Television Review

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WHEN HANNAH ARENDT coined the phrase "the banality of evil" she didn't have ITV's primetime schedules in mind. Still, if the cap fits. Evil abounds on the network at present - two series in as many days have used the word "evil" in the title; and boy, are they banal.

On Sunday night, Robson Green was back in Touching Evil (ITV). This is the one about a police squad that specialises in tracking down serial killers. Green plays DI Dave Creegan, a maverick whose unorthodox methods and dedication to his job have - and this may not come as a shock to you - alienated his superiors and destroyed his marriage. The story starts with a killer, Antony Matchin, being released and returning to his home town; the same night, the killings begin again. If you think the finger points firmly to Matchin, then you'll be thrilled by next week's conclusion. Also, you should contact me, care of The Independent, because I have some very exciting investment opportunities for a discriminating individual such as yourself.

The only really interesting thing about Touching Evil is the way it is filmed, borrowing a host of visual tricks from advertisements. Cars prowl round post- industrial landscapes, nuclear sunsets glowering in the background. People move in slow motion, or don't move at all - just fade out in one place and reappear in another. Television drama does have lessons to learn from advertising about how to imply action or squeeze the maximum amount of story into the smallest space. But what is happening here is vacuous stylisation: it's a way of telling the viewers that this is a modern, original detective series, contrary to any impression you may have gained from the plot.

Andrea Newman's An Evil Streak (ITV), which started last night, is more straightforward, but still handicapped by pretensions. Trevor Eve plays Alex Kyle, a gay academic who enjoys an unhealthy relationship with his attractive niece, Gemma (Rosalind Bennett). Worried that Gemma is bored with her marriage, Kyle arranges a little diversion for her, in the shape of David Mereday, a struggling actor who doubles as Kyle's cleaner. Before you know it, Gemma and David are at it like knives, while Kyle watches them from behind a one-way mirror. But it soon becomes clear that David and his wife (Lynsey Baxter) are first-class rogues and manipulators themselves. Tragedy beckons.

Throughout, there are thundering ironies and literary allusions: Kyle is working on a version of Troilus and Criseyde, and clearly relishes playing Pandarus. But this just points up the Mills & Boon level of characterisation. You feel that Newman wants to be Iris Murdoch; but An Evil Streak is Murdoch rewritten by... well, I'm trying to think of a writer who exemplifies tacky middle-class sex dramas, but can't come up with anybody better than Newman herself. In this week's Radio Times, she talks about the importance of the "Will they, won't they?" element to her drama. Absurd, of course: it's because we know that they will that we watch. She should just let them get on with it, and forget the subtext. As it is, watching this steamy, bilious, faintly acid outpouring, it's not a streak of evil that comes to mind.