TELEVISION / A nasty taste all over the body

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LOVE, according to Jean Anouilh, has only one enemy - life. But that was before Channel 4's Love Weekend. Popular television came up strongly on the outside, strongly on the backside, strongly on the inside. Anywhere a human being could come, it went. On Love in the USA, the Dancing Vulva, a cheery person in pink felt casing, bobbed around a stage like an inflamed iris. At a masturbation class, women who hadn't been lucky enough to see the Dancing Vulva were taught to explore themselves with mirrors. On Carnal Knowledge, a Mr and Mrs for the genitally preoccupied, two giggling couples handed over their intimate secrets like Smarties. 'All right, Sarah, which of these is Richard's bottom?' Sarah peered at the four photos and went for perky No 1. But Marion thought that was James's bottom. Compere Maria McErlane shamed shame itself with her smirking inquiries: 'Considering that the male equivalent of the G-spot is reached through the anus, do you think that as a couple you fully explore the erotic possibilities of your . . . (long pause) bum-hole?' Bugger love, hello St Voyeurtine.

I saw Carnal Knowledge on a preview tape: by Friday night Channel 4 had cut the buggery question. Not a last-minute outbreak of good taste, alas, but the threat of prosecution: anal sex between heterosexuals is still illegal. This episode may have scraped the bottom, but it wasn't a lot lower than most of Love Weekend. Get a Grip on Sex was presented by Mariella Frostrup, who looks like a model for frozen yoghurt and sounds like a medical complication brought on by practising the positions she preaches. Like The Good Sex Guide (ITV), the show tried to smuggle itself into respectability on the education ticket ('If you think dildo is a character in The Hobbit, you definitely need this programme'). Mariella began the biology lesson with a semi-naked couple standing on photocopiers. Geddit? Reproduction. The lesson was intercut with crude sketches with the unmistakable whiff of desperation that hangs over any student revue. When we got to the demonstration of the Kama Sutra in a telephone booth, your critic began entertaining fantasies about a night in bed with Horlicks and Dryden. Whatever turns you off.

In the middle of this three-day sexual athletics meeting was Sarah Ann Kennedy's beguiling Nights. It told the story of Carol and Bob, cutting between drama and animation. The actors said what we'd like to think of love while their cartoon alter egos, apparently made of overbaked pastry, acted out what we know is true. This column went to press before The Naked Chat Show and Love Pains, but I was glad to miss Richard Jobson's smalls and the Bondage Challenge against the clock. It was probably a tie. Satellite channels are the traditional villains in the degradation of British TV, but this weekend, at least, Channel 4 didn't just sleep with the enemy, it tried to fight dirtier.

In about a year we have gone from a situation where sex on television was a jolly boob or two peeping over a BBC duvet, or the pale, pumping bottom of a Potter character, to the great clitoris chase. The shows silently rebuke viewers for not using their imagination in sex, but their account of it sounds like a daily grind: stand up, sit down, keep moving . . . Almost as depressing as the couple in Carnal Knowledge who 'did it in the toilet just before the show'. Aldous Huxley once complained that people shouldn't treat the mons veneris as if it were Mount Everest; but anything rather than the artificial ski slope at Hillingdon it has now become. Plastic and nowhere near the real thing.

The Love Weekend reaches a fitting climax tonight with the uncut version of Last Tango in Paris - that great statement of unlove, the cold comfort of acrobatic strangers. For the real songs and arrows of Valentine's Day you needed to watch BBC2's A Night of Love. There were some duds. The Life and Times of the Valentine Card should have been on the radio, and narrator Angus Deayton must watch that droll ennui, it could get boring. Jo Brand's deflating links between the lowlights of TV love scenes in Tie Me Up and Bind Me Robin were not half as funny as the clips themselves. But there was also Paradise Road, a surreal trip round the world of Mills and Boon and its unlikely creators, and Sounds of Love - blissful pop classics introduced by Barry White, who flattened all sceptics in his apple silk pyjamas with a ruched bodice.

It fell to Straight Through The Heart to wonder what becomes of the broken-hearted. Jenny Abbott's tender film featured four of Love's walking wounded. Their circumstances were different, but the animation when they recalled the Loved One sadly identical, like the blue background they had been filmed against - that mood indigo. A gay man had worn the Doc Martens he bought with his ex-lover till they were in pieces. The editing was witty without ever mocking its subjects. A daffy Frances de la Tour type enthused about her short, tubby Sean Connery. It was only the next time we saw her that she mentioned his cassock. The musical overlay ('Killing Her Softly', 'Good Morning Heartache') performed by Sam Brown, Ruby Turner and Ian Shaw, and some genius Earl Hinesalike on piano, was sensational, but the programme lacked an obvious contender: a man hopelessly stuck on a woman.

Diana, a seventysomething spinster with her memories of being proposed to, was straight out of Betjeman: 'We sat in the car-park till twenty to one/

And now I'm engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.' But it was she who beautifully articulated how a dead relationship can struggle on in the mind: 'I had an image of a long bridge with two props, and now one had been knocked away, so surely the bridge would fall down. And then I saw to my absolute misery that it wasn't going to fall down, it was just stretching out into space.'

A recent documentary on the making of Roseanne (C4) showed that each of the vast team of writers has the skills of a Grand Prix mechanic and the life expectancy of a Tommy at the Somme. All that fine-tuning should produce something mechanical, and in a way this sitcom is a machine, but a glorious precision one, purring with excellence. The first episode in the fifth series was astonishingly fresh, with each gag coming clean off the middle of the bat. Recession has forced the family to close down the shop, but the comedy just opened wide and showed its teeth.

In a remarkable Panorama (BBC1), Martin Bell was back in Sarajevo a few months after being shot. You wondered whether compassion fatigue would have you dropping off. But Bell was on explosive form, lobbing mortars into the mind's eye. In his absurd puffy cream coat, he led his crew through frontline trenches, shells shrieking like gulls around them. He showed us all sides of the conflict, each as filthy as the next. Out of the darkness, a woman talked about a rape camp run by her former neighbours, crushing the usual consolation that if we could put a face to our enemy there would be no war. Bell responded with an angry, unexpected beat in his voice: 'It is true that all 12 members of the EC have diplomatic relations with Bosnia. How many embassies are there? None. How many diplomats? None. How many EC observers? None.' Normally, Bell is self- effacing; here the self came out fighting. It had seen a cause - ordinary civilian life - worth fighting for.

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