TELEVISION / Snacks for thought: Thomas Sutcliffe gets under the skin of Small Objects of Desire and on the case of Taggart

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The Independent Culture
The skill of the programme-maker lies as much in the resistance of temptation as in wild flights of creativity. Given the task of making a programme about syringes, for example, it is your duty to fight down the urge to include film clips in which well-spoken nurses say, 'I'm just going to give you a little prick'; when it comes to the soundtrack you should struggle against the impulse to use Frank Sinatra singing 'I've got you under my skin'. The fact that both these things turned up inside 10 seconds on last night's Small Objects of Desire (BBC 2) suggested we should not expect too much in the way of self-denial from its makers.

So it proved; the information that daily enemas had been popular in certain circles in 18th-century France was accompanied by a feminine 'Ooh la la' and details of the sudden popularity of the hypodermic in the early part of this century were illustrated by a Blue Peterish animation of a rocket ship made out of syringes blasting off.

I remember thinking that the first programmes in this series were rather tasty, like one of those compulsive nibbles (Vindaloo Tortillas or Chilli Beef Popadums, say) which you can consume almost without noticing that you're eating. This was undeniably snack television, bite-sized and undemanding but, occasionally, unexpectedly nutritious too. It is still capable of surprise - the lightning sketch of the connections between social fashion and hypodermic abuse was intriguing - but the distinctive flavour imparted by the joky visuals is beginning to get a little cloying, ruining your appetite without ever quite satisfying you.

I'm not sure what food you would compare Taggart (ITV) to: a gravel sandwich, perhaps - a filling of Glaswegian grit between good thick doorsteps of detective-genre bread. It's an odd one this - a durable, very popular fixture in the schedules which has never quite managed to achieve household-name status, either with the chattering classes (like Morse) or the family audience (like Lovejoy). It may be that Southern viewers simply can't understand the best lines. I replayed one of Mark McManus's dour remarks three times but the best I could come up with was 'Take a stick to yodel laddy' which didn't seem quite right somehow as he wasn't addressing a Swiss cowherd at the time.

Taggart himself is an acute creation; one of those men contemptuous enough of career politics to get stuck, but not contemptuous enough not to care. The result is an automatic suspicion of authority that makes his superior approach him with an apology at the ready.

In last night's episode - the first of a three-parter - Taggart had to deploy his gloomy professionalism in a case of some complexity (three episodes' worth, basically). After a blundered attempt to deliver a supergrass to court and some suave villainy from a pony-tailed gangster, we ended up with a dead Procurator Fiscal, a good handful of suspects and a cat's-cradle of surreptitious romantic entanglements.

Taggart had also been mugged and is being prodded to go for victim's counselling by his fearless wife. Now that should be really interesting - something like watching a granite kerbstone in therapy.