Television Review: Big Train

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The Independent Culture
THE GROWTH in the freelance sector has wrought a revolution in daytime TV. Once the province of "at-home moms", as the parlance of the genre would have it, doleys and pre-schoolers, it now has to cater to at-home accountants, journalists and headhunters. The solution is Jerry Springer, Ricki Lake, Esther, Kilroy (BBC1) and Trisha (ITV). Trisha was brought in by Anglia to replace Vanessa when the latter's pay demands became absurd. But Vanessa was whipping Kilroy in the ratings, so the old pro has had to sharpen up his act.

When Kilroy started, more than 10 years ago, we were spellbound: the gloopy sympathy, the suits, the perma-tan. But "Did he, love? Oh, I am sorry" was about as far as it went. Not any more. American formatting means that now Kilroy is "one of us". He bounces around, touches people, even talks to the viewers. Kilroy fiddled with his tie, touched his chin, knitted those well-groomed eyebrows and helped people turn out cliches such as "been there, done that, got the T-shirt" (no one has yet said the Ricki classic, "all that and a bag of chips", but I'm waiting). He is the most oleaginous person on TV, making Bruce Forsyth look rough-hewn. I gather that he still has considerable standing as a housewives' favourite. The NHS should really reconsider its policy on Prozac.

Meanwhile, Trisha Goddard took the cliches right out of her audience's mouth. "Been there," she said on "Girls Who Can Never Say No", "done that, got the T-shirt". Trisha relies on therapy-speak, between rather scary displays of her generous teeth. As the audience pelted Jenny, a promiscuous 26-year-old with alarmingly bruised knees, with searing insights such as "You're a major slag", Trisha said: "I think you're actually hurting. I think there's a really vulnerable little girl inside you." The pat rationalisation for this stuff is that it allows us to understand each- other better. The only thing I understand better is that I really must avoid getting up before lunchtime.

The evening was more cheering. Big Train (BBC2) aired for the first time. One had quite high expectations, as it came from Father Ted writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, with additional material from Friday Night Armistice's Peter Baynham, and divine it was. This is a sketch show, a format which is usually eggy, in a curatorial way. Not this. It was, as Trisha would say, 100 per cent gold. As Father Ted showed, Linehan and Mathews are masters of the cumulative joke and the comedy of the absurd, something in which the Python team specialised and Reeves and Mortimer are celebrated for. Vic and Bob must be quaking in their boots. These sketches - the Western shootout between Chaka Khan and the Bee Gees, Jesus's office lunch, the 43rd World Stareout Championships, illustrated by a two-frame cartoon on a loop - made it abundantly clear that silly voices and over-large props are scant competition for clever writers. It won't be long, I guarantee, before Student Union bars reverberate to cries of "Those showjumpers! They saved me!" If the BBC bosses haven't already recomissioned this, they're greater fools than News 24 suggests.