Television Review

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The Independent Culture
LOUIS THEROUX'S Weird Weekends was one of the most charming, embarrassing and surprising documentary series of recent years. The premise was simple. Our man Louis (son of Paul, if you didn't know) spent some quality time in the homes of people who represented some of the most lunatic enclaves of American society: UFOlogists, fundamentalist Christians, right-wing survivalists and porn actors. And instead of exposing these people as charlatans or crooks, he befriended them, cajoled them gently for the benefit of the viewers at home, and hinted at the human warmth that resided somewhere within all of them. For instance, behind a barbed-wire fence somewhere in the Midwest, he encountered a gun-totin' white supremacist, who wanted to see blacks, Jews and gays wiped off the face of the earth, but also turned out to be a big fan of Are You Being Served?

For Louis Theroux's Weird Christmas (BBC2), he returned their hospitality, inviting a group of his Weird Weekenders to pull crackers with him in his Brooklyn apartment. If you were anxious about your relatives coming for Christmas dinner, then this programme might have helped you put your seasonal diplomacy challenges into perspective. Theroux's turkey was to be demolished by firebrand preacher Randy James, pint-sized skinflick ingenu JJ Michaels, hoary troglodyte survivalist Mike Oehler (who spent 28 years living in a hole in Idaho), and the Reverend Robert Short, an alien contactee who channelled messages from the planet Koldas.

As you might expect, there were a few tensions. JJ had a problem with Randy's goggle-eyed hallelujah-ing ("I don't like things shoved down my throat," he protested, momentarily forgetting the details of his day job). Randy had problems with being asked to dress up as Father Christmas (or "Satan Claws", as he insisted on calling him). Robert Short had problems contacting Korton the extra-terrestrial (judging by the extraordinary gurgling noises he was making as he struggled to achieve psychic link- up). And Oehler had problems keeping a straight face as the Reverend boomed Korton's responses in the style of one of those computers in Star Trek which people have been unwittingly worshipping as gods since their ancestors went underground to escape the solar flares. You know the kind of thing. Plausible it was not.

Despite their differences, however, there was an uneasy accord between all parties, who seemed no more bonkers than the New Yorkers to whom they were introduced on their trip. True, Randy sulked in the doormobile as JJ took part in a porn shoot on the banks of the Hudson. But his disapproval was more than made up for by Mike's poorly concealed enthusiasm. I guess a man gets lonely living underground in the woods with only the coneys and his rifle for company. Christmas Day itself went quite well - once Randy had decided that instead of yelling about which of the guests was most likely to burn in the everlasting flames of Hell, he'd just leave the room when something he disliked started to happen. The Therovian Christmas message was that if these guys could get on, we shouldn't have too much trouble. However, we didn't see the arguments about who was going to do the washing up.

There were even weirder things going down on 100 Per Cent Guide to Sex (C5), a special edition of the daily quiz that kept its attention fixed firmly below the belt. The proliferation of quiz shows on daytime TV has led to a shortage of good hosts. The BBC has even brought Fred Dineage from How! out of retirement to front one of their dreary lunchtime efforts. 100% solves this problem by not having a host at all, just a mysterious voice which poses a series of multiple choice questions. Ostensibly, it's a), b) or c), but in reality c) is usually a decoy for dodos. Contestants Caroline, Peter and Dusty spotted that the Greek god of fertility was not Uptheduffus, that Anne Diamond did not play the title role in Emmanuelle, and that Viagra was not produced in the Irish town of Gotastiffy. Unfortunately, Caroline thought that it was Shere Cliff who compiled a survey of sexual attitudes, and Iris Murdoch who said, "vice is its own reward". None of them knew Larkin's line about sexual intercourse beginning in 1963. They plumped instead for b) after tea, and c) between 10 and three. All that embarrassment, and there wasn't even a prize.