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The Independent Culture
There isn't much that's brave about Paparazzo (ITV), a new vehicle for the nodding-dog charms of Nick Berry, but the choice of profession is surely courageous. Of all the jobs you could give to your hero, I would have thought that of ambush photographer would have been ruled out very early. Paparazzi are the indigents of publicity culture, panhandling outside nightclubs for the small change of celebrity and frequently stealing what they cannot beg. Quite apart from that, tabloid journalists and their suppliers have been the lowest of the low in television fiction for a while now - a reliable shorthand for the unethical and unloveable. Better that he should deal in Romanian orphans or sell electric cattle prods to Latin-American policemen.

Naturally, though, Rick Caulker is different, sanitised for your viewing comfort. As his colleagues mob the entrance, pleading for an inclination of a famous head, he strolls past security with designer silk on his shoulders and a half-smile playing on his lips. His celebrity prey, just in case we have any residual unease about his occupation, is upstairs proving that she richly deserves what is about to happen to her - shouting at the staff, plucking at her uncorseted flab, plinking false nails into an ashtray. Privacy is only for nice people, you understand, so it doesn't matter if Rick snatches a candid shot of the star at her toilet, cold- cream smeared, fag-in-mouth. She had it coming, the bad-tempered cow.

And if the celebrity involved isn't the sort of scheming witch who combs her hair before venturing onto the streets then they invite Rick to do the business anyway, seduced by his suave and beguiling lack of need. Celebrities beg him to take their picture - he is Raffles, the gentleman thief, a Don Juan with a Leica. "I'm going to take just one picture and it'll be the best photograph of you you've ever seen," he murmurs to Sadie Prince, a martial arts starlet whom he has cornered in the ladies at her private party. Instead of screaming for security, Sadie succumbs to this cheesy pick-up line, conspiring in the surrender of her image. It is a rape fantasy dressed up as romance.

There follows a preposterous tale of Beauty's escape from the Beast, as Sadie outwits her control-freak father (and, as it turns out, Rick himself) to live out her dream of becoming a singer. The action takes place in the London of bad television - a village of about four streets, in which you can walk from Smithfield to Kensington in about five minutes and in which hiding is impossible. When Rick is, inexplicably, dropped on the hard shoulder of the M4 by the departing Sadie, it is only a matter of seconds before an acquaintance happens by to rescue him from the long walk home. This fantastically biddable world provides the perfect analogy for the obliging nature of the plot, which bends itself over backward to place Rick in the most flattering light possible - he is a saint among sinners, an artist among artisans. He is also a demon football player, wiping out one of Britain's top players in a nocturnal penalty shoot-out. If the show goes to a series, I suspect we will probably discover yet more facets of his character - his ability to pilot small planes through thunderstorms, say, or perform life-saving surgery on restaurant tables. It is one of the abiding oddities of commercial television that the same system can produce dramas as intelligently provoking as Cracker and as dumbly evasive as this one. The only saving grace is the presence of Geno Washington, lending the series a bit of unearned style as a nightclub singer, and dialogue which sporadically flickers into comic life. "This morning, my bum was like the map in Bonanza," says a snapper, moaning about the after-effects of a curry. I laughed aloud at that and was extremely grateful for the brief distraction.

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