LAST NIGHT

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The Independent Culture
Mrs Bernice Cohen is a TV scheduler's wet dream. Not, I hasten to add, because of any hint of lasciviousness in her manner, but because she provides a way to couple an intimidating subject with a figure of reassuring ordinariness. Just as Sister Wendy cut art down to size by bustling up to all those canvas- backed aristocrats and engaging them in plain conversation, Mrs Cohen makes the world of high finance look suddenly less fearsome to anyone who assumes that old ladies form a bench-mark of timidity below which few people fall. It is an illusion, of course; Mrs Cohen's Money (C4) demonstrated that its presenter has the robust unstoppability of a Centurion tank, floppy hat or no floppy hat. The sight of her ticking off Sir Mark Weinberg, who she deemed had failed to protect the interests of small shareholders, was most enjoyable, as was her disenchanted paraphrase of his insistence that "marketing" was the only way to spread share ownership. Marketing, Mrs Cohen pointed out, has often been the way that institutions turn indifferent advice into good money.

In its own way, this half-hour programme contained more real politics than one of the BBC's currently bloated news bulletins, flabby with hollow rebuttals and "expert" conjecture. It came with ingenious visuals - Mrs Cohen racing herself up a pair of escalators to illustrate how a rising stockmarket and depreciating currency affect different kinds of investment - but it tackled big issues too, from the failure of Mrs Thatcher's attempt to create a share-owning democracy to the wobbly prognosis for the welfare state. Its appeal to informed common sense was also an attractive correction to the mystification of the city priesthood. Stocks may fall as well as rise, though, and if the market really is trembling on the brink of a slump, as some suggest, this winning appeal to get stuck in might yet look singularly ill-timed.

It's the lowest blow to quote a programme's publicity against it, but in the case of We Know Where You Live (C5, Sunday and Monday) I can't resist. "Nothing is safe from their satire!" exclaims the press release for Channel 5's new Fast Show wannabe: "The team show no mercy on shopping channels and music TV." Well, there's excoriating comic courage for you... if either of those targets are sacred cows, you can call me Aberdeen Angus. It isn't the performer's fault, obviously, that people are running around making over-inflated claims for them, but the discrepancy between promise and performance does alert you to the bluntened edge of the comedy, which recycles the old student revue dependables - television parodies, pastiche adverts, current affairs skits - to a slightly numbing effect. One way or another, you've seen much of this before - the television presenters quarrelling over a single subject (first delivered by Monty Python), the French film parody (last seen on The Fast Show), the emergency-room sketch (an almost identical reprise of Hospital!, one of Channel 5's own launch-night programmes). Everything is safe from their satire, because it is so predictable in its targets.

Satire isn't everything, and you sense that the comic ambitions of the team lie more in the direction of inconsequential silliness, the sort of joke which builds over time. Some of these have a promising zanyness, such as The Detectors, in which two suited investigators invade private houses to uncover unlikely regulatory infringements, such as possession of an unlicenced Tommy Cooper impersonation. Other running gags are so lame that you can't imagine they will get very far before collapsing to the pavement and calling for an ambulance - "Information Man" is a case in point, in which a gurning twit approaches the screen to make banal remarks (a sketch that hasn't learned the chief lesson of its model, The Fast Show - that an unvarying punch line, with a varied lead-in, may be funnier than the other way around). The cast are all pretty strong though, so things may tighten up, and Simon Pegg is worth watching in particular, a new face with a fine repertoire of comic tics.

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