Television Review

JUST WHAT we need! An ITV comedy drama about the turmoils of a group of middle-class, metropolitan thirtysomethings - why, life without Cold Feet and Wonderful You has seemed positively barren. So, three cheers for boldness, originality and Big Bad World (Sun ITV).

On the plus side, Nicholas Martin's series does boast Ardal O'Hanlon in the lead. He plays a charming, feckless Irishman (not, come to think of it, a million miles away from James Nesbitt's character in Cold Feet), who lives somewhere in London, makes his living as a journalist and is desperate to find a girlfriend. He is urged on by his best friend, Patrick, an intellectual property solicitor, and Patrick's wife Beatrice (Steve Nicolson and Emma Fielding), who are desperate to stop him hanging around their house all the time. Meanwhile, Patrick and Beatrice are getting tense about inner-city education, and have started to play the devout parents in an effort to get their first-born into the local Catholic school.

The question that gnaws at me is, who wants to watch this stuff? Were tens of thousands of young middle-class, media-wise couples curled up on sofas across London last night, gurgling with pleasure at seeing their lives played out on the small screen? I imagine their reaction, like mine, would be that they can get quite enough of this sort of thing at home, and were looking to television to provide them with a) information and b) escapism. This fulfils neither function. And what about the vast majority of viewers who live outside London (at least Cold Feet had the decency to admit that there are middle-class people in Manchester), don't have jobs in the media, and who by 9pm on a Sunday have had about as many metropolitan, middle-class dilemmas as they can handle from columns in the broadsheets?

I suppose there was an escapist element in the main plotline, which had Eamon visiting a high-class prostitute to relieve his sexual frustration, and charming her so much that she started giving it to him for free. And Martin made this story more hard-edged than it might have been: when an ex-client showed up at the christening where Eamon was godfather, there was embarrassment when she hassled him for money he owed her.

But much of the drama, and pretty well all the comedy, felt forced - as if Martin knew that the people he was depicting couldn't possibly be interesting enough by themselves, but had to have something glued on.

While we're on the subject of frustrated, uncertain men on the cusp of middle-age, we may as well turn to How to Be Leader of the Opposition (Sat BBC2), Michael Cockerell's essay on the most thankless job in politics. This contained some riveting evidence of the possibilities for humiliation: Margaret Thatcher selecting Rolf Harris's "Two Little Boys" as her favourite record; Neil Kinnock in a Tracey Ullman video; William Hague in his baseball cap. As Peter Hennessy remarked at one point, a Leader of the Opposition who is on the defensive is a sort of political dosser, asking passers-by if they can spare any change. I thought of Hague struggling to drum up interest in the single European currency: The Big Issue, anybody?

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