Review

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The Independent Culture
In the short term, Annie's Bar (C4) - the House of Windsor brings you the House of Commons - was unlucky in its timing. There have been boasts about how the last-minute production schedule will allow the scriptwriters to respond to recent political developments. So, in the week that 300 MPs had put in for a rise, and the Commons corridors can have been buzzing with talk of little else, it was distinctly underwhelming to be fobbed off with a tiny two-second reference to the issue of the hour.

In a larger sense, though, Ardent Productions may have hit their moment - as politicians slither ungracefully towards the hour of reckoning, viewers will need a sardonic outlet for their mute disgust. Last night's episode ended with a Labour MP staring fixedly as a Tory member takes his ease at the urinal. "What are you staring at?" he is asked. "The next election," he replies darkly.

Clearly, Annie's Bar is prepared to take the piss out of our elected representatives, but it seems to have settled for something well short of outright cari-cature. The opening episode used the shock by-election victory of a naive Tory candidate (implausibly naive, in truth) to introduce viewers to the native fauna of this unique habitat - lissom researchers scraping past the pin-striped paunches of Tory backbenchers, thug-gish whips and scheming ministers, the badly-foxed political journos propping up the members' bar. At times, naturalism, in the shape of some rather stilted local colour, conspires against comedy, as does the decision to give full rein to the thespian ambitions of real MPs - those, at least, who have decided that high office is beyond them.

In one scene, after the new boy has mistakenly supped tea with the enemy, he is hooted at by a clutch of his colleagues: "We do expect you to know the difference between Conservative and Labour," they yell. Austin Mitchell, the enemy in question, stretches out his arms pleadingly: "Tell us, tell us!". This is an interesting spectacle, but not exactly rib-cracking. Edwina Currie's appearance was decidedly stifling, too - a deadening air of charity charades, in a production which needs to be offhand and understated if it is to capture the sense of public performers caught off-camera. The less explicit Annie's Bar is, the better it is, though this may be a problem specific to first episodes, which carry a heavy duty of explanation. As a maiden speech, this wasn't bad at all - a touch nervous here and there, let down occasionally by poor delivery, but showing definite promise.

It was odd that Jeremy Clarkson's Motorworld's (BBC2) visit to Texas, spiritual home of the unrestrained ego, should turn out so muted and dull. I am prepared to admit (usually after a brisk massage with a torque-wrench) that the series can be quite watchable, but this was as flat as the landscape in which it found itself, a state where speed-bumps would count as scenery, were speed-bumps not reviled as an unconstitutional Commie plot. Perhaps it was simply that Clarkson had found the one place in the world where his top-fuel, unmuffled loud-mouthing would come across as English reserve.

Jeremy drove a bigfoot truck (which frightened him) and met several red- necks who could outperform him in the swaggering bullshit stakes (which, understandably, startled him), but he never quite turned the key in the programme's ignition.

I had thought that the year could offer no more painful musical experience than the whining infants in Wednesday's Under the Sun. My complacency was immediately punished by the aspiring holiday-camp entertainer in Seasiders (C4), who managed to work his way through "La Bamba" without hitting a single note. For some reason, he accompanied this defiance of statistical probability with a mime of a scuba- diver trying to get an eel out of his wet-suit. The stunned managers, auditio- ning for summer season, struggled to lift their lower jaws back into place. Haven holidaymakers have apparently been spared the misery of being serenaded by this man. Irene Cockcroft's engaging series will follow those who made it.

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