Television Review: The Broker's Man

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The Independent Culture
IN LAST NIGHT'S episode of The Broker's Man (BBC1), Jimmy Griffin had his office trashed by right-wing thugs. One assumes that Kevin Whately's character is insured - he must be able to get trade rates given that he's an insurance investigator - but it wouldn't be easy explaining his claim to the loss adjuster. "Well," he might start, "this bearded toff had some medals stolen from his collection of militaria, and his insurance company agreed not to involve the police and stump up the money to buy them back." "Really." "Yes. Sounded a bit unlikely to me, but I think they're all in the funny-handshake mob. Anyway, they asked me to make the handover. But, when I did, the thief held a gun to my head and snatched one of the medals back. I think he was irritated because my wife rang me on the mobile - our daughter's been having a few problems at school." "I still don't see how this leads to this quite sizeable claim for the replacement of office equipment, Mr Griffin." "Oh, well you see the old toff was a fascist and the medal was a Ustashe decoration, and, when I did get it back, I kept it because I was cross with him. And then he sent round some National Front types to rough over my secretary until she opened the safe up. She's a right mess, poor girl. They had baseball bats." "Would I be right in thinking you're having some difficulty paying your wages bill at the moment, Mr Griffin?" "Um - slight problem with cash flow, you know how it is." "Yes, quite. Well, I imagine you're keen to have all this settled as quickly as possible, but I would just like our investigator to have a look round first."

The Broker's Man has some things to commend it - it isn't about sick animals for one thing. The basic scenario also offers a slice through British society which is cut at a different angle to the conventional detective show and which allows for a certain amount of low comic relief from the main plot. Last week, the disappearance of two young children was counterpointed with the case of a porn star who had insured his working parts against failure. This week political extremism was sweetened with a bit of suburban hanky-panky involving an adulterous salesman and a bored divorcee who answered the door in a neglige. The series also stars Kevin Whately, which, though I don't quite understand the appeal myself, counts as a bonus for a lot of viewers. I spend most of my time trying to pin down the exact nature of his inauthenticity; there's something Rotarian and blokeish about his manner, about the way he says everything with his lips pulled back tight against his teeth, which suggests simulation rather than genuine feeling. Perhaps it is a brilliant rendition of a hollow man, but the rest of The Broker's Man doesn't support any theory which depends on a subversion of cliches rather than their casual employment. This is one of those dramas in which a person woken up by a phone won't open their eyes to locate it, but will instead grope blindly for the receiver and then pull it into the cave of bedding which conceals their head, groaning loudly all the while. I'm not convinced that anyone in the entire history of telephonic communication has ever done this, but if you only had television to go by, you might think it was standard operating procedure.

Sitcoms have better grounds for a departure from reality, but then they need to depart a good distance before certain jokes will work. Babes in the Wood (ITV) occupies a limbo somewhere between the comic extremism of Absolutely Fabulous (which allowed the joke of an utterly dim-witted woman to work rather better than the Bubbles retread does here) and the naturalism of comedy-drama, which only reminds you how implausible its psychology is. Last night's episode had a vaguely feminist theme and ended with Caralyn and Leigh triumphing over the condescending sexism of a cowboy plumber. This seemed a little rich for a comedy which depends on an educationally- subnormal character who talks in an ickle-girl voice, a professional woman who flutters and falls apart when in the presence of an attractive man and the revelation that the programme's one strong and independent woman is incapable of performing a simple plumbing job. Spare Rib it isn't.

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