LAST NIGHT

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The Independent Culture
Without Ted Hoffman's gleaming dome, Murder One (BBC2) feels oddly awry - a game of snooker in which the white ball has been accidentally chipped over the cushion. After a while, you realise that it's essentially the same game, but it takes time to adjust to the new dynamics. Ted isn't the only casualty, either. Yesterday's episode revealed that they have taken the pink ball off the table as well, in the shape of Lewis, Ted's gay assistant, who seems to have disappeared without so much as a farewell party after giving way for Jimmy Wyler's former secretary. This is much less forgiveable, even if it is true to the power games played with personal assistants. The awkward putsch against Lewis smacks of capitulation to some Middle America focus group and it makes you feel decidedly less well disposed to the incomer, who can't recognise the virtues of loyalty you spent a whole series learning to appreciate.

As a substitute for Saint Ted, Jimmy Wyler at least has the virtues of a bit of moral dappling. You can look him straight in the face without screwing up your eyes against the glare of rectitude. But if I hadn't been assured by all the previewers and pre-publicity that Anthony LaPaglia was a radioactive talent, I can't say that I would have noticed. He has a mischievous sideways glance in the manner of De Niro and the sort of impassivity which can readily absorb the projections of an audience but he can't disguise the fact that the script is coming around for the second time, most particularly when it deals with the personal cost of high-profile trials. "Are we okay?" he asks his girlfriend when the pressure starts to pile on; "I don't want our relationship to be a casualty." Suddenly, we're back with Ted and Annie, agonising over their feelings in the affectless prose of the heavily therapised. In musical circles, this would be called an encore.

Other persistances are less of a problem; indeed, they are unavoidable. A courtroom drama can hardly leave out the forensic parrying of the chief lawyers simply because it doesn't want to look repetitive. Similarly, an essentially bipolar narrative (Will they win the case or lose it?) is virtually obliged to depend on switches of fortune to sustain some kind of tension. As a result, the second series offers the same parade of nocturnal visitors offering gold-dust evidence, the same succession of U-turn reversals which have to be overcome. But Murder One does it well enough and can still find time for touches of pure character writing: Arnold's prolix bids for "second chair" are very nicely done, the comedy of a man trying to talk himself into a job for which knowing when to stop talking is a prime requirement. What has gone now, and it is a genuinely depleting loss, is the sense of instruction that was present in the first series, the feeling that you were being introduced to the arcana of a legal system in all its details. The audience has been here before and it is very hard to prevent us feeling a little blase.

"Am I a bit of a sad tosser for doing this?" asked one of the participants in "Men Who Pay For Sex", Witness's long confessional session for six men who patronise prostitutes (C4). The answer was incontestably yes in his case, but John Fothergill's film persuaded you to adapt the description from contemptuous dismissal to something a little more charitable and forgiving. It ended with an old man close to tears, expressing his hope that taking part in the programme might ease the guilt of what he felt to be his implication in his wife's death - she fell into a depression after discovering that he was having a relationship with a prostitute and eventually succumbed to pneumonia. Like him, others used the tight frame of the interview as a kind of confessional, and if Fothergill didn't offer any explicit absolution, he did allow you to see that most of them were already serving their penance in the very commission of the sin. It was not exactly a compelling endorsement for commercial rapture.

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