Television Review

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The Independent Culture
As every child knows, if you spin for too long without stopping you get dizzy and fall over. The effect was demonstrably at work in Ulrika in Euroland (BBC2), a giddily weird programme which was the result of a collision between two rapidly whirling bodies. The first of these was Gordon Brown's press officer and the second was Ulrika Jonsson's personal manager, both of whom will have carefully weighed up the pros and cons of taking part in this "yoof" primer about European monetary union (the identifying characteristics of "yoof" in this case being acid-trip chromakey backgrounds and the occasional sequence of hip-hop editing). It looked like a programme that had been commissioned at the end of a very long lunch - one of those projects nobody quite remembers to cancel when they all sober up next day.

Still, in the case of Gordon Brown, the gamble appears to have paid off - he was introduced to whoever it was that wanted an economics beginner's course at 11.15 on a Friday night as the "closest thing that Labour have to a sex-symbol" - the brainbox with a lunchbox. To cap it all he was represented as a poster boy for Ulrika - current television shorthand for sexual desirability. She, who could have anyone, only wanted him and - this was the driving conceit of the programme - she was prepared to bone up on convergence criteria and Ecu exchange rates in order to get him.

In the event, though, the education and titillation did not adhere to each other very well - you would go off for a brisk induction into the mysteries of monetary union, delivered by economists and journalists (including Boris Johnson of the Telegraph, making a striking appearance as the love- child of Scooby-Doo and Margaret Thatcher), then return to Ulrika's boudoir, where she would pump up the drooping sense of sexual excitement by pouting and stroking Gordon's picture. If you wanted her, then they were just a tiresome interruption, and if you wanted them then you presumably wouldn't have known quite where to look when she was on screen - most notably in the sequence where she visited Timothy Everest, Mr Brown's tailor, and murmured dreamily about "the hand that measures the inside leg".

What's more, if this was an attempt to extend Ulrika's franchise from the game-for-a- laugh dumb blonde, then it wasn't entirely successful. The ironic double-bluff was simple - anyone prepared to act this dumb can't be dumb at all. Ulrika isn't. But she is no Jeremy Paxman either - as was revealed when she finally got to meet the object of her notional infatuation and asked a series of carefully scripted questions. Ulrika held up her end perfectly well, but saying "do you really think so?" after a reply hardly makes the grade as a testing follow-up. One couldn't help wondering whether Gordon Brown would have been as eager to help in the process of public education if the interviewer sitting opposite him had actually known what he or she was talking about.

Last week's episode of Close Relations (BBC1) ended with the vampish Katya telling her husband's mistress that "We must know each udder and lov each udder" - a project immediately inaugurated on the marital bed, with the dazed assistance of Lorcan Cranitch's Stephen. This sort of misbehaviour is cat-nip for a certain kind of viewer - and I don't just mean just middle-aged men with a hankering for sapphic side-orders. It delivers the notionally incompatible pleasures of envy and disdain - one of those sour-sweet taste combinations which sounds improbable in theory but is actually surprisingly moreish. You can, at the same time, enjoy a bit of vicarious adultery and congratulate yourself on the exemplary steadiness of your own domestic arrangements.

This week Deborah Moggach's fairytale concluded with a judicious mixture of sad and happy endings - Gordon just has time to warble "I never knew my heart could sing" at a the-dansant before his heart croaks into terminal silence (cardiac patients on television would be well advised never to sing lyrics which include references to the heart - as it almost invariably brings on a fatal infarction). The sisters, on the other hand, end up smiling in a snug row on a sofa - an image of appeased yearning which wasn't at all convincing but left a sweet taste in the mouth for all that.

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