Television Review

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The Independent Culture
IN SIXTEENTH-CENTURY Germany, where a rather literal-minded approach to biblical teaching was all the rage, there was one anabaptist sect that took as its mission statement the line from St Matthew about how, except ye become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven (or words to that effect); and they went off into the forest and played with pine cones. Things haven't gone quite that far here, but children and childish things seem to have become awfully fashionable.

This has its healthy side, in so far as children who report that they have been sexually abused are now rather less likely to be given a clip around the ear and told to stop telling stories. But it also has its distinctly sickly aspects. For one thing, there is what amounts to virtually a national obsession with remembrance of children's television past. And then there is the positively vomit-making wave of recent commercials preying on the father's fear of seeming inadequate in the eyes of his child - the fat man who eats Bran Flakes so he won't let his daughter down at the school sports day; the klutz who wins his son's wide-eyed admiration by turning up at school in a Ford Focus.

Coupled with that has been a new willingness to use children as a selling- tool, with the trailers for Jack of Hearts (BBC1) being among the most rebarbative examples: a small girl invites the viewer to meet her family, over shots of herself cuddling Keith Allen, and wandering around with a little teddy-bear rucksack. Last night's first episode didn't quite live down to this level of cutesiness, but there was a great deal of father-daughter emoting, obviously designed to show the viewer what a big softie Jack - the Allen character - is under his hard- nut exterior. Jack is, by the way, a probation officer and (altogether now) a maverick whose dedication to the job is playing havoc with his personal life ("For God's sake, Jack, it's raining, you don't have to go chasing after people at this time of night. I bet it's not in your job description"). I suppose we ought to be grateful that he is liked and supported by his superiors, unlike most TV mavericks, who hold on to their jobs (doctor, teacher, copper) by the skin of their teeth.

The best moments were the looming close-ups of Allen's mad, creased face. But the plot was terribly contrived - he had to choose between work and family when his girlfriend landed the perfect job - and the theme tune is worse: "You are my Jack of hearts/ Can't bear to be apart/ Feels like doing time/ In my heart," warbled Welsh nightingale Bonnie Tyler.

The nastiest aspect of the fad for children is the way they are turned into parental status symbols. Seeking Pleasures (BBC2) looked at children's parties - a seven-year-old's Moschino-clad extravaganza involving all things Caribbean (except black people), and an ocean-themed bar mitzvah, with fish-embroidered yarmulkas. Last week there was malicious pleasure to be had, but second time around the manipulativeness was harder to overlook, and my initial enthusiasm for the series is wearing thin. This sly pointing and sniggering at people who aren't like us - it's not very grown-up, is it?

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