LAST NIGHT

TV Reviews: Inside Story and In Cold Blood
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The Independent Culture
According to the billing for Inside Story (BBC1), James Cutler's film was "an attempt to explore the psychology of revenge". I take it this referred to the presence of Dr Raj Persaud, a consultant psychiatrist who has become the tabloid newspapers' first port of call for a handy quote. Does he advertise his services under Dial-a-Shrink, or does the explanation for his ubiquity lie in the laziness of the reporters concerned? What's more, should we be worried about this trend? Is it precisely the kind of social development which Dr Raj himself is so frequently wheeled out to analyse? What might he have to say, I wonder, about the growing addiction of popular journalism to the tranquillising drug known as "A Psychiatrist writes..."? Nothing very startling I would guess because past media encounters with Dr Persaud have shown him to be a man for whom no remark is too banal to qualify as an insight. That Inside Story had chosen him to represent the voice of modern psychiatry was worrying enough, that it left his remarks in the final cut after they had heard what he had to say suggested they were less interested in revelation than a kind of sanitising presence - this wasn't just prurience, you understand, it was a serious attempt to take stock of a modern phenomenon.

This, too, was presumably the reason for the opening montage of social strife - a collage of traffic jams, joy-riding, rush-hour commuting and street-fights. The arrival of small-ad agencies specialising in malicious pranks, insults and revenge was to be taken, it seemed, as a symptom of the increasing stresses of modern life. Certainly the existence of a business which will send a gift-wrapped plastic turd to your enemies isn't very edifying (Dr Raj says: it is an illusion to believe your problems will be solved by a Crappogram). But is this really evidence of a "growing trend", or just a novel twist on a perennial human failing - the capacity to keep one's wounds open rather than let them heal? Most of those involved in supplying services naturally claimed a curative effect for what they did: "I like to think of getting even as therapy," said a New Yorker, who taught a course called "Hundreds of ways to get even without breaking the law". But he had a conspicuous nervous twitch in his left eye and you couldn't help but feel that most of his students were heading in the same direction (Dr Raj says: "Seeking revenge is an attempt to reconnect with the person who's left you").

In at least one case, though, it struck you that the retaliation had been effective on both sides of the grievance - a young woman who claimed to have been seduced into an abusive affair with a local worthy publicised the lurid details of his sexual tastes on home-made posters. This poetic justice didn't come free exactly - she had been fined pounds 200 for her fly- posting - but it was surely better then her alternative way of coping, which had been to take an overdose. The programme ended with the account of an achieved revenge which had left two people in prison and a man's life broken - an awful story, but not one that seemed particularly modern or novel in its unwinding. To jump from the juvenile annoyances of the revenge agencies to the procurement of murder seemed a very large leap indeed - but fortunately, Dr Raj was up to the task: "We're left with a nightmare vision of the future," he said gravely, "if these revenge agencies continue to burgeon."

In Cold Blood (BBC2), a mini-series about a brutal set of murders, was excruciatingly long-winded, as if duration alone would supply the necessary solemnity. Anthony Edwards played a man who ate with his mouth open and dropped litter (Hollywood shorthand for a sociopath), while Eric Roberts was the troubled, literate one who was given black-and-white flashbacks of an unhappy childood. It turned out that it was Roberts who pulled the trigger, but both men were hanged in the same way, with a deliberation that would have amounted to torture had it been anything like the real thing.

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