LAST NIGHT

TV Reviews: Vets in Practice and Plane Crazy
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The Independent Culture
Vets in Practice (BBC1), a follow-up to the popular series about student vets, included the sight of pus squirting from a donkey's hoof and a labrador sporting a goitre the size of a grapefruit. To expose oneself to this sort of thing in the comfort of one's own home seems to me bizarre enough - to want to do it in a muddy field in the rain is quite beyond my powers of comprehension. So, unlike the millions of children who one day hope to grow up and perform operations on cats or give bedraggled cows an enema - I am clearly not part of the target audience for such a programme. Like Airport and Driving School, however, Vets in Practice depends for its wider appeal on the minor aches and pains of human existence - so that anyone not enchanted by the opportunity to look on while Patches the Siamese cat has his overactive thyroid removed should be able to coast along on the bathetic dramas of the vets' daily lives - locking themselves out of their cars, helping the practice nurse break into her flat.

That it is even remotely possible to care about such banalities is because they are attached to characters who sit somewhere between documentary and serial fiction. As in Airport we are put on first name terms with the protagonists by the opening titles. So, watching Steve shimmy through a first-floor window, for instance, you find yourself speculating idly on whether the practice nurse fancies him, and what this mundane form of chivalry might do to her burgeoning feelings (Steve has already become a vet world pin-up, after taking his shirt off in the previous series). When Alison has to cope with the sudden departure of Patches to the great litter-tray in the sky - despite her best efforts with his thyroid - you are offered a furry equivalent to one of ER's regular agonies of professional self-examination. Such things do knock you back, she confessed, but you just have to put it from your mind.

Where there are larger dramas they are left tantalisingly unspecified. Steve confessed to some error of judgement that had resulted in the death of a heifer - but we weren't told exactly what had happened or what it took to smooth the farmer over. Similarly, Julie's sudden resignation from the mid-Wales practice which she had joined on graduation was left dangling between two contradictory explanations - had she lost her confidence, as her boss suggested, or had there been some clash of personalities, as she seemed to suggest? If you found yourself nigglingly interested in such matters - rather than the death sentence handed down to Rosie, a terrier with behavioural difficulties - then I suggest that you have the full-blown symptoms of humanism, and these doctors can do very little for you.

Plane Crazy (Channel 4) concluded its brief excursion into aeronautical therapy with Bob Cringely taking to the skies in a biplane the size of a child's supermarket ride. He did not smile as he finally left the ground, perhaps remembering an earlier take-off when his tail-wheel had dropped off, but it was an uplifting moment for anyone who had followed his comically dogged attempt to build and fly a plane in just 30 days. The series as a whole was the televisual equivalent of a bumble-bee; theoretically it should not have flown but it did, making up in buzzy energy what it signally lacked in style. After the fiasco of his original plan (this last episode began with a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style assault on the half-built fuselage), Bob had learnt that he couldn't make it without the help of others - and went to bond with some down-home plane-builders in Ohio (one of them had even home-built his own religion, to which he ministered at weekends). What they made in the end was just a giant balsa wood model with an engine - but it worked. So did the series, which, for all its faults of gaucheness and occasional tedium, had retained the odd, recalcitrant, loopy quality of real life - rather than just converting it into soap.

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