Television Review: Friends and The Big Breakfast Show

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The Independent Culture
Television Review

AFTER WATCHING the London episode of Friends last week, I wrote that, at least in terms of comedy, the special relationship between Britain and America does not exist. Fresh evidence emerged this week that the friendship is definitely still on. We've heard a lot about the timing of Operation Desert Fox. The President checked his diary and locked the coordinates of the US armed forces onto the day before the House of Representatives were to debate impeachment. But I have a hunch that, before he put Her Majesty's air force at America's disposal, the Prime Minister entered his own set of coordinates. Most of the firepower was Bill's, so he got to choose the date; Tony was allowed to nominate the time. He plumped for 2200 GMT so that News at Ten (ITV, Wed) could go live to Downing Street for the PM's statement.

Like Saddam, ITV has been a bit off-message lately, what with talk of decamping News at Ten to children's teatime to allow more room for dramas in which Robson Green gets other people's wives into bed. By giving Iraq a bit of stick, ITN could show their bosses at ITV a carrot: see - this is what you get if you hang around these parts.

On Newsnight (BBC2, Wed) Gordon Brewer directed our attention to live shots of the action from Baghdad. For a moment, all you could see on his screen was blackness, with the faces of Newsnight's guests reflected in it. It looked like an unwitting admission of television's reflective relationship with the news. It points its camera at something, and all it can see is itself.

The morning after the night before, The Big Breakfast (C4, Thur) raked over the coals. "Any news stories this morning?" asked Johnny Vaughan. Vaughan was playing it more breezily than usual because, the night before, he too had looked on helplessly as his lippy charm had been chewed up and spat out by a woman. Johnny Meets Madonna (C4, Wed) was even more of an embarrassment than his encounter with the cast of Friends. He spent 60 minutes on a sofa with a lump of ice which no amount of eyebrow-cocking could melt. It makes you wonder whether the qualities which make people ideal presenters of The Big Breakfast make them constitutionally unsuitable for other sorts of television and vice versa. Chris Evans is the only exception I can think of.

Denise Van Outen is about to leave the show for pastures new. On the available evidence, you worry for her. First there was the disastrous Babes in the Wood, then last month's appalling Men For Sale, and now there's The Bill (ITV, Fri). Van Outen was playing a gangsters's moll. I place that apostrophe advisedly because she was the blonde plaything of not one but two implausible hoods. We only met one of them, but he was implausible enough for the pair of them. He was played by Leslie Grantham, a man who knows a thing or two about making the mistake of leaving a hit show. I don't watch The Bill much and every time I do I'm reminded why. Because so many characters pass through the show, they are constantly having to tell you about themselves, leaving them little time actually to be themselves. The upshot in this instance was that time ran out before Grantham could confront Van Outen with her infidelity. It would have been her big scene, a chance to show what she could do. So that may be why they never got round to it.

John Cale (BBC2, Fri) brought the musician back to the chapel in the Brecon Beacons where he learnt to play the organ. The Welsh are the most inward-looking of the British nationalities, and have a consequent mistrust of their own emigres. The programme interviewed a farmer who was at school with Cale, and had vaguely heard that Cale got involved "with some fella called Andy Warhol". For anyone with a speck of Welsh blood in them, it was morale boosting to see that Cale still has a special relationship with the land of our fathers.