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The Independent Culture
"Whatever problems you've had should be over," says Father Peter's boss, indicating that his stay in Ballykissangel is coming to an end. But Father Peter likes it here, as do 15 million television viewers, so a return to England is about as remote a possibility as the Pope doing a Mates commercial. Besides, Father Peter is working on a new problem - one involving the deliciously bad-tempered Assumpta, who owns the local pub and comes over all confused and irritable when he looks into her beautiful eyes. From the very first scene in which these two met it was clear that we were in for another of those balls-achingly prolonged courtships, eked out by sudden silences and flurried tantrums and set to a background of mild derangement - Northern Ireland Exposure, in other words.

Ballykissangel (BBC1) isn't quite as anodyne or twee as some critics suggested when it first appeared - though it's true that twinkling eccentricities are its principal key. Rural life here means scampishness, mild corruption and more satisfyingly concluded escapades than there are sheep - it isn't about boredom, infanticide and the grim fate of being left behind. But this is an anchor for the Sunday-night schedules, so it would be unreasonable to expect it to come over like a brogued-up version of Dostoyevsky, and, within the constraints of ministering to an early-evening congregation, it manages pretty well - if you were told these stories in the pub you'd assume the teller was in a pretty good mood with the world, but I don't think you would knock him down as an out-and-out liar.

The fact that the protagonist is a priest is neither here nor there, really. Though the combat between Father Peter and Quigley (local entrepreneur and general representative for the world, the flesh and the devil) has echoes of Giovanni Guareschi's Don Camillo stories, there isn't much interest in theology as such. Peter's status simply provides him with a direct route to the heart of the community (a doctor or a vet would do as well, as we know to our cost). His faith also adds a certain spice to that tantalising incompatibility, but he's polite enough not to mention his beliefs too often. Which is probably why the townspeople have almost unanimously signed a petition demanding that he stay on as their priest - a document which also bears the all-important signature of Alan Yentob.

Who will also have high hopes for Dalziel and Pascoe (BBC1), now occupying the Casualty slot on Saturday night and adapted from the novels by Reginald Hill. No risks have been taken by adding anything unusual to the expected formula - Warren Clarke plays Inspector Dalziel, a belligerently boorish policeman whose face looks as if it has been assembled from very cheap cuts of meat; Colin Buchanan (late of The Preston Front) plays his long- suffering university-educated Sergeant, there to be abused with elaborate and careful rhetoric. "A Clubbable Woman" concerned shenanigans in a rugby club and, provided you could get over the assembled genre implausibilities, it killed the time gently enough. It helped that it was scripted by Alan Plater, which meant that these were the sort of rugby players who didn't think that word-play means shouting obscenities into the opposing prop- forward's ear. Even the twitchy jogger (who plays the part of the man that couch-detectives think did it and then turns out not to) turns out to have a passable turn of phrase when things get sticky. Dalziel's plain- speaking also has an obvious potential when thoughtfully applied ("How's the building trade, Jack? Still kicking the shit out of the green belt," he says to one rugby club stalwart, wiping the beery smile off his face), though only Warren Clarke's performance prevents it from tipping over into a comedy sketch. You can't help thinking, either, about what sort of blunt verbal instrument such a character would use if he had to describe this sort of mainstream entertainment.

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