Television Review

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The Independent Culture
HEDONISM II is a resort in Jamaica where people go to let it all hang out. Typically, its guests have quite a lot to let hang out. Whatever the opposite of body fascism is, that's the system that operates at Hedonism II. Call it body communism, where all mountains of flesh are equal. When you book a holiday there you do so confident in the knowledge that someone else at Hedonism will be fatter/less well-hung/wearing an even nastier see-through PVC pelmet than yours. And guess who's spending the next few weeks there, selflessly ogling the pubic hectares on our behalf? It could only be ITV, the channel that's leading the headlong charge into the moral vacuum while nervously looking over its shoulder to make sure everyone else will follow.

They have a nude beach and a prude beach at Hedonism II. Pleasure Island (ITV) doesn't spend much time on the prude beach. There's no nude volleyball there, and no body painting or gladiatorial wet T-shirt contests. Kim from Hemel Hempstead entered the wet T-shirt contest with the legend "Hard Rock" printed on her freshly hosed top. If ever there was a misnomer for the contents of a woman's T-shirt, that's it. She had lost a lot of weight before coming to Hedonism, but by the time she had downed enough Dutch courage to take part, she had probably put it all back on.

I can't remember the last time such a quantity of breasts on television made me quite so depressed. I may have to go on a course of anti-depressants, like Maggie from Nottingham, who has had a bad year since splitting with her boyfriend, a tattoo artist called Gary. Still, she's always got Cliff, whom she worships so much she keeps on calling Cliff Richards. Maybe Gary left because she could never remember his name either. Anyway, Maggie has booked a holiday at Hedonism to cheer herself up. Or rather the television company has booked it for her, and paid, for the privilege of sniggering behind its hand at her pitiful life. Sir Cliff looks on from her bedside table as she packs earplugs, prickly-heat cream, teddy bear, anti-flatulence medication and, more in hope than expectation, a whip. Cliff may not approve of the whip, although I could be wrong about that. (Kim's got a whip as well, by the way. Perhaps they've just got some particularly big spiders in Hedonism.) Last year Maggie went to Hedonism with Gary during Body Art Week. This year, she's back alone, meeting with old friends.

And I mean old: no one is young at Hedonism. No children are allowed on site, probably because they are simply not childish enough. They don't do moonies before they dive into the water, or wrap each other's penises in party spray, or crave the indulgence of every single whim. Next week, apparently, "a group of swinging couples descend on Hedonism". But then there's very little that doesn't swing in Hedonism II. Me, I'm off to the prude beach.

Smack The Pony (C4) is the best new sketch show since the last best new sketch show. Like Big Train, it has a nonsensical title, and a rigorous set of laws about what sketches should and shouldn't include. They remind me of the abstinent clauses drawn up by those Danish film directors and deployed in the recent film Festen. There are no catchphrases, no running gags, no jokes about other people on television (praise be), no figures from history in comical costumes, and definitely no telegraphic overacting.

There are also, and this is its unique selling point, almost no men. This frees it to laugh at the foibles of women in a way that is at once celebratory and ruthlessly frank. The opening sketch reads like a mission statement: a lithe and athletic-looking woman in a swimming cap impressively stretches and limbers up at the edge of a pool, then belly-flops into the water and does doggy-paddle. Women will go to any length to keep up appearances, but will somehow get it wrong, or go too far. The three stars complement one another nicely. Fiona Allen is good at playing vampish and vapid, Doon Mckichan is the most physical comedian of the three, and Sally Phillips is a deadpan specialist. They are, to use a phrase that never quite sounds like the compliment it ought to be, the funniest women on television.

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