LAST NIGHT: Review of The Grafters

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The Independent Culture
Iwatched The Grafters (BBC2) with a certain impurity of motive. It was not, you understand, because it included an attractive Oxford undergraduate turned Soho pole dancer. I just wanted to see whether the BBC had over- reacted in pulling the film from schedules last week because it also featured a young East End funeral director. I expressed some scepticism about this decision last week, but having seen the programme it's only fair to concede that they had a point - it simply wasn't the moment to watch two undertakers stapling a plastic lining into a coffin because, as one of them put it, "Not everybody's clean and neat and tidy, are they?"

Unfortunately, the same sense of delicacy had obviously been at work in the scenes showing Melissa Butler performing. Anyone hoping to skip the pounds 10 entrance fee charged by the club where she works will have been disappointed by the sight lines. "I just show my genitalia off from various angles really," she explained; the camera had carefully managed to avoid every one of them. But I couldn't really say that prurience went completely unsatisfied - in a later sequence, Melissa shuffled through a collection of business cards, recalling the various sexual propositions her clients had made to her and the camera clearly revealed that one of the cards carried an Independent masthead. I'm sure there was a purely professional reason for my anonymous colleague's interest (it proved impossible to make out the name, despite some assiduous work with the pause button), but it didn't half perk up my concentration.

Unlike most of the other programmes in the series this one intercut between the two very different jobs - stripper and undertaker. You could see the thinking behind this - both work with bodies, both have to switch off their feelings in order to do the job - but the attempt at thematic symmetry never really worked, even when Gary went off on a doomed attempt to get work as a male escort. "Do you like art?" asked the agency boss. "Werl...I'm very open about art. I sit and watch the Antiques Roadshow on television," he replied artlessly. Pressed a little more closely, he owned up. "Artistic- wise it's cleaning me cars," he said, "I can spend hours cleaning me cars." As this exchange suggests, the problem was that Gary was nowhere near as interesting as Melissa. Something deep was going on with her whereas with Gary you didn't even need to roll up your trouser legs.

The story seemed to be that of a crisis of confidence - bright girl gets into Oxford and finds that she's no longer the cleverest girl in the school. So instead of exposing her mind to her peers, she runs away to expose her body to strangers - a transaction in which the sad neediness of the punters guaranteed that she could feel in control. "All the satisfaction I've ever known in my short life has come from taking my clothes off in front of men," she said at one point, though the categorical nature of this statement seemed largely designed to wind up her mother. Given that she was quite intelligent enough to see how stupid her customers are ("It's frightening they're so easy to deceive - isn't it?"), it wasn't obvious why this should prove so empowering. But she insisted it was, and when she announced that she had decided to return to Oxford to complete her studies the words came out in a tearful blurt - as though she was giving us a bit of very bad news.

After Equinox's programme on Black Holes and Stephen Hawking's Universe, Horizon (BBC2) brought cosmology a bit closer to home with a film about the great KT extinction - when seven-tenths of all life on earth was wiped out. This film traced the way in which geological detective work had transformed the theory of an asteroid strike from a scientific wildcard into widely accepted fact. It alleviated the limited visual appeal of men with boxes of rocks by repeatedly returning to a computer graphic of our terrestrial replay of the Big Bang - an impact the equivalent of 100 million megatons. Hardly surprising that the ecosystem was knocked unconscious for a while.