review

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Well, we know what the Queen wasn't watching last night, if we are to believe the Palace's sniffy statement about Panorama. She was actually enduring the Royal Variety Performance during the broadcast, but I like to imagine her sitting with a small portable concealed beneath the balcony, monarchical finger dabbing compulsively at the channel buttons ("For God's sake woman," shouts Prince Philip, "leave the damn thing alone!"). She wouldn't have found anything very soothing elsewhere. The evening's viewing had been pulled out of shape by the fierce gravitational forces of that scheduling black hole, so that strange anomalies occurred in the television universe. News at Ten found itself having to report on a television programme that was still being broadcast, and even fictional programmes seemed to offer strange allusions.

Cracker (ITV), for example, began with marital incompatibility. Fitz was inviting a client to come up with at least 20 good points about her husband. She can't get beyond five and then cancels one of those ("he doesn't smoke") after an indignant tirade about his secret puffing in the greenhouse after rows, a fumigation which has stunted her tomato plants. Case solved, husband dumped - which is unfortunate given that she turns out to be married to DCI Wise, Fitz's boss.

Things didn't get better. The next scene was a wedding, complete with a flyaway veil oddly reminiscent of the Royal Wedding, the last occasion on which viewing demographics were melted into a single congealed mass. And, if that wasn't bad enough, the villain of the piece turns out to be a disturbed young woman with amorous obsessions and a taste for marriage wrecking. How unlike the home life of our own dear Queen.

Though immune from the sensitivities of a mother-in-law, I watched with some trepidation myself, having defended Cracker recently against charges of casual designer violence. This is not the easiest of defence briefs, and when a subsequent storyline suggested that the slow and bloody death of women was becoming a leitmotif for the series, rather than a one-off plot detail, I shifted a little uneasily. This week's new storyline did not offer much relief from Cracker's mortuary-slab aesthetic (the make- up man is surely up for some technical prizes for the quality of his lesions and blood-pooling) but it did at least demonstrate that the series is an equal opportunities offender. This time it's the turn of young men to be unceremoniously bundled from the back of a transit van onto one of those bleak urban verges so popular with the location director. As they have been handcuffed to a metal bed, which is then plugged into the mains, their corpses display risus sardonicus, a morbid grin which is "a feature of electrocution". I imagine the scriptwriter was delighted with this little titbit, which chimes so neatly with the ambitions of the series itself - to shock you rigid and yet leave some kind of smile on your lips. It may only be because it can still do the latter, and because it allows a nagging persistence for its main characters's emotional troubles, that it gets away with quite so much of the former.

If the Queen did flick over to the other channels she would have found distraction but not much consolation. The title of this week's The Factory (BBC2), "We've Got a Bit of a Panic On", might have brought a wry smile to her lips, but it's difficult to imagine that factory visits are big on her list of recreational viewing. On BBC2, The X-Files offered the odd hostage to fortune too: "This kind of monster isn't made overnight," whispered Agent Mulder, shortly before Diana began her desecration of royal proprieties. But he was talking about a fetishistic serial killer, with necrophiliac tendencies, so it's hard to believe that the Royal attention was fixed for long there either. In the end, you can't help feeling that she may have broken an old habit... and sneaked a look at Panorama after all.

Comments