Television Review

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The Independent Culture
YOU WOULD think that the everyday business of the Los Angeles Police Department would be pretty exciting stuff: after a heavy morning beating up innocent black motorists, you entrap a pop-star in a public toilet by way of light relief, before mounting a very slow car-chase after an ex-footballer suspected of killing his wife. In fact, as it is portrayed in The Real LAPD (C5), the policeman's lot is really quite a dull one. The high points of last night's opening programme included Officer Sharon Reece putting on her face in the ladies' toilets down at the precinct, and her partner, Officer Charles Rodriguez, giving a meticulous explanation of his laundry routine: "And yes, I separate the whites from the colours. I was brought up with three older sisters and a mom, so I'm not the type that puts colours in with the... only once in a while, if I only have very little to... wash, I'll mix 'em. But I prefer not to."

Even what could be dramatic or exciting moments were filmed in a determinedly downbeat fashion. The episode ended with the death of a policeman, shot in the back of the head by a sniper; a note from a local street-gang claimed this was the opening shot in a war against "the blue terror". The morning after the shooting, the cameras observed roll-call at his station-house. In films and TV fiction, this is a favourite scene, with the emphasis on anger, determination to catch the scum that did this. Here, the news was greeted with depressed, anxious silence by policemen and women who looked as if the awareness that it could have been any of them was uppermost in their minds.

In saying that the programme avoids excitement and embraces dullness, I don't mean that it is itself dull. On the contrary, this is one of those odd programmes that spring up on Channel 5 from time to time that, because it eschews all the frills of "quality" TV, somehow manages to create, if only momentarily, an illusion of seeing life in the raw.

Annoyingly enough, this clashes with Godfathers (ITV), a new and equally unglamorous series about organised crime. Martin Short reported on the Adams family of Islington (curiously enough, the three Adams brothers were brought up on an estate barely a quarter of a mile from Tony Blair's old gaff). From humble beginnings - one of the three brothers was expelled from school for stealing dinner money - they have used a propensity for violence and a shrewd business sense to climb to the top of the ladder in the north London underworld. They were associated with the Brinks-Mat bullion robbery, and are now heavily into drugs (purely as investors: a policeman paid tribute to their discipline, and the fact that they have never used the stuff themselves).

In recent years, they have diversified into legitimate businesses, even managing to get the logo of a business they had an interest in on Chris Eubank's shorts. But there are signs that their empire is under threat. Last year one of them got put away for seven years, and in recent months a number of their associates have disappeared in suspicious circumstances - although the police think this could be the Adamses covering their backs by getting rid of potential witnesses.

There are few pictures of the Adamses and nobody wants to talk about them, which left the cameras prowling the streets of Islington, straining to produce an air of menace. Short himself makes a lack of visual excitement into a virtue - a chubby, middle- aged man with a moustache and an anorak. The very model of an old-school newshound, he looks like a man you can trust.

I notice I've left myself with a bit of catching up to do from the last week or two. Swiftly, then, we move on to Dr Willoughby (ITV), a sitcom with verite aspirations, set behind the scenes at a popular television hospital drama. It tries to appear daring, with explicit references to gay sex and a swift glimpse of a naked penis, but it has no audacity of wit or opinion to make that seem worthwhile. And, finally, we've got Casting Couch (ITV), a panel game in which Mel and Sue from Late Lunch get a cast of C- and D-list celebrities (Christopher Biggins, Tamara Beckwith) to be catty and ironic about B-list celebrities - though Tamara gets a bit upset about this, since many of them are close personal friends. My intelligence has rarely felt quite so insulted.