Television Review

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The Independent Culture
QUITE WHAT Zoo (BBC1) is doing in the schedules is a bit of a puzzle. The puzzling thing isn't simply the fact that it's only six years since Molly Dineen did London Zoo very thoroughly in The Ark. It's that where The Ark was a questioning, intelligent series about zoos and what they are for, about the public role of science, about the conflict between science and the market economy, this is a piece of PR fluff, seemingly designed to head off any serious enquiry.

What we're seeing in Zoo, in fact, is the culmination of a process which was only starting when Dineen made her film. At that point, the zoo was undergoing a radical overhaul, trying to make itself more popular in a bid to cut its budget deficit. Here, we see London Zoo turning into an animal theme park: a camera-friendly keeper provokes a fight between Jack the kookaburra and Rodney the rubber snake; the locusts are transferred from a boring glass tank to a desert scene (including half an ageing jeep buried in the sand), part of the new "Web of Life" display; new gents' toilets are installed, with windows that allow the gents to watch the rheas and the giant anteaters while they wash their hands. And we see individual members of staff doing their individual bits and pieces - with little sense, at least so far, of the relationships that lie behind the work. So there's none of the backbiting and mutinies that Dineen showed: the Ark, one gathers, is now thoroughly shipshape, and a happy ship at that.

Perhaps I'm being unfair. We have had only one episode of Zoo, after all. But it does seem an unambitious programme; I wouldn't have thought that the death in childbirth of a pygmy hippo could leave me unmoved, but it did here. I wasn't too impressed by the shots of a golden eagle learning to fly above the downs at Whipsnade, either, thanks to Debbie Wiseman's cliched soundtrack. What bothers me is that this programme shows two great public institutions struggling to find a public: one is the zoo; the other is the BBC.

There was more unquestioning PR puffery in an edition of Omnibus (BBC1) devoted entirely to Star Waui gttgturth sp9szadkfgksdjafkgjlgjlk... Whoa - was I asleep there? James Erskine's film combined a lot of information you have already heard (biggest film in history; George Lucas had a hard time persuading the studios to make it; Harrison Ford told him "You can write this shit, but you sure can't say it") with an exceedingly dull Tunisian travelogue conducted by somebody called David West Reynolds - a "modern Indiana Jones" according to the commentary, though frankly he didn't strike me as somebody you'd want to be trapped with in an elevator, let alone a crumbling Egyptian tomb.

Interesting moments crept through, such as Carrie Fisher's remarks about what it's like to know that children are screwing your head off and pouring shampoo out of your neck. But there was no attempt to understand why films with mortifyingly gap-riddled plots and uncertain acting have captured the public imagination (unless you count the usual nonsense about creating a modern myth, blah de blah). This was a pathetic surrender to the dark forces of Hollywood hype.

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