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The Independent Culture
The opening titles for Backup (BBC1) are strangely familiar - a rectangular mosaic of action shots with the occasional portrait of the cast and a driving, light-orchestral theme tune (James Last in a car chase). Then it hits you - the sequence is virtually identical to the credits for Crackers the Corporate Crime Chicken, a deadly pastiche of American cop-show style which features in Michael Moore's TV Nation. Is this an in-joke, or did the producers pick up the title sequence at the Seventies Night disco featured in Backup's opening episode?

What follows doesn't immediately persuade you to drop your guard. It looks as if this is going to be another contribution to that continuing television part-work, Angry Shouting Coppers. Everyone seems to be yelling at everyone else, in that vein-popping manner which leaves your opponent's forehead spittle-dashed. It doesn't exactly help that the producers can't be bothered to do a retake when one of the actors gets so heated that he fluffs his line in mid-bellow. "Why don't I let you tell you what your job is?" he shouts mystifyingly (the perfect opportunity, naturally, to give the viewers a brisk run-down on what an Operational Support Unit is).

Moments like this always remind me of that delicious sequence in Acorn Antiques, when Julie Walters stumbles on set having forgotten her only prop, a tea-tray. "We professionals see it," says the director reassuringly, "but the punters'll never notice."

Sometimes, though, it only takes a tiny crack for a programme to wedge a crowbar in and start breaking down your defences. With me, it was the discovery that the sole black member of Charlie Serial had been nicknamed Token, a detail that seemed to promise something a little more audacious and sharp. And indeed, the muggy, fogged-up intimacy of the police van, in which the team await stheir periodic calls to action, is pretty well done - a free-fire zone of insults and morbid humour. The ensemble acting isn't quite loose enough yet - the cat-calls feel a bit stiffly choreographed - but it's promising.

When the unit is called out to search for the body of a missing woman on a remote farm, it looks as if Token is going to be a twofer - sensitive as well as black - until it is revealed that his own sister has disappeared years before. The attempts at authenticity appear to stop at the banter: in a mildly incredible development Token discovers that his sister is among the murder victims and, in a completely incredible development, the van bearing the killer back to jail is assaulted by a gang of rural types bent on revenge, despite a complicated decoy operation. It doesn't seem to have occurred to anybody that the police helicopter which provides such pretty aerial shots might have been used to convey the guilty man safely - and boringly - above the mob. Still, the insults are reasonably engaging.

If you missed Scotland Yard (ITV), don't worry too much. It's an absolutely standard fly-on-the-wall series about the Metropolitan Police, so obliging and wide-eyed that it could easily serve as an induction video for Hendon Police College. Last night's episode was about the Central Communications Centre, which handles all 999 calls. This is a job which calls for almost superhuman reserves of patience, given the public's tendency to abandon language at times of stress. Instead they substitute a gabbling wail, which the controllers vainly try to penetrate in order to extract a rough location for whatever enormity has just taken place.

Nor does the extremity of the distress serve as a guide to the seriousness of the emergency: some callers sound as if they've just been gang-raped by Hells Angels, and turn out to have had a tiff with the in-laws. Others talk as if they've called to ask the time of day and then mention, as an afterthought, that they've just grazed their nose on the rough end of a sawn-off shotgun.

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