Television Review

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The Independent Culture
SOMEONE ONCE noted that Cilla Black was ideal in the role of a host on a dating show because she was sexless. She didn't appeal to the male participants or pose a threat to the female ones. A similar mind might regard the casting of Lowri Turner as the presenter of the fashion series Looking Good (BBC2), which returned last night, as equally inspired. Her physical characteristics are, refreshingly, the antithesis of what fashion industry folk consider to be the traditional hallmarks of beauty: diminutive body, broad face, wide mouth, long teeth. She seems somehow unfinished, incomplete, in need of accompaniment. In short, Lowri Turner looks like an accessory.

Perfect, therefore, for a programme geared towards those with catwalk taste and high-street cash. Turner is more at ease here than in the BBC2 talk show Lowri, in which she is cast as the shrinking woman's Oprah Winfrey. There, if a guest discusses the death of her husband, you know that behind the sympathetic gaze of the host, she is wondering if the wife's shoes matched her handbag at the funeral. And like Carol Smillie, she is someone who, in times past, would have trodden water in the daytime schedules, where series on DIY and fashion belong. Although these subjects may never return there, at least in an age of multichannels they may one day leave the BBC, and be assigned entire channels to which dedicated followers of thirtysomething fashion will turn,

like pilgrims to Lourdes.

Yet even if one accepts that a programme like Looking Good need only have the content and substance of a pizza flyer, that should at least provide some leeway for innovative production, editing and direction. Even in an age of diminishing budgets. Unfortunately, the show consists entirely of makeovers and comfy sofa chats. Punters are asked if they like their new hairdo the way elderly relatives are asked if they'd like to go into a home. All of which has long since been the stuff of comedy sketches and parodies. So much so, that even the parodies have ceased to be funny. Where does that leave a show like Looking Good?

In its initial run it worked, in the eyes of the BBC's commissioning editors because, like Changing Rooms, it was one of the first series that took lifestyle programming into the grown-up world of the evening schedule. Where cookery came and conquered, gardening, decorating and fashion followed. The subjects that once barely warranted a two-minute strand in the morning schedules, suddenly took on the length of a production of the Mahabharata. Last night's programme offered hints on how to dress with the elegance of an Italian woman, how older women can look 10 years younger, and how bachelors can smarten up and get a girlfriend.

Throughout, Turner and her two cohorts skipped like Dorothy and her mates along the yellow brick road. And something from A Chorus Line featured on the soundtrack. The programme has gone down the route that tired TV formats take when irony isn't an option: camp. But the kind of camp that is so bad that Susan Sontag wouldn't have bothered jotting down notes on it.

Robert Hanks is away