Television Review

OF COURSE, no responsible film-maker wants to glamorize drugs, but how on earth do you avoid it? Unless you actually lie, and fake shots of podgy, smiling people shooting up while watching Countdown, drugs will tend to look cool - even if it's only the vestigial, existential cool of the doomed loser. What is the solution?

Alastair Cook and Robert Davis's film Amsterdamage (BBC2) cracked the problem. It gazed lugubriously at the lives of Dawn and her friend Patsi, two middle-aged women who live in self-imposed exile in Amsterdam. Dawn fled there 18 years ago from West Yorkshire, escaping a disastrous marriage; Patsi arrived a couple of years earlier, on the run from unemployment and Weymouth. Their days revolved, as far as one could tell, around alcohol and drugs - pot, mushrooms, coke, with occasional forays further afield (though Patsi said whiz doesn't agree with her, and Dawn would never do heroin: "Ooh, in terms of karma, something like that").

Both of them had done time for smuggling drugs; Dawn had been viciously beaten up by her coke-dealer boyfriend. Both of them were writers, in their way: Patsi was writing a novel about drug-smuggling, which she said started out as "therapy" - doesn't that make you want to read it? Dawn writes poems, mostly addressed to her son, Kristian, whom she affectionately calls "Badger".

Elements of this film felt untrustworthy - Dawn's descrip-tion of Amsterdam as "a spider's web", her fear that Kristian, lounging on her sofa after a two-week visit had turned into a months-long stay, would be "Amsterdamaged". What didn't look faked was the sheer inertia of their lives, their inability to drag their eyes away from the living-room carpet long enough to take any pleasure in something outside their tiny, cramped circle. Amsterdamage was clever, manipulative and depressing, and probably the best argument against legalising pot you're likely to see this year.

By contrast, the teenage heroes and heroines of Dawson's Creek (C4) need drugs to get their excitement as little as they need orthodontistry to get their teeth straight. For Dawson, a fresh-faced 16-year-old setting out on his first proper date with the girl he has long adored, holding hands is thrill enough. But while he is still in the first flush of romance, the grown-ups are all long past the U-bend and heading down to the sewer, saying things to each other like: "I'm not sure I can stay married to a woman I love... and hate... in equal measure." God, that's deep.

This is another of those American shows designed to demonstrate that even the financially secure and physically unflawed have their problems. I'm not sure if the producers really believe this, or if they are just offering a crumb of consolation to the target adolescent audience - as you sit alone in your room squeezing blackheads, be happy! Think how much more complicated life would be if somebody actually did want to go out with you. One day, though, the proles will rise, and Dawson will be found drowned in a butt of skin cleanser. Let's see how squeaky clean he looks then.

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