Television Review

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The Independent Culture
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH (ITV, Sat) is ITV's moment of truth. The show challenges ordinary contestants to perform some task that normally would be beyond them. They get a week to practise. If they pull it off, it's big-prize bonanza time for the whole family, who bite their nails in the wings knowing that they could complete the challenge standing on their head in a hammock.

In the opening episode, a habitually clumsy man had to build a house of cards. A woman with a colander for a memory had to recite a long list of train stations. The challenge for ITV, which has earned a peerless reputation for sticking with dog-tired formulas and not developing fresh shows off its own bat, was simple: to come up with a new Saturday-night entertainment. In common with the families looking helplessly on, any other channel could do it. Just look at Lenny Henry Goes To Town (BBC1, Sat), which may have finally solved the BBC's problem at what to do with the (quite) funny man: position him as the next Jimmy Tarbuck.

And let's see how ITV did. A discreet acknowledgement in the end credits admits that The Moment of Truth is "based on the Tokyo Broadcasting Systems Inc program Happy Family Plan". So it's not entirely original. To think that Clive James's career in television was kickstarted on ITV by extracting laughs from ridiculous Japanese game shows. Television in Japan has come on in leaps and bounds, or ITV has regressed equivalently.

The programmes' copper-topped insurance policy comes in the form of Cilla Black, who is used to fronting cover versions, and you slightly wonder whether The Moment of Truth isn't also a cover version of Cilla's own back catalogue. "I do like surprises," chirruped one of the contestants after the presenter of Surprise Surprise turned up on her doorstep. Then, with the contestant settled on the studio sofa, someone had the novel idea of showing them a video diary of their week's preparation, while an inset allowed you to watch them watching. Can't think where I've seen that before.

But there is a deeper consonance with Blind Date that is not deliberate. In both cases you'd like to go backstage after the show and find out what really happens. If there are tabloid stories about The Moment of Truth, they will tell of family rifts caused by a contestant's failure to complete a challenge. I suspect the packaging will ruthlessly ensure that no more than one out of three participants screws up on each show.

If the show takes off, it will be another predictable triumph for triviality. The tasks are so humdrum, and the personal demands the contestants overcome to complete them so piffling. As for the prizes, it would be nice it they could unearth a male guest who does not dream of winning a family car. My favourite bit came when Cilla knocked on the first contestant's front door, to be met by his small son asking, "Why are you embarrassing me?" The child has a future in television reviewing.

As the creator of Soldier Soldier, Peak Practice and Bramwell, Lucy Gannon has been shoring up ITV for years now, but she mails her more powerful writing to the BBC. Big Cat (BBC1, Sun) revisited the theme of her earlier film Trip Trap: a timid woman in the thrall of a brutally charismatic husband overcomes her own weakness. But Trip Trap's wife-beater was a pillar of society. Here, Gannon essayed a more gothic examination of social ostracism in which big, gentle Leo had erased the ghosts of his loveless childhood with a corny fantasy that he's the son not of an alcoholic tramp but of a regular all-American guy.

With this tall tale, he lassoed the equally lonely Alice, whose own way of papering over reality is to drink herself stupid. She failed to spot until the knot was tied that all Leo's DIY and domesticity were displacement activities he used to keep his distance from her bed. The script could have done with an ending to match the frightening plausibility of Leo's creeping retreat into psychopathology - like an avenging tricoteuse, Alice stabbed him through the eye with a knitting needle. But, as the unhappy couple, David Morrissey and Amanda Root can probably book their night at the Baftas now.

Thomas Sutcliffe is on holiday