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The Independent Culture
It's far trendier to have things distressed at the moment," said a frock-coated fop in Changing Rooms (BBC2). This was fortunate because Archie and Mint, who had handed over their children's room for a makeover, stood a good chance of being very distressed by the end of the programme, in which neighbours perpetrate acts of decorative outrage on each other's houses. Last week the results were most gratifying - one couple discovering the hard way that minimalism and monochrome were not really their thing. "At least it had carpets," moaned the man, staring at his new black floorboards. But in that case there was a tiny frisson of class difference to spice things up. This week, despite the Peckham setting and Carole Smillie's brave attempt at a Sarf London accent, the couples involved could probably have exchanged their tastefully gentrified houses without noticing - they'd even been to university together, so the prospects for a taste-crash were rather diminished.

That reckons without the resident designers, of course, whose role is to ignore any advice given and enjoy the opportunity to experiment on non-paying clients. The participants might want a playroom that's not over- stimulating, or a breakfast room with a subtle Scottish theme - but they're going to get acid-green gingham walls which would make a loris hyperactive, or little stencils of heather and bagpipes and the Loch Ness Monster. Naturally, being middle-class and not liking to make a fuss, both women shrieked with pleasure when the results were unveiled, eyes watering in what they claimed was unalloyed delight.

Changing Rooms is both enjoyable and instructive (yet another example of Bazal Productions' flair for the leisure based game-show). But it would be more honest and even more fun, if they let you see what the rooms look like after they've been lived in for a few weeks - after the residents have edited the fripperies out of the designers' vision. It might distress the designers, it's true, but it wouldn't do them any harm to know how all those coffee tables and picture frames feel.

The prospect of Great Railway Journeys (BBC) presented by Henry Louis Gates Jr - a distinguished Professor of African-American studies - aroused expectations of sombre and subtle reflection. In the event it was National Lampoon's Vacation in Africa, a comedy of American innocence, in which a sermonising father determined to broaden his children's minds is trailed by two reluctant (and sharp-eyed) teenagers, counting the days until they can get back to the mall. It was difficult to tell whether this was a fancy cooked up between Gates and the film's director, Nick Shearman. There were times when they both seemed in on the joke, but many more when Gates's naive piety about the continent and its cultures appeared entirely authentic. "I love the fact that these rituals are a thousand years old," he exclaimed touristically as they were greeted by tribal dancers, complete with fun-fur lion head-dresses.

The continent rebuked his attempts to turn it into a vast homily on colonialism, confronting him with Zimbabweans who longed for the return of white rule and Zambian women dispossessed by tribal traditions. But nobody was quite as sharp as his two daughters, stubbornly resistant to the idea that their roots might lie in this hot, dusty, alien place. When the genial professor and his white wife were adopted into a Ugandan tribe one of them offered a shrewdly deflating footnote; "I thought it was so funny when he told my mother `These are your people,' because they're not... They're not even my people."

There isn't room to give The Larry Sanders Show (BBC2) the hymn of praise it deserves - the acting is excellent (Rip Torn's Artie is a wonderful portrait of canny survival) and the script beautifully observed. Last night's episode, in which Larry had a brief affair with Sharon Stone, but was rendered impotent at the critical moment by the revelation that she had a better table for a Clinton fund-raiser, was very close to perfect.

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