Television Review

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The Independent Culture
THERE SEEMS to be a minor vogue at the moment for a genre you might call "Dropping 'em in it" - stranding people in inhospitable situations and letting the cameras see how they cope. Living with the Enemy (BBC2) is the most obvious instance, but there are others: Ross Kemp getting marooned in Alaska, and now The 1900 House (C4) which strands an entire family for three months in a late 19th-century terraced house in Charlton, from which all evidence of late 20th-century occupation - electricity, central heating, inside toilet - has been removed.

One thing that makes this genre preferable to a lot of fly- on-the-wall film-making is its honesty about the degree of contrivance involved. Last night's introduction to The 1900 House concentrated on the process of restoring the house more or less to its original condition. Builders and decorators had to rip out the new, and put in the old, a social historian and a prop-finder scoured the country for oil-lamps, and a horticultural historian dug over the garden and planted the sort of elaborate, artificial-looking flower-beds she thought a Victorian middle-class family might have liked.

Still, all that was achieved was a veneer of authenticity. They couldn't burn authentic coal, because the house was in a smoke-free zone, or use authentic paints because they contained too much lead. Then the health and safety inspectors came up with a list of changes they would like to see - electric lighting restored, rugs removed (as a tripping hazard), and the paterfamilias shaving with a modern safety razor rather than the cut- throat provided.

But this is the thing about life 100 years ago: it wasn't safe. If the Bowlers - the family finally selected for the experiment - want to experience fin-de-siecle life properly, they ought to be exposed to vile diseases (TB and diphtheria, say). Also Mr and Mrs Bowler should be forced to have sex without contraception for several years, and to watch a couple of children die in infancy.

Once they have done this - and the children have been brainwashed into forgetting everything they know about universal suffrage - they will have some idea of what Victorian life was really like. As it is, The 1900 House looks set to be rather pointless, but jolly good fun.

Meanwhile, Living with the Enemy offered a particularly juicy confrontation between Patricia Moore, an Ulster sceptic, and Isis "Osiris" Nixon and her husband Argon, who run the Shambhala Healing House in Glastonbury. Tensions ran high, with Isis and Argon persistently accusing Patricia of being angry and having a closed mind. Actually, I thought she stayed remarkably calm: at one point Isis explained that some people choose to go through a major illness, even to die at the end of it, as their personal learning experience; and Patricia, whose husband died of cancer, didn't punch her on the nose. Later, Argon explained how we used to have 12-strand DNA, "back in Atlantean times", and how we could travel through space via thought power. At the end of the 20th century, it sometimes seems we aren't making very much progress at all.

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