Television Review

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IN FICTION, passions tend to have some sort of proportion to the circumstances that give rise to them; when they don't, we call the result "comedy". In life, though, the categories rarely function so smoothly.

Modern Times: Strictly Bingo (BBC2), about the search for Britain's Bingo Caller of the Year, was almost a comedy. Vivianne Howard's film followed three contestants. Bernard, a chubby young man from Wigan, was entering for the first time, hoping to win the first prize of a holiday in Las Vegas so that he could marry Julie in Elvis's Chapel of Love. Patrick, from Morecambe, had won four years earlier: he was smoother, self-confident, and had a dictator's habit of talking about himself in the third person. ("There has been talk amongst bingo circles, that perhaps Patrick Bowler is not as good as he was. I don't think he can be past it... My one-liners are legendary.") Ricky, from Tottenham, was younger than Patrick, and less sure of himself - he had lost before, and Patrick worried on his behalf that losing again might send him off Westminster Bridge.

The forceful woman in charge of the competition wanted the winner to be an ambassador for bingo, somebody to dispel the hair net and fag-ash image: "You go into a bingo club these days, [and] it's more like going into a four-star hotel." Ricky, who pulled off his trousers to get a laugh from the crowd, was surely not what she had in mind. Likewise Bernard, who quipped before his regional final that he could do with a quick hand-shandy to relieve the tension.

In the event, Bernard was knocked out; and while both Patrick and Ricky made it to the national final, neither won. Perhaps if one of them had, it would have been funny - the contrast between the plodding jokes and number-crunching up on the stage, and the raging anxiety and despair that gripped the contestants, the Miss World ecstasies and tears that greeted the judges' decisions.

But the film was too gentle, or too timid, for that. At the end, Bernard revealed that although his Julie had always thought she couldn't have children, they had good news. And he didn't really mind losing: "I'm very happy with my prize - which she is, she's a gem." This whiff of real life gave the programme an altogether different slant: so much passion spent on something so dreary and demeaning - this was a small tragedy.

There was a similar lack of proportion in Tony Marchant's hyperactivity drama, Kid in the Corner (C4), but because this was fiction rather than real life, the effect was frustratingly un-tragic. After the overstated first part, this seemed to be developing into a gripping drama of domestic inadequacy - parents and children unable to cope with themselves and each other. But last night, again, it felt as if it was collapsing into a pile of Issues, as trauma was heaped on trauma - Mum's just got home from being told Son should go to special school, when it turns out Daughter has got a pregnancy- testing kit, and they're in the middle of sorting that one when the phone rings to say Gran-dad's had a stroke.

The acting, almost uniformly superb, pulled it out of most of the holes, but they should never have been dug in the first place.

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