Television Review

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IT'S POSSIBLE that this country is ready for Ally McBeal (C4). Last week, the new series was heralded by a feature, McBeal Appeal, analysing the attraction of the fey attorney, presented by Davina McCall. McCall also presents Streetmate, a brash programme in which men and women are encouraged to go up to perfect strangers in the street and ask them out; so this was roughly like getting EastEnders' Mike Reid to present a programme on the evanescent charm of the haiku.

The pattern seemed to be being repeated this week with Love in Leeds (C4), a series of documentaries on the mating game as it is played in West Yorkshire. If this was designed to satisfy the urges of the impatient McBeal fan, it was hopelessly off-target, a smart missile programmed according to an out-of-date tourist map.

The film followed Tracie, Sam and Christine as they set out to find a man. Tracie was seen parking her seven-year-old son on her mother, then heading out for a club to make a play for a cute barman; Sam got horribly dizzy on the rides at a funfair with her new boyfriend, Rick; and the much older Christine went on a blind date in a swish restaurant.

Not surprisingly, the main characteristic that these three women shared was an enthusiasm for self-display that had nothing in common with Calista Flockhart's delicate, froggy whimsy. More to the point, this was another of those tiresomely commonplace documentaries where it was impossible to shake the sense that everything was being staged for the benefit of the cameras - when Tracie asked the barman out, for instance, the camera was already poised on his side of the bar, so it can't have come as much of a surprise to him.

Love in the 21st Century (C4), which followed, showed more aplomb. "Reproduction", the first of six dramas on the theme of women and sex, turned out to be a piece of fluff with sharp edges. Catherine McCormack played a 30-year- old who suddenly realises the biological clock is ticking and sets out to find a potential sperm donor. This had its share of implausibilities - chiefly, that the sexy, smart and ambitious McCormack character would have a dead-end job and no eligible males on tap - and David Tennant was wasted on a virtual cameo as the Mr Right who turned out to have a sperm count of zero.

There were some clever digs at class, though, and the whole thing was shot with style, including a neat little animated epilogue in which one of Mr Right's spermatozoa suddenly came over all purposeful.

But while this may have had themes in common with Ally McBeal, McBeal appeal really rests on pure fantasy - the glamorous job, the weird law- cases (this week: sexual harassment via radio, and serving horsemeat under a French name), the kooky colleagues, the implausibly tight skirts and skinny legs. What Love in the 21st Century offered was a comedy of recognisable frustrations and delusions: something approaching real life. As I say, we may not be ready for Ally McBeal. And we should be proud of that.

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