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The Independent Culture
"Get a milligram of Adrenalin ready, please." The polite, unhurried tones of Tuesday night's Cardiac Arrest (BBC1) seem culpably lethargic, compared to the frenetic pace of Wednesday's ER (C4) where everyone has had their shot of Adrenalin before the camera starts to roll.

Not that the camera rolls very far. Unlike Casualty, ER has no agonising wait while the victims sustain their injuries, as they potter around their kitchens and toolsheds. Instead, a constant stream of drama cascades through the door. For the casualty doctor, tragedy arrives on four wheels, complete with saline drip.

There are lighter moments. The constant use of the procedure whereby dying patients are jolted back to life by electric paddles has all the hallmarks of a running gag. Likewise, it is hard not to smile when the careful transfer of patients from trolley to treatment table is routinely accompanied by a resounding thump on the soundtrack.

Unlike ordinary soaps, which are obliged to build up a lather from everyday tales of marital rape and long-lost children, hospital life is a completely natural source of legitimate distress. The least successful elements are when the gowns come off and we are back in a regular soap scenario with unmasked doctors worrying about their adoptions, divorces and, er, long- lost parents. You can get that anywhere. We watch ER for an anxiety high.

Last night's grief was supplied when a flotilla of bodies were in need of TLC PDQ as a never-ending stream of burns victims poured into the unit. Behind the glass wall of the treatment room, a flock of anxious paramedics gathered, coughing politely while they waited for news of a colleague, burned to a crisp after saving the lives of three children. His distraught buddy is given the bad news, and we half witness the scene through a closed door. This apparent unwillingness to intrude on private grief is, of course, just softening us up for the big punch when the stricken hero lies back awaiting death, his bandaged hands caressing his guilt-stricken sidekick. Pass the Kleenex or the sickbag? However much one might resent ER's shameless manipulation of one's tearducts, it is hard to get through an episode with the mascara intact.

Talking of mascara, Ian McShane is back with a new vehicle and a fresh layer of slap. The opening credits of Madson (BBC1) give us one of those old-fashioned Randall and Hopkirk style plot resumes: Mr Madson was wrongly found guilty, went to prison, studied law and overturned his conviction. Straightforward enough, but in case we haven't grasped this, we are treated to constant flashbacks of the arrest. We know it's the past because it's shot through a grainy, part-coloured filter, and because it took place before McShane acquired the short back and sides. The dark suit, short hair, deadpan delivery and recent brush with Her Majesty's pleasure are all reminiscent of Trevor Preston's superb 1978 drama Out. Sadly, McShane has none of Tom Bell's minimalist menace, instead his much-touted change of pace from the roguish Lovejoy is achieved by walking and talking very slowly and by relying a little too heavily on some uncomfortably close close-ups. Madson wants to enter the legal profession and right other wrongs. The legal profession appears to be closed so he attempts to curry favour with a beautiful solicitor by using his low-life contacts to relieve the pressure on a key witness. The low-life consists of dodgy Gordon and his Uncle Donald who work in the motor trade but are not averse to a spot of breaking and entering in a good cause. Uncle Donald establishes his (lapsed) membership of the TV criminal fraternity with the classic exit line "I'm off to do the Islewurf job". All the characterisation is like this, the tiredest and most unsatisfactory being the bent copper who fitted up our hero. "You're a scumbag and I'm on your case." One milligram of Adrenalin, please.

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