Television Review

THE PEOPLE we see on TV are so uniformly pretty that it is easy to take prettiness for granted. In real life, on a daily basis, we wade happily through a daily ocean of flab and acne and scurf, much of it our own, and we bond cheerfully with people who would look grotesque and out of place in a Mike Leigh film; but TV is a little oasis of slimness and clear skin. So it comes as a minor jolt when you watch a programme like Playing the Field (BBC1), Kay Mellor's drama about the members of a women's football team. I hope this doesn't sound as if I'm saying that the cast are ugly - most of them could, I imagine, look more than presentable if the part demanded it (I have my reservations about Ricky Tomlinson). But the women, in particular, are assertively ordinary in a way that most soap operas, for all their ostensible realism, would never dare to allow: they have scrubby haircuts, small, unmade-up eyes and shapeless clothes.

The most striking innovation, though, is the way that their average looks are not allowed to get in the way of their sex appeal. Last night's episode revolved around the temptations being dangled in front of Rita and Geraldine (Melanie Hill and Lorraine Ashbourne), neither of whom fits remotely into stereotypical ideas of female beauty. They both play married women, pursued by other men with something approaching desperation.

There's an important point being made here - not that ugly people get laid, too, but that what we count as ugly, and what we count as beautiful, is a far more complex business than television usually bothers to convey. Just how fluid our notions are is demonstrated by James Nesbitt, who plays Rita's husband. Perfectly credible as the desirable Irish eccentric in Cold Feet, here he makes a believable object of mild sexual derision. When a couple of the girls meet his wife's ex-husband (a snub-nosed character a good 15 years older), they are amazed that she should have traded down to her current model.

There are aspects of Playing the Field that are less realistic. If you stop and analyse it, it is a little odd that marital tension always gets expressed in the form of sex and shouting matches, rather than, say, shopping sprees and glum silences in front of the video. And I find it hard to stomach the triumphant-in-the-face- of-adversity theme tune ("Whatever will be will be, and we will be!"). But set it against most other "realistic" dramas, and it shows how fake they are.

More challenges to aesthetic stereotypes came in The Half Monty (C4), a portrait of a dwarf strip troupe. My first reaction was that this was simply a freak show. But for the strippers, it was plainly more subtle than that. For at least two of them, Philip and Ray, both enthusiastic body-builders, being small was a privilege, partly because it set them apart from the common herd, but also because, in purely practical terms, it had opened up unexpected opportunities. Ray would never have contemplated a life in the theatre if he hadn't been approached by a casting director in the street, and now he loved it. Even for Gee, who was the most resentful of the unwanted attention his height brought him - he and his (average-sized) fiancee, Ali, had given up public displays of affection because they were fed up with the staring - performing seemed to be a way of controlling people's reactions.

I suspect that things were more complex for the audience, too. The group's manager, listing their individual qualities, ended with the darkly chiselled Chris: "He's got some good looks, the women seem to go for him. All of them play well towards women." Watching the audience, whistling and laughing, it was hard to tell whether they would have reacted differently to a full-sized strip act. I would guess that embarrassment and pleasure at seeing male sexuality made mock of came into it, but I suppose it always does. They weren't campaigning to show that short men are real men but that seemed to be an effect of their act. And that surely can't be a bad thing.

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London