Television Review

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The Independent Culture
YOU DON'T have to be Germaine Greer to feel that some repellent sexual attitudes are embodied in Bad Girls (ITV). I don't imagine that a drama set in a men's prison would have been accompanied by publicity that went on about the "sexually charged atmosphere", or would have been given such a coy come-on of a title ("Naughty Boys"?). I don't know why the makers of Bad Girls didn't just come right out and call it "Lesbian Lock-Up Spankfest", since that's obviously what they want us to think.

As it turned out, the first episode contained very little in the way of Sapphic action aside from a couple of smouldering glances. The tameness extended to the plotting, which revolves around a caring, liberal young wing-governor trying to fight a corrupt and complacent system. Most of her staff are either corrupt or lazy; the governor is a fat, middle-aged desk-jockey; and the prisoners are the expected cross-section of bullies, junkies and tarts with hearts.

On the plus side, Maureen Chadwick's script showed a good ear for the weird comedy of everyday conversation (a female screw gleefully announcing "My Bobby's doing us braised meatballs tonight"), though not nearly often enough. There were some good performances, too: Jack Ellis as a smarmy warder, avuncular assurance on the outside, a scheming pot of lust on the inside; and Debra Stephenson, brassy and menacing as his convict paramour. But that didn't make up for the formulaic feel and the tacky hard-sell.

By contrast, "Rush", the first in a new run of Under the Sun (BBC2), was largely concerned with thoroughly nice girls. The subject of Stuart Greig's film was the "Greek system" - the network of university-based fraternities and sororities which take their names from letters of the Greek alphabet (Phi Beta Kappa, Kappa Kappa Sigma, and so forth), and supply America with 85 per cent of its supreme court judges, 80 per cent of its elected politicians and nearly all its presidents.

If, like me, you got your information about the Greek system from Hollywood, you probably assumed that it was all about drinking, sex and general rowdiness. At the University of Iowa, this seemed to be the case, at least as far as the boys were concerned - we saw one fraternity president displaying to potential recruits his collection of used underwear, trophies from every sorority house on campus. The girls, though, were comparatively prim: their sorority houses were man- and alcohol-free zones, and sorority life included a lot of rather gushing conversation and some Girl Guide-ish ceremonies involving touching fingertips around a ring and singing "We want to pass it on". This made sorority spirit sound like a strain of herpes. Or perhaps they really were talking about herpes after all, and we were witnessing part of an elaborate revenge on the frat boys for the underwear thing.

Greig tried to mix all this up with the Monica Lewinsky business - the film was made in the week that Clinton confessed all. This was clumsily integrated, but point taken: Clinton, with his rampant trousers, is just another frat boy. The really bad news is, so is his successor - whoever it turns out to be. World, hold on to your knickers.