Television Review - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

Television Review

SOMETIMES IT'S hard to be a thirtysomething - at least, if you want to see your experiences given a comic spin and served up in palatable form as drama. A flick across the channels offers practically every aspect of the twentysomething psyche, from the bird-brained high anxiety of Ally McBeal to the sickly peer-group bonding of Friends. But what if you feel like something more grown-up, more complex, more John Updike than Bridget Jones? Unless you fancy an interminable succession of documentaries about the horrors of assisted conception, the pickings are thin.

But Cold Feet (Sun, ITV) looks as though it may bring some variation to this arid landscape. A pilot, shown 18 months ago, ended on an audacious upbeat, with Adam (James Nesbitt) attempting to convey to Rachel (Helen Baxendale) the depth of his feelings by serenading her, starkers but for a rose clenched between the cheeks of his bum. "It was a bit wilted by the time I got it," reminisced Rachel, a girl with a sharp tongue on her. On Sunday, Adam was at it again, celebrating the anniversary of their first shag by capering about outside Rachel's office window with a brace of maracas. Confronted with this, Rachel maintained her sang-froid with ominous ease.

The entwined narratives are underpinned with a structure of formulaic simplicity. The comedy relies on the interplay between three couples whose relationships are at various stages of development: Karen and David have a child, Peter and Jenny produced one in Sunday's episode, and Rachel and Adam are still skirting the issue of commitment.

Some fancy flashbacks and Benetton-style glossy radicalism notwithstanding (a protracted cinema-verite birth scene offered lots of shots up Jenny's nightie, but was curiously reticent on the subject of afterbirth), neither script nor direction are innovative, relying heavily on charm and the formidable star presence of Baxendale. There is a potent whiff of undeployed resources. Next week I hope for less charm and more grit.

There is grit and charm in Richard Cooper and Peter Tabern's adaptation of Captain Marryat's Children of the New Forest (Sun, BBC1). This is a handsome production, with plenty of chasing about the greenwood on horseback and some sly jokes: "We wait upon Lord Bressingham," drawled an impossible camp Charles I, "who has boldly gone to seek out our enemies."

The production negotiates with ease the problem of making the story vivid and comprehensible enough to engage small children, while maintaining layers of moral complexity sufficient to keep their older siblings interested. The Cavaliers look lovely, but are useless at winning battles; the Levellers, meanwhile, bellow righteous hymns while putting old ladies to the torch. Wrong but romantic? Right but repulsive? The arguments around the tea tables will be lively.

It is unwise to allow one's attention to wander while Jonathan Meades is talking, but every so often during Travels With Pevsner (Sat, BBC2) I found myself wondering if he is a Roundhead or a Cavalier. Meades himself would plainly prefer to be thought a Roundhead. A portly figure with a marked (and not, I fancy, unconscious) resemblance to John Belushi in The Blues Brothers, he wandered through the Worcestershire landscape of his childhood, putting the boot in with alarming energy. The nostalgic English attachment to landscape, Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, the ghastly good taste of the National Trust and English Heritage - all retired hurt, while AE Housman's loving preoccupation with death by hanging was discussed to a backdrop of a pair of dangling legs.

A performer so mannered, with such intemperate opinions, runs a risk of deliquescing into a collection of his own quirks. But Meades shows no sign of this. His savage indignation seems to keep his ego in check. I can't think why the BBC doesn't put him on at prime time.

What it does put on at prime time is Lesley Garrett Tonight (Sat, BBC2). This is a programme in which Garrett, surrounded by props from the wilder shores of kitsch, performs bleeding musical gobbets hewn from the popular classics. Had it been Lily Savage inside Miss Garrett's swishy Lindka Cierach costume, I should be praising a cruel but brilliant caricature of a self-regarding diva.

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