Television Review: Living With the Enemy

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YOU CAN imagine the brainstorming session that came up with the idea of Living With the Enemy (BBC2). "I know, we'll make a strict vegan live with - wait for it - a livestock farmer! For a whole week!" And everyone falls about. I liked the idea, too. A sort of ethical Changing Rooms.

In the end, it wasn't as much fun as all that. It started promisingly: there was some footage of John, the vegan, at some animal rights demo. A policeman in riot gear was trying to steer him gently back behind a picket line. "Get your hands off me! GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME!" yelled John, with fantastic menace. It is not often you feel sorry for a policeman in riot gear.

It's not often you feel sorry for a farmer, either, but anyone having to put up with John's company for a week deserves our richest sympathy. Even if the farmer looks like Bernard Ingham. John said that what Henry did with animals was abhorrent. "Ab what?" "I think he's gonna take on board a lot of what I'm saying," John confided to the camcorder on his first day. No, John, he is not. John exploded in the milking shed. "Pulses! Grains! Fruit! Vegetables! That is food!" Henry showed off his 87-year- old mother as an example of what a healthy, meat-filled diet can do. We heard what she had for breakfast that morning: "Bacon and sausage and bacon and eggs."

"Breakfast was uncomfortable," said the narrator, after a scene of unusually pained silence, "but worse was to come in the lambing sheds." John ended up in tears. "I just can't wait the hell to get out of here," he wailed. Before you knew it, you even started feeling sorry for John.

Ally McBeal (C4) has me transfixed like a rabbit in front of a speeding car. I think that what is most awful about it is the way its makers think we are idiots. You can see this in the use of special effects for the hard of thinking. McBeal's flatmate advises her to concentrate on her most appealing feature - her lips, apparently - if she wants to be confident when talking to a desired man. You know what's coming next: a scene where her lips inflate themselves to the size of a beefsteak tomato. Her shrink, played by Tracey Ullman (but so what) tells her to boost her ego by imagining that she has Pips - as in Gladys Knight and the - performing backing vocals as she speaks. Do you, gentle viewer, have any idea what will show up on screen later? Yes, some weird snakey images of McBeal clicking their fingers behind her as she speaks. Maybe it's not meant to be funny.

Another awful thing is that all the characters are lawyers. Worse, they always win their cases. This week we had a bizarre sexual harassment case (don't ask) and a lawyer who is a 10-year-old midget child genius. When things don't go his way, he cries.

Just remember this: never watch a show where the actors' names are weirder than their characters' names. I mean - Calista Flockhart?

Thomas Sutcliffe is away