Television Review

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The Independent Culture
APPARENTLY, THE latest thing in biotechnology is growing skin for grafting from left-over foreskins. The young, healthy tissue has such "amazing expansion potential" that Advanced Tissue Sciences of California reckons to turn one sample into the equivalent of six football fields of final product. Meanwhile, just up the road at the San Cupertino Institute of Advanced Humour, scientists are close to perfecting a gag that can be grafted on to this ready-made punchline.

Not all of the preceding paragraph is true; but most of it is at least as grounded in reality as some parts of The Real Bionic Man (C4). What was almost a fascinating exploration of the more extreme ways in which technology is starting to obtrude into our lives was marred by a taste for lazy sensationalism. Early on, a sequence demonstrated what life sounds like for deaf people who have had coch-lear implants - human voices became drowning robots and a perpetual bat-like twittering was audible. The optimistic commentary waved such drawbacks aside, however, predicting an age of mini directional-microphones with in-head hi-fi and mobile phone- monitoring capabilities.

Likewise, although present-day systems for artificial vision perch on the nose like a small handbag, and won't actually stop you walking into walls, the programme promised a future of moving electronic eyeballs, with infra-red night-vision and instant replay. This claim was "supported" by a tacky video of a man pretending to be bionic, and shots of computery graphs and cells under a microscope - scientific-looking but uninformative.

In fact, we can already grow cartilage and bone, build poly-urethane hearts that will outlast the real thing; you can pass your driving test with electrically operated arms, and complete a marathon on a carbon-fibre leg. And, slowly but surely, the ease with which we can replace our broken-down parts must be altering the way we think about our bodies, about what makes us human. The programme hinted at both the achievement and its strangeness, but engulfed it in cheap fantasies.

The Cops (BBC2) is grounded in reality all right: at times it induces shivers of recognition. It's not without its flaws, however, in particular a taste for faintly soapy story-lines that don't match up to the grittiness of the camerawork and the acting. The Cops has fiction's need to show how actions ricochet and bad deeds spill back into your life, as happened this week, when fat Roy Bramwell (John Henshaw) blundered unknowingly towards the revenge planned by the Ifraz clan, one of whose sons he had set up for a beating.

But just when I was starting to lose faith, Jimmy Gardner's script turned it all upside down. The Ifraz men cornered Roy, and instead of leaving him bleeding, left him squirming - asking him why he had done what he had, and walking away while he blustered tearfully. At any point in the series, this avoidance of brutality would have been impressive; as its conclusion, it was up there with the glorious, sentiment-puncturing conclus-ion to The Royle Family ("I can still smell shit" - funniest line of the year so far). Odd that both programmes are set around Manchester. Is the life more real up there, or just the drama?

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