Television Review

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The Independent Culture
THE SAME TRAITS that make children and animals unsuitable acting partners - they are temperamental, unpredictable and liable to take up too much of the audience's sympathies - make them ideal fodder for documentaries. Norland Nannies (C4) is Animal Hospital or Pet Rescue without fur. Half the reason the latter show appeals is that it offers a simple moral scheme: here is the dumped dog or kitten, and somewhere off screen is the heartless dumping owner. Norland Nannies does roughly the same, but with children.

This week, Harry and Sammi were left for two weeks in the care of the Norland Nanny Hotel ("It really is Claridge's for kids!" gushes the commentary) while their parents went on a business trip to America and then - missing Sammi's birthday - took a short break in St Lucia. Perhaps worried that they had set this opposition up a tad too starkly, the producers tacked on a trail for next week, showing Sammi's tear-stained mother burying her face in her daughter's hair. All the same, you feel, she'll have to spin a bloody good yarn to get herself off the moral hook in most viewers' eyes.

Norland, the world's most prestigious school for nannies, is clearly a fascinating institution, a hangover from the 19th century which is becoming ever more popular as social inequality climbs back to Victorian levels and domestic service becomes more common. Not that Norland nannies are drawn from the lower classes: they have to pay pounds 12,000 a year to live in a nicely spoken bootcamp and learn such old-fashioned skills as sewing and smocking. You wonder why they don't use the money to put themselves through business school; then again, the state of the financial markets being what it is, a good nanny probably has better long-term prospects than most bankers.

Social issues don't appear to bother the programme's makers, though. The first episode was unashamed soap - and more Imperial Leather than EastEnders at that - and the whole thing looked skimpy and stretched at 30 minutes.

The Knock, ITV's customs and excise drama, is anything but skimpy: on the contrary, you wonder how they have managed to pack so many cop-show tropes into one programme. So far, after two weeks, we've had a villain who is outwardly a respectable businessman, does charity work and has an idyllic homelife. We've had the man out to kill the dealer who sold the drugs that did for his daughter. We've had the arrogant new boss who wins his team's grudging respect when he shoulders the blame for their cock-up. And the righteously angry policeman having to be pulled off the smirking villain...

We have also had a particularly unimaginative version of political correctness, with women and ethnic minorities gaining a quite astounding degree of representation in customs and excise, and an unambiguous contrast between evil white South Africans and the poor, put-upon black courier who only got into smuggling to pay his university fees and support his family. Really, the whole thing is as soothingly mindless and familiar as a lullaby.

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