REVIEW / An invitation to hop across the channels

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The Independent Culture
ON THE same evening as Paris (C4), the new vehicle for Alexei Sayle, in which he plays a penniless artist in the eponymous metropolis, drove into the Channel 4 schedules, Eurotrash returned with Messrs Gaultier and De Caunes at the wheel. Is Friday about to turn into a weekly theme night, or quoi?

What with the pre-publicity tannoying the arrival of Paris - massive roadside posters of Sayle's stubbly mug implanted into Manet's Dejeuner sur l'herbe, magazine profiles the length of one of Gide's shorter novellas - you'd have been well within your rights to expect something more substantial.

When the scriptwriters, Graham Lineham and Arthur Mathews, sold this one to Channel 4, they would have stressed its satirical edge: somewhere under all the flim-flam, the first episode was saying something reasonably acute about the symmetries of Fascism and Communism and the hysterical overreaction of critics and taste-formers. Also, the stereotypes of Parisian artistic life would have looked quite funny on paper - the gallery-owner who assumes that all tables and chairs are sculptures, the gun-toting suicidal poet called Madame Ovary.

But the presence of Sayle, ought to have delivered something much further from the spirit of 'Allo 'Allo]. The joke in Part 1 was that Alain Degout finds fame when the tableau of lunch and paint that he accidentally spills on to the floor is declared a brilliant work of art. The manner of the accident - Degout dips sausage in ketchup, nibbles, then in red paint, nibbles, spits it out, swills out mouth with turps, knocks over table - is typical of the show's rusty mechanics.

Degout's scandalous work puts him on death row and into a timewarp: in his trial, the judge (played by Eleanor Bron, who might like to think about firing her agent) knits in court, and the penalty for death is the guillotine. Did they just throw in some 1790s gags because they'd run out of ones from the 1920s? It doesn't augur well for the rest of the series.

The one thing you can say in defence of Eurotrash is that it advertises its imperfections in its name. Or some of them. There is no word available in the critical lexicon that satisfactorily conveys the presentational disabilities of Antoine de Caunes and Jean-Paul Gaultier. As it goes out at a time when most viewers are coming in, it's safe to assume that this programme was specifically designed for an audience with its faculties impaired by alcohol.

Give or take the odd disparity in format - Gaultier 'interviewed', if that's the word, a male superbimbo in the studio - the show is actually little different from Passengers, the global glossy that plugged this same hole in the summer. If anything, the breast count is slightly higher here.

There was a piece on a Japanese yodeller who lives in Bavaria, but from the items that bracketed the show - an Italian sex counsellor who's made a video about how to have sex in a tree, a visit to the Ibiza home of Britain's, first international porn star - it's clear that this is television from the top shelf.

The one European country which has resisted Eurotrash is Italy, where television is rightly renowned for plumbing the deregulated depths. This suggests one of two things: either Eurotrash is too trashy even for the trashiest of television cultures, or Prime Minister Berlusconi's channels have already done all of the stories Eurotrash covers: a significant proportion of them come from Italy. 'The British are better at television,' De Caunes said, introducing an item about

a French sitcom set in a modelling agency. Not when we put cartoon French men on screen.