reviews; television Chandler & Co, BBC1

Jasper Rees on strange disappearances at the female detective agency
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The Independent Culture
When an actor quits a soap there are guidelines for explaining away their disappearance: death, emigration, imprisonment, anything that smacks of finality. Dramas present a different problem, because actors tend to leave between series rather than during them, and so can't be counted on to play their own exit. One measure of a scriptwriter's technical and creative dexterity is their ability to explain away the vanishing of a character.

Chandler & Co (BBC1) sets Paula Milne a task twice the normal size. Whether the BBC failed to re-commission quickly enough, or the actors had better things to do, the second series is missing both Peter Capaldi and Barbara Flynn from a central cast of only three. Thank God Catherine Russell, who stayed, plays the one called Chandler.

To lose one character between series may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness. Milne, fresh from unloading extravagant implausibilities on the script of The Politician's Wife, seamlessly relocates Flynn's character to Brussels and Capaldi's to Bogota. If you've got to get rid of them, it might as well be to somewhere wild. Capaldi was retained to read the letter explaining his absence: they couldn't hire his face, but at least his agent made his voice available.

Replacing departing actors is a bit like punching requirements into a dating agency's computer. Chandler's principal goal, like most of Milne's work, is to show sisters doing it for themselves. Hence the scene where Elly Chandler is interviewing candidates and humiliates the man who assumes she is the secretary. Having lost a childless older woman who was divorced and so didn't clutter up the proceedings with a husband, Milne has gone for a widowed older woman with teenage children who ditches her boyfriend in the first episode (played by Susan Fleetwood at her gawkiest).

Whether the series can comfortably sacrifice two-thirds of its legacy of affection remains to be seen. In character, if not in characters, it's entertaining, formulaic business as usual - mixing the giddy improbability of self-torching stalkers with homely dabbling in Elly's emotional life.

The first episode's plot line included a mystery delivery of 40 pizzas to an unsuspecting household. Attention, all prank archivists: precisely the same stunt is pulled in Jonathan Harvey's new play Boom Bang-A-Bang. It must be the practical joke of the month, the sort of thing you'd expect on Whose Line Is It Anyway? (C4). The hoary old improvisation series returned bringing Caroline Quentin on board, presumably aware that it has never been an exemplary equal opportunities employer.

The show needs comediennes because the male majority overdo the groin gags. Invited to imagine the world's worst thing to say to someone in bed, Ryan Stiles came up with, "Do you mind if I scream my own name?" While brilliantly witty, the joke is an accurate depiction of Whose Line's intimacy with an area just below its own navel.

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