TELEVISION / Double the trouble

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The Independent Culture
AT THE end of Favorite Son (ITV), Senator Terry Fallon (highly-polished skin, thumping great jaw and dumber than a box of rocks) was shot off the podium by his PA. And, only as long ago as Wednesday, it had all looked so good for him - the people's choice for next President after that courageous speech on primetime telly. But a week in politics is a long time, and half a week in a mini-series even longer.

Favorite Son was with us for about four hours and 30 minutes all told; it seemed as long as the American electoral process and in places, equally tedious, though, in a strange way, nowhere near as implausible. At the start, in fact, the programme looked startlingly like a hitherto unseen hybrid: a mini-series with a sense of irony. In the opening scene, some site-workers near the White House paused to watch a military ceremony in which the stars and stripes was unfurled. And each of them removed their hard-hats as the camera came in close for that look of sustained pride which you only see in a mini-series, and which is like someone attempting to maintain a smile while teary- eyed with the effort of holding off an imminent bowel movement.

But the drift of the tale through layers of political corruption was calculated gradually to explode the terms of this idyll until, in episode three, someone could claim 'the constitution is just a wistful, outdated dream'. Which was a bit rich in the circumstances. For the American government to be accused of double-standards, cynicism and narrow interests is one thing; but for it to be accused of those things by a television mini-series might be thought slander of the kettle by the pot. In politics, double standards are a scandal; in a mini-series, they are merely (like double-helpings) good value.

Still, the scriptwriters had some fun reaching the moral high ground. Best of all was the sublime exchange behind Reiker's house, in the construction of which the dictionary of quotations had obviously fallen open at Shakespeare. 'Conscience does make cowards of us all.' 'I've waded so deep in blood I can't see either shore.' 'There was a warrior, once upon a time. There wasn't a mad dog like you,' etc.

Sally Crain, the PA with the pistol, was the villain. You had had your doubts about Sally's Nicaraguan connections ever since seeing, on her dressing table, a photograph of her with cropped hair, touting a machine gun the size of an ocean-going vessel. Signs were she was not the simple Voluntary Service Overseas nurse she claimed. And in as duplicitous a switch as any Sally Crain was capable of, the tale backed right out its cynicism when it came to the crunch. It seems you can write off as many Chiefs of Staff as the time allows, but it's still not considered within the bounds of decency to suggest the President has his hand in the till. President Baker turned the tale right around in an instant, purging his poisonous side-kicks and getting on the phone to thank FBI Agent Mancuso, the tale's one repository of moral virtues. Why had Mancuso put himself out? 'Maybe I'm just an old-fashioned idealist,' said Mancuso, with one of those constipated grimaces. And this was just an old-fashioned mini-series after all.