Television: Last Night

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Whatever You Want, the BBC's new early-evening family gameshow, takes the form of a series of brief contests in which three people compete for the fulfilment of a long-held dream - a meeting with a boy-band, say, or a chance to be a disc-jockey on Radio 2 (there's no accounting for dreams). It isn't a bad show, as these things go - quite ingenious in its selection of "prizes" and only moderately excruciating in its exploitation of the palpable desire of those taking part. If the payoff is only a cuddly toy or a toaster you can be sure that disappointment will be quickly overcome but when a young fan has just seen her chance of close contact with Gary Barlow disappear you know that a whole cherished fantasy has gone with it - blossoming romance ("you're so fresh and real, darling, not like those stuck-up supermodels"), a paparazzi-riot wedding and, in the course of time, the first Hello! baby-picture exclusive.

In order to win, the competitors have to take risks, of course - some of the games are settled by an expert judge (Nikki Clarke in last night's hairdressing head-to-head) while others are decided by an audience vote, necessarily exposing one unfortunate to the public humiliation of coming last. In fact, Whatever You Want is oddly reminiscent of the General Election, with its three-way race and its slightly superficial demonstrations of competence. You can imagine Gaby Roslin introducing Tony, Paddy and John - three lovely fellahs who'd just love to be our next Prime Minister and who are prepared to do just about anything to win through. They'll even answer impertinent questions about their drug habits, as they were in The Enormous Election with Dennis Pennis. To be fair, Paddy wouldn't answer which, as his interviewer Rhona Cameron pointed out, would be taken as a confession by almost everybody watching. Tony and John both said no, and I'm afraid it was all too easy to believe both of them, however many opportunities were offered by Seventies' Oxford or Brixton in the Sixties.

The programme itself was a bid for the youth vote - a larky attempt to persuade the voluntarily disenfranchised that it might be worth putting a cross beside one party or another next Thursday. Various youthful celebrities discussed their views of salient issues - drugs, crime, sexual consent - and Dennis Pennis linked the serious bits with some grating comic sketches in an all-purpose nerdy American accent. His performance struck me as singularly irritating, about as engaging as having someone jab you in the ear with a sharpened pencil, but I may simply be getting too old for this kind of thing. As a primer in party politics, it wasn't bad at all but I don't think that any of the existing political interviewers need worry about their jobs, just yet - Rhona Cameron was crisp and straightforward with Paddy Ashdown but David Baddiel (Blair) and Ulrika Johnson (Major) both came across as awestruck sixth formers, given a big assignment for the school magazine. The former's interview included such tricky questions as "You are a politician, I think, whose politics are lead by a moral sense. Is that true?", while the toughest challenge Ulrika posed to the incumbent was that of making sure that his eyeline didn't drift down to her alluring leather-clad legs.

Bremner, Bird and Fortune: Three Men and a Vote offered some real treats - a funny parody of University Challenge, in which the teams were composed of politicians and the questions had been slyly calculated to embarrass anyone who gave the correct answer, and a fine parody of "MacCavity the Mystery Cat" which neatly pinned down Michael Heseltine's feline ability to absent himself from any political unpleasantness. There was also something illuminating about the qualitative differences in Bremner's impersonations of the party leaders - his Ashdown is the best, beautifully observed in terms of rhetoric and manner, and Major is not bad either. But he hasn't quite managed to pin Tony Blair down yet. I think this should worry the Labour leader rather than console him because it may suggest that many of the electorate are in just the same position.

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