Television: Last Night

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The Independent Culture
Intense affairs are difficult to conclude happily - a fact that is also true of television thrillers, which are bound to let us down in the end by killing off the very mystery that enchanted us. Channel 4's scheduling of Melissa - a five-part series in just nine days - has made watching it the equivalent of a holiday romance - a slow courtship telescoped. When the moment came to say goodbye, there was bound to be a certain amount of protective disavowal on our part. All that excitement and it ends with showdown on an airfield - a scene we have seen countless times in dumb cops and robbers shows. Just as you downgrade the attractions of a lover who has disappointed you (or been disappointed by you), the temptation here was to rewrite the history of one's earlier attraction. Perhaps it wasn't that special after all.

But even if the clockwork showed in the final episode, when elusive hints and implications were no longer an option, it would be a pity to judge the whole on that basis alone. The plot may have turned out to be a standard piece of mystery macrame, with virtually everybody implicated in some kind of skulduggery and more skeletons in cupboards than a major teaching hospital - secret ties of blood, maternal revenge, blackmail and currency smuggling. There may also have been a revelation scene of wincing extravagance (Adrian Dunbar getting 10 years of underplaying out of his system in one florid scene). But even when the drama had moved from flirtation to tying up loose ends, Bleasedale demonstrated his consistent ability to give you more than you were expecting, colouring perfectly functional scenes with a note of comedy or pity. It was a darkly funny touch to have Don's first suicide attempt thwarted by a safety airbag but when Julie Walters finally killed herself with a broken glass, the scene shivered with a quite unembarrassed sense of tragedy.

Bleasedale also modernised the apparatus of Francis Durbridge's original in ways that added more than just contemporary shine - the faxed clues and the Internet policeman who could hack away at suspects lives were fairly straightforward updates, but the message that Melissa left behind her exploited recent technology for a real emotional purpose. The immediacy of video, its almost magical impression of presence, resurrected her at a point when the drama needed a shot of feeling so that it didn't simply turn into a Cluedo puzzle. Her lines, a posthumous game played with the casual implications of the present tense, pulled the trick off beautifully. I would hope that Bleasedale returns to his usual level of ambition in the next project, but Melissa proved that even when he's playing, he's better than most.

I had thought that Channel Five's 100 Per Cent was far and away the most perverse quiz show on television, a programme that has decided that the way forward for the genre is to remove from it any element of tension, strategy or human interaction. But Fluke, Channel 4's celebration of dumb luck, comes a very close second. Hosted by Tim Vine, a comedian who appears to have collected his material from remaindered Christmas crackers ("I went to the races the other day. A church roof went past. It was a steeple chase" ), it boasts that it is the show "where a blockhead can beat a brainbox". This is because there is no skill involved at all - winning simply involves being luckier than your opponents. It is described as being based "on an original idea by Tim Vine" but it strikes you that it may have been a bit of stand-up fantasy which has mutated grotesquely into a real series. "Wouldn't it be strange to have a show where no one could possibly know the answers. You know, 'Dennis Norden is reading a book. What page is he on?'" While the details are passably funny on a first viewing - the host's assistant is a stiff military man called Major Disappointment and the losers get a Silver Short Straw as a consolation prize - I can't think of any reason at all why anyone would want to watch it twice.

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