Review

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The Independent Culture
This Life (BBC2) has rather grand ambitions as a title - it's so specific, and yet so vague. Are we meant to hear it as in the phrase "I just can't go on with this life", a tone of exasperation and desired escape? Or does it carry a sense of immediacy - of living for the moment with little thought for the future? Is "this" specified so carefully in order that we don't mistake it for the "next life", or for "that life", wherever "that" might point? Or was it simply intended to sound mildly soapy, the sort of narrative drama that isn't harsh to your hands. Perhaps they just didn't dare to call it Our Life, and make conspicuous what is implicit throughout - that the series is intended to speak for and to a new generation of yuppies, the ones that were still puppies when the Eighties ended with a crash.

Appropriately enough, it begins with therapy and job-interviews, the two forms of public speech being rather harder to disentangle than you might think, given the impertinent prurience of contemporary recruiters. Warren and Egg are after a job in a solicitor's office, where Egg's girlfriend Milly also works, having just qualified. Anna is after a place in chambers - a chambers in which, as it happens, an old flame is already employed. By the end of the first episode, four of them live in the same house and, as Warren confesses that he is sleeping on his ex-boyfriend's living room floor, it is a fair bet that there is a fourth bedroom to be filled in the near future (Milly and Egg are a couple, for the moment at least).

Amy Jenkins's opening scene was a clever piece of scene setting, eavesdropping on moments when compressed biography is routine - and even then she turned some revelations so they didn't land on your desk with a dull thud. The style is modulated documentary - untidy sightlines and a lot of ambient sound - and that observational mood is picked up by dialogue which often feels convincingly off-duty - writing which picks up on the verbal shortcuts old friends use and doesn't mind if you struggle a little to keep up. The acting too, apart from some slightly dutiful "umms" and "errs", conveys a sense that the performance is being directed somewhere else besides the camera - the exchanges between Egg and Milly in particular (Andrew Lincoln and Amita Dhiri respectively) giving a real sense of intimacy, occasionally achieved through nothing more explicit than the way people soften their voice on the telephone when they talk to someone who needs no charming. In a rather literal sense, this first episode was preoccupied with moving in the furniture and getting used to the feel of the place, but I would imagine that audiences will probably stay; in terms of its language (realistically bad) and its mood (realistically lustful) it is a great deal closer to the first-job years - the keenness of appetites and ambitions - than anything that has preceded it.

"The essence of a man of my type lies in what I think, not in what I feel," said Einstein in the first part of Horizon's (BBC2) film about the century's best-loved intellectual soft-toy. Despite this admonition, the producers spent a startling amount of time on Einstein's love life - part of a soft-focus, reverent account of the man (complete with cuddly impersonation by Andrew Sachs) which would have exasperated beyond endurance had the ideas themselves not performed so well on television. One of the most impervious substances known to man is common sense - an accreted certainty about what "stands to reason" which even the greatest minds fall prey to. Yet Einstein drilled holes through some of the massiest chunks of common sense with questions of a child-like simplicity. His proof that time is a relative not an absolute measure, for example, involved an imaginary train, two poles and some right-angle mirrors. These transferred onto the screen with wonderful clarity, allowing you the very rare luxury of performing an experiment as you sat in front of the screen, rather than just passively taking the results on trust.

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