Television Review

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The Independent Culture
THE MOST direct ancestor of Streetmate (Channel 4) is Blind Date. Both shows yoke together a pair of heterosexuals who have never met before, and then hang around to find out what sort of chemical reaction the encounter sparks. But there the similarity ends. Blind Date's contestants choose their partner sight unseen, after a purely formal joust involving the courtly exchange of scripted ribaldries. Streetmate has a more realistic take on late-20th-century amatory behaviour. Dates are chosen on a strictly aesthetic basis: if a participant spots someone on the street that they fancy the pants off, they ask them out. This perhaps explains why, admittedly on the strength of only one episode, the show has a pants-off strike rate of 50 per cent.

Cupid comes in the shape of Davina McCall, who is the missing link between Gaby Roslin and Anneka Rice, having a light dusting of frothy irony and a habit of doing a lot of hyperactive presenting with her tightly wrapped rear aimed at the camera. Her job is to pound the pavements until she has found two people willing to play the format's very public form of ball. Let's not speculate here about whether the encounters are in fact pre-researched set-ups, though my antennae did start to vibrate when one of the males turned out to have a dad in Emerson, Lake and Palmer and his own career in pop to kick-start.

If the search is genuine, I imagine it can take all afternoon. But it's condensed to a couple of minutes, after which you then swiftly cut away to the homes of the volunteers. Here, there's a pre-emptive chance to get to know them better before their night of casual alcoholism and mutual reconnaissance. In Brighton, big, blond Aaron and his mates shot pool in his pad - that's what they called it - and described what they look for in a woman. I forget what Aaron said, but his friend took the uplifting view that "nice big tits" wouldn't go amiss.

Meanwhile, Jason from Manchester spent an evening with Lisa, who insisted afterwards that he was not her type. In fact, it turned out that they had had sex that very night. This was both good news and bad news for Streetmate. Good because it proved that the show can get people into bed far faster than Blind Date (and honourable or not, that's the limit of its ambition). Bad because it also proves that participants can lie with impunity. That's not an auspicious way for any relationship between programme and viewer to start.

At the risk of sounding like a pompous windbag about 40 years ahead of schedule, there's something deeply nihilistic about Streetmate: it's like an internal collaboration between Loaded and Cosmopolitan, two magazines which embrace the brash Darwinian philosophy of looking after number one. It ought to go out on BBC2's Animal Zone.

It's easy as falling off a log to mock Fort Boyard (Channel 5) and my difficult task is to stay on the log. A team of fitness freaks in Lycra perform similar tasks at the behest of a pantomime villain in a leather jerkin played by Leslie Grantham. At the end, contestants get to convert the gold coins they win into hard cash, though the amount goes unspecified, precisely because cash is hard to come by at Channel 5. The format is French, as is the splendid sea fortification where the show is set, and doubtless all the ludicrous stunts they mostly fail to complete. I suspect they film each episode at weekends after the French production team have knocked off, and simply hire the spider's web and the snake pit and so on. In telly, unlike in life, it's cheaper to rent than buy.

And when you do buy, you buy a job lot. The show is presented by Melinda Messenger, who seems to be fronting about 37 other programmes on Channel 5 at the moment. When they lose Kirsty Young to the highest bidder, they'll know where to turn for a replacement. The only reason Melinda may not be right for Fort Boyard is that the upholstery has not yet been designed that makes her look elegant when jogging.

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