TELEVISION / The weaker sex and the strong arm of the law: Andy Gill watches the women come out on top in Lynda La Plante's latest drama series

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The Independent Culture
It has become routine for actresses these days to complain of the lack of good meaty roles for women, but no one, as far as I can make out, has considered the narrowness of male roles in the work of Lynda La Plante. Her men are variously vicious, violent, condescending, selfish, psychopathic - and that's just the police.

Take Mike Hazard, private investigator, in her two-part thriller Seekers (ITV, Sunday): the first we see of him, he's at his office, listening to his wife leaving an answerphone message asking if he's coming home soon. As he's stuffing bundles of notes into a bag at the time, it seems somewhat unlikely, but does he tell her? Of course not, the swine.

Worse still, when his long-suffering, matronly wife Stella (Brenda Fricker) goes looking for him, what she finds is Susie (Josette Simon), who is also his long-suffering wife, but rather less matronly. Small wonder that the little Irish caretaker at the office, confronted with another Mrs Hazard, washes his hands of responsibility with an apologetic 'I'm an alcoholic'. As La Plante men go, he was virtually a saint.

Seekers is splendid stuff, reprising as it does the Widows formula of ordinary women forced into collusion by adversity, struggling to deal with a brutal world where callous men cruise like basking sharks. Before long, pregnant Susie's been beaten up by one such shark, and Stella has identified Mike's body in the morgue. Except . . . it's not Mike, it's A N Other, and Stella clearly can't wait to get the body in the ground, pre-empting the vicar's 'dust to dust' with an abrupt handful of dirt. Stung by her husband's bigamy, she's decided to take the money found in his car and run off to the Costa Brava, to have the rest of her life to herself. And who could blame her? But, as in a Bresson film, this one act of duplicity brings a whole edifice of deceit and danger tumbling down around her head.

You never hear women complaining about La Plante's roles, and with good reason: the part of Stella Hazard is the kind that has 'award-winning' written all over it, requiring Brenda Fricker to go from compliant homeliness through bewilderment to anger, fear, deceit, and ultimately a new dawn of comradely self-reliance. It's a four-course meal of a role that any actress would love to get her teeth into, and Fricker gives a grandstand show which rather leaves Josette Simon's Susie in the shade. The pair are thrust into criminal shenanigans involving horse-racing fraud and that most malleable of modern McGuffins, a computer disk, but the plot is simply a prerequisite for us to observe the subtly altering relationship between the two women, an uneasy alliance stained with its own deceptions. Wednesday's second part can't come too soon.

La Plante's high-octane thriller rather overshadowed Magdalen Nabb's leaden The Marshal (ITV, Saturday), which starred Alfred Molina as a Florentine policeman investigating the death of an apparently destitute old woman during the summer heatwave. You could tell it was a heatwave, because everybody went around saying things like 'I've got a headache - it must be this heat'. It was slightly more difficult to tell it was Florence, because the production seemed largely restricted to a few dim, shuttered interiors and an alleyway.

This attempt to mimic the Morse formula of dour, thoughtful cop with a cultural veneer foundered on its own lethargy. It was hard to drum up concern about the old woman, or any of the other characters. Gemma Craven, as the Marshal's wife, was confined, like the matriarch in a mafia film, to sauce-stirring duty in the kitchen, while Molina himself still carries the lugubrious baggage of his tremendous Hancock portrayal. At one point the poor chap was required to talk to the dead woman's outline on the floor of her flat, and for a few lonely, soliloquising moments we could have been back in that hallowed bedsit in East Cheam.

In LA: Stories from the Eye of the Storm (BBC2, Sunday), 10 Angelinos - teacher, gangleader, reporter, shop-owner, child, et cetera - were kitted out with portable video recorders to take the city's pulse in the wake of the 1992 riots. At over two hours it was far too long, but there were some grotesquely gorgeous images - tall palms backlit by a vivid orange inferno - and more than a few disturbing moments. We saw a Korean wedding, followed shortly after by the funeral of the best man, a murder victim. We heard a black boy's guardian tell how he refused to let the boy's mother breast-feed him as a baby: 'I ain't letting you put those drugs in his body.' And the boy himself, an illiterate but likeable 12-year-old called Ennis, pointed out the cross painted on the ground where his friend Goofy One had been killed next to him in a drive-by shooting. In one private moment, Ennis told the camera that he hoped he'd see out 1993 - maybe even live till he was 25. His voice, though, betrayed how much of a fantasy he knew this was.

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