TELEVISION / All muscle, no brain: Giles Smith struggles to work out Men Talk

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The Independent Culture
ON Men Talk (C 4), a group of men sat around and talked about their bodies. Well, any excuse. 'Pumping iron and men's fashion magazines are on the increase,' alleged our presenter Richard Jobson, though he produced no statistics to support the thesis. Why do men work out? On the evidence of this programme, no one has yet worked it out.

The producers had arranged the panel carefully to include voices from a range of minorities, but unfortunately had omitted to get along a token someone with something interesting to say. All the old arguments about narcissism, insecurity and excess testosterone were trotted out and given no new inflection. 'I think there's a definite connection between mind, body and soul,' said Danny (who worked out two hours per day, six days per week). Nice to have that sorted.

There was much talk about what women might or might not 'want from' men, what they might or might not 'be looking for'. The assumption seemed to be that, for women, relationships were just another form of shopping. Was it physical size women were after? No, said Simon (in a blatant bid for the popular vote): women wanted sensitivity. Probably not as much as they wanted to change channels at this point.

Richard Jobson ushered the conversation around in a sort of new-manly way - firm in form, floppy in content. 'In a sense, there's been a kind of accusation thrown at Danny,' he said. If anything, he was too easily cowed by his guests. Simon said at one point, 'People want a man to be strong enough to be weak,' and then sat back with the expression of someone who had just laid four aces on the table. Jobson merely responded with, 'Well, that's a nice point' and moved on briskly, when perhaps the more appropriate response would have been, 'What the hell does that mean?'

Nevertheless, Jobson is a warming presence, even if he does persists in referring to everyone collectively as 'guys'. 'Let's calm down a bit, guys,' he says, or 'OK, guys, you're kind of agreed on that.' If you regularly use the word 'guys', the chances are you are either someone who serves in a pseudo-American Fifties-style burger bar or a prat. It's the single regrettable feature in what is otherwise a masculine performance.

It got a bit grim at the end. Harold had eloquently stood up for working out as a form of personal grooming without sinister overtones. But the final minutes of the programme saw him charging into the person opposite, asserting that to be conservative was not to have thought about things. This was a cocky seizure of the moral high ground - as if principles were the preserve of the radical. Sensitive and open to new values Men Talk might be, but apparently that doesn't stop people coming on and mugging the argument.

Me, You and Him (ITV) is a new sitcom involving members of the team responsible for The Mary Whitehouse Experience. In a slightly sluggish first episode, three young men gathered in a flat rendered virtually derelict by slovenliness. Evidently, someone high up in television has decreed that all new coms shall take place in this sit: no table groaning with unwashed mugs and old pizza boxes, no comedy. A routine in which John scavenged in the kitchen bin for a used tea-bag had a dull inevitability about it: this has become the modern sitcom's equivalent of an untimely visit by the vicar. But at least the script was well-stocked with jokes. Few other comedy shows could afford to slip in two quick-succession Henry Kelly gags and not even bother to draw attention to them by boosting the audience-response soundtrack.

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