Television review

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The Independent Culture
"I was lost in the corn, then I heard the geetar," said Stu in Stephen King's the Stand (BBC1). Couldn't have put it better myself Stu, though other critical foodstuffs come to mind, too - baloney, old cod, or even a dog's dinner. Stu has survived the bio-engineered superflu ravaging America and in his dreams has found his way to Mother Abigail's homestead, a sort of psychic rendezvous for the forces of good. The rival attraction, playing in the night-time cinemas of those with lower moral fibre, is the Dark Man, a satanic figure with a taste for blue denim and glow-in-the-dark contact lenses.

The Dark Man also appears in the guise of a crow, peering down with a proprietorial tilt of the beak at scenes of promising wickedness. He recruits vigorous killers and muscly psychopaths while Mother Abigail's side consists of nice people, however disadvantaged. Naturally things aren't looking good for God's team. In a rather dark joke, the deaf/mute teams up with a mental defective, probably the only person in the country who cannot read his scribbled messages. And while the Dark Man can kill a cute little fawn just by looking at it (this is not a drama that resists the obvious - we have already had two poignantly abandoned soft toys and there are no grounds to believe that the count will not rise), Mother Abigail can barely make it back from the outhouse.

The survivors don't know what has spared them from the Big Sneeze, but it seems obvious to anyone watching - if you've got a faltering Hollywood career then you're immune. It's an ill wind, you think, as Rob Lowe, Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald are accorded a second chance by the end of civilisation as we know it. This actually has an echo in the narrative - for Harold, bespectacled poet, the plague is a losers' fantasy come true. Almost every other man in the world is dead, thus vastly improving his odds of getting into bed with Fran. Nowhere near enough to make it a sure bet, though.

He is very disappointed when Stu shows up and you can see his point - Harold's idea of a hot date is going to see Bergman's Cries and Whispers at the local arthouse, which in the universe of Stephen King is only marginally more attractive than eating roadkill. There is, in fact, a wishful thread to the entire story - a liberal version of the survivalist's fantasy that the country might be purified by catastrophe, be taken back to scratch and rebuilt without mistakes. "I ain't gonna resist - country don't mean dumb," says Stu, when the federal jackboot stomps on his little Texas town. It certainly doesn't here. Country means morally sound; while the bad guys make their headquarters in Las Vegas, the epitome of corrupted urbanity, the goodies make pilgrimage for Boulder, Colorado - high country that is still in touch with a frontier ethic. Things may look bad, we know that Mother Abigail will prevail. After all, she still bakes her own bread.

Some Kind of Life (ITV) had all the components of a "moving" drama - patient static framing, cellos, painful shouting - but finally wasn't. This wasn't the fault of Jane Horrocks, whose performance as the wife of a brain-damaged motorcyclist was characteristically fine, but of a script which was prepared to take no risks with our emotions. It wasn't enough that the accident interrupted the banalities of everyday life, it had to coincide with a child's birthday. Touching scenes, like that in which the infantilised father starts a foodfight with his small son, were followed by explanatory subtitles: " It's like having two children and no husband," adds Horrocks, in case we hadn't got the point.

The last scene best exemplified the persistent sense of a near miss. Horrocks lays flowers at the scene of the accident, in mourning for the man she has lost, but she puts them exactly where they are certain to be smashed by the next passing car. This placement reads better on the ensuing crane shot, but seems emotionally untrue - as if she has made no connection between the fragile beauty of the flowers and the violent event they commemorate.

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