review

A minor satirical genre is under threat. It's surprisingly common, in gloomy prognostications about the future or mischievous accounts of the present, for writers to include imaginary game shows in their creations - programmes which demonstrate how debased television, or indeed society as a whole, has become. In these the hosts are often leering Frankensteins of artificial excitement and sincerity (fish-eye lenses are popular, the better to register the conspiratorial asides to the audience at home). Flanked by pouting, wiggling acolytes, on a primary colour set, the fictional game show host is the very epitome of falsehood. But how will this moralistic cottage-industry achieve its effects when The Shane Richie Experience (C4) is being broadcast every week? To start with, Richie - "the retailer of romance, the ambassador of amour" - is himself his own caricature; topped by an oversized quiff, conducting the blatting fanfares of the band with wild arm-waving, giggling at his own irrepressible zaniness and deploying the sterilised brand of impertinence indispensible to such shows - "only joking love", he grins, after some mild insolence. He cuddles the losers sympathetically, shouts for the winners, yells, leaps and pirouettes - a one-man factory of ersatz fun.

It is the sort of talent that is worth its weight in gold on a rainy afternoon in a holiday camp. This is the show that promises you "a real weddin' ", with registrars "ready and waiting " to marry off the lucky winners, three biddable couples who have decided that the beginning of their joint journey through life will be most auspiciously marked by an appearance on prime-time television, complete with curvaceous dancers in Anne Summers wedding outfits and a Tammy Wynette number (if only she had sung "D.I.V.O.R.C.E."). The on-screen wedding looks like something of a con - with an odd continuity leap between the winning couple's disappearance through the dry-ice and their telescoped nuptials, which seem to have been filmed with a security camera - but who cares anyway? What matters is that this solemn way point in life has not been marked by tastelessness. "It's fun, it's cheeky, it's BOTTOMS UP!" shouts Richie, introducing a game in which the blushing fiancees have to grope a line of disembodied male buttocks, to establish whether they can tell the difference between their own true love's rear end and that of various minor celebrities.

Lucy Gannon's drama for Screen One (BBC1) took a rather less confetti- strewn view of marriage. Trip-trap began with an image of domestic safety - three generations crowded affectionately on to a sofa as the man of the house reads the children a story - the tale of the billy goats and the troll. Portent pounds heavily at the door, with the assistance of a meaningful travelling shot, away from the warm lighted windows and into the dark recesses of a grated cellar. Could it be that the fairy tale has a darker significance here? Does ITV sell advertising space? What followed, fortunately, was less contrived than that - or at least contrived in a subtler manner, using the charge of genre thrills (woman in peril, flight and pursuit) to power something far more ambitious. In particular, Gannon's portrait of the wife-beater offered you a complicated monster - not just a fairy-tale beast. Kevin Whately's schoolmaster is a convincing portrait of derailed ambitions and endlessly inventive self-acquittal - he blames his wife for provoking him, then blames her for making him feel guilty, when the orgasm of violence has left him beached and empty. He even resents the long convalescence his brutality has made necessary, as if her broken hands are a sort of unjust nagging. He sees himself as under assault and even, in one strangely convincing scene, pulls a window frame against his own fingers, as if to claim for himself a share of the pain he's inflicted on his wife. The ending abundantly satisfied our aroused appetite for justice, but didn't exclude the sense that this was a tragedy with two victims, not just one.

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