study of scientists clinging to the wreckage of their theories, the film was richly comic; it was more sobering about our own existence. A few thousand miles in the wrong direction and we would have been nowhere.

Channel 4's Pot Night had more highs than lows. After eight hours the case for legalisation was not in doubt. Whatever Jilly Goulden's on, however, should be kept under lock and key. Food and Drink (BBC2) ended another fun run, and Jilly had saved her best frock till last. A little black number with slashed neck and sleeves hung about with chains, it clearly owed something to S&M, while still heavily in debt to M&S.

It was my mother who alerted me to the fact that something peculiar has come over Jilly's co-taster, Oz. Over the years, Oz has been a port in the storm while Jilly has been a storm in a port, a brandy and any damn thing she can dip her hooter into frankly. The strain has taken its toll. Oz has cut loose and is trying to trump the Ivana of intoxication. "Mmm. I tell you it's symphonically marvellous, it's mezzzmerising." "Hmm Waahh. Mine's nicer than yours!" Next series, we want the real Oz back, please; someone has to play straight man to Loopy Lou.

Reviewed last week by Quentin Curtis, Quiz Show reveals how American TV producers in the Fifties made damn sure they had a winning contestant - in both senses. After seeing it, you watch our own cheesy Colosseums with a keener eye. Broadcast at 9.30am daily, Chain Letters (ITV) requires players to effect lightning verbal permutations. It is hosted by lorralaffs lard-bucket Ted Robbins. "Wordsworth, give us a four-letter word, please!" Ted brims with that brand of frothy good cheer that threatens to slop over into bitterness. You could tell straight away that he didn't think much of Michael the transcriber.

A geeky guy in specs, sports jacket and those Terylene slacks that accordion around the crotch, Michael was up against Gary, a hunky young copper. After having some fun with Michael's Biro-refill figure, Ted padded back to his podium doing a few facial tics and judders along the way, just to let the audience know that he knew what they knew. (Give us a four- letter word: nerd!) Once the game got going, though, it was clear who had the co-ordinated brain. "Michael again for 40." Ted spread the irony thick: "Ar think we're discoverin' a new hero for the nation!"

The clever clogs trampling all over thicker folks was a grand joke for a round or three, but then Ted started to crack. "Michael, d'you wanna have a go before Ar ask the question?" Somehow - it was hard to tell how because Michael hardly faltered - Gary managed to pull back.

Then he went ahead. "Amazin', well played Gary!" When wheat cropped up as an answer, Ted boasted irrelevantly: "Shredded Wheat - Gary could eat three of 'em!" He could not have made it clearer: 40 years on, the quiz show was still a beauty contest. Nothing wrong with wanting a hero fit for housewives, is there? Just fulfilling the brief.

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