Television: The old trails are the best

Television drama has three eternal verities, four if you add Verity Lambert, the producer who is still going strong, aeons after bringing us Dr Who and Rock Follies. But I was thinking of cops, docs and frocks. To stand a reasonable chance of being commissioned, a drama should contain one of these components. By cleverly combining two, like the cop doc, Dangerfield, or the frocked cop, Cadfael, or the doc in a frock, Bramwell, it will almost certainly get a smashing prime-time slot and the cover of Radio Times.

The really smart people in drama, however, also keep an eye on other TV genres. Once you've done fat, thin, good, bad, grumpy, perky, young, old, black, white, male, female, gay, straight, historical, futuristic, English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Channel Island cops, it is time to look elsewhere for inspiration. Hence Pie in the Sky, which spotted that cookery programmes were becoming even more prolific than cop dramas and ingeniously fused them in the enormous person of Richard Griffiths.

And now we have Badger (BBC1), starring the chap from Soldier, Soldier who isn't Robson Green as an amiable Geordie detective specialising in crimes against wildlife. This could prove to be a masterstroke. After all, the British like animal programmes more than they like sex, money, alcohol and Des Lynam combined. So a cops-and-wildlife double-whammy - Animal Hospital meets Heartbeat, starring thingy from Soldier, Soldier, and written by Kieran Prendiville, creator of Ballykissangel - is a guaranteed, thoroughbred hit.

But is it any good? And before I address that question, why is it called Badger? There was a badger in it, but only fleetingly. Unless I missed something, nobody was nicknamed Badger, unlike Adam Faith, whose nickname in Budgie was, of course, Budgie. Perhaps the reason will emerge in forthcoming episodes. In the meantime, coincidentally, I had to be badgered into watching episode one. I didn't want to, but my wife has gone soft on wildlife ever since we bought a rabbit and a guinea-pig for our children four weeks ago. In fact, I happen to know that the BBC was not the first to mix cops with animals. Last week, my wife had to take the guinea-pig to a veterinary clinic, and overheard the receptionist, her hand over the telephone mouthpiece, saying to the vet: "It's Mrs Robertson. You had Bodie in last week and now Doyle is poorly."

Anyway, is Badger any good? It is, in fact, no better or worse than one would expect it to be. In other words, it is absolutely predictable. Prendiville is a clever writer with a gift for dialogue but his scripts follow a rigid formula. They are two parts frivolity to one part poignancy, a potent mix he may well have picked up sitting alongside Esther Rantzen on That's Life. Badger, like Ballykissangel, also has a tiresomely jaunty soundtrack, performed by what sounds suspiciously like a Lindisfarne tribute band. We are not allowed to forget that the series is set in the North-east. The characters don't go to the lavatory without crossing the Tyne Bridge, and Alan Shearer has almost certainly been signed up for a cameo. Nobody has hummed "Bladon Races" yet, but they will. Badger is a marketing exercise masquerading as drama. In fact, Badger's Northumberland, a coffee-table companion to James Heriot's Yorkshire, is probably rolling off the presses as I write. And believe me, it will be a bestseller.

The coffee-table book I really covet, though, is Tony Soprano's New Jersey. Not that it is likely to be produced, for no respectable publisher would want to caption glossy photographs with "These are the dockyards where we sliced up the motherf----- who refused to pay us protection money." The Sopranos (C4), like the blessed Larry Sanders Show, was made in the US for the cable channel HBO and is immune to the strict, nay puritanical, regulation that governs the US networks. In NYPD Blue, Detective Sipowicz can beat up as many villains as he likes, but must never call them anything more abusive than "douche-bag". In The Sopranos, by contrast, effing is endemic.

This may be why the BBC and ITV did not buy the series. But whatever the reason, Channel 4, whose executives, in a single, triumphant afternoon at the annual Los Angeles sales of the US's new shows, once snapped up both Friends and ER from under the cheque books of the BBC, again appears to have spent wisely. There are those who snipe at Channel 4 for importing from the US. Bugger that, say the rest of us. Television needs as much decent comedy and drama as it can get.

The Sopranos, on the evidence of the opening episode, is certain to win friends and influence people. It stars the splendid James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, a Prozac-munching mobster with the hots for his psychiatrist (Lorraine Bracco), and is darkly, subtly comic. Our very own Operation Good Guys (BBC2), for all its acclaim, looks clumsy by comparison. Both are spoofs, but one uses a sledgehammer to rearrange our preconceptions, the other a paint brush. And the dialogue is wonderful. "When's the last time you had a prostate exam," asked Bracco's psychiatrist, when Tony complained of impotence. "Hey," he said. "I don't even let anyone wag a finger in my face."

Meanwhile, just along the New Jersey Turnpike in Philadelphia, Reba and Lori are perfectly used to undignified medical examinations. Reba and Lori are 37-year-old twins joined at the head, and as if this were not handicap enough, Reba also has spina bifida. I have seen them in at least one previous documentary, and they were always bound to pop up in The Secret Life of Twins (BBC1), Professor Robert Winston's latest study of what makes us tick (on which subject, the week's best aphorism came from Tony Soprano, who observed that "even a broken clock is right twice a day".)

The first programme in Winston's series was disappointing, if only because it visited so much familiar territory. If the Festival of Twins in Twinsburg, Ohio, has featured once on the telly, it has featured a thousand times. So much so that there seems to be stock footage for any old documentary- maker to plunder. And who has not yet heard the story of Chang and Eng, the original Siamese twins, repeated here for the umpteenth time? Apparently, they loathed each other, so it has to go down as monumental bad luck that they shared a stomach.

There was, almost literally, just one slice of originality in The Secret Life of Twins, for we saw, in considerable detail, what I assume to be prime-time's first Caesarian section. I have to say it was slightly more graphic than I would have wished, and I am probably more interested in childbirth than most male viewers. Besides, before my wife's third pregnancy was scanned about 18 months ago, I felt certain we were having twins, for there were twin baby boys next door, and twin baby girls next door- but-one. However, I have since discovered that these things tend not to happen on a postcode basis.

Could it be that childbirth is the new cookery? Whenever you turn on the telly these days, there seems to be another woman in labour. Maternity (BBC2) followed two single mothers-to-be. One was 17, black and impoverished. The other was 27, white and upper-middle-class. Maternity cut repeatedly between them, unable, like so many documentaries purportedly about something else, to resist focusing on differences of race and class. We then saw the 17-year-old suffering from severe pre-eclampsia, a condition I know all about having once watched it get the better of ER's Dr Greene, nicest of all the TV docs, that relentlessly proliferating breed.

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?