TELEVISION / Total portion control

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The Independent Culture
ONE should never judge a programme by its accompanying press blurbs but you do wonder sometimes why television companies give themselves such a handicap. 3D (ITV) is delivered to reviewers in the language of the Franklin Mint - 'Three fully-crafted mini-documentaries, each carrying the distinctive hallmark of excellence of Yorkshire Television's documentary team, are blended to create a hard-hitting half hour'. What happened to the lines about 'you will come to treasure and cherish this unique collection', you wonder? What about the assurance that these 'mini-documentaries' are 'just like the originals in every detail'?

Perhaps they thought they shouldn't push their luck on the last point. None of the items in last night's edition was much longer than the sort of conventional film report that is already familiar from news programmes and consumer magazines. The only innovation here is the selection-pack principle - if you get bored with cornflakes you won't have long to wait until they're finished and you can get at the Sugar Smacks.

Come to think of it, part of the point is that this is a selection pack without cornflakes. Last night's three films - a report on policing inner-city Newcastle, a useful warning about the dangers of lap seat-belts and an update on last year's extraordinary film about the separation of Siamese twins Katie and Eilish Holton - were all light on fibre and easy to swallow. What struck you though, as you watched the best of them, 'Eilish: Life without Katie', was how much of the emotion of those few minutes was carried over from the original documentary, a patient, meticulous work with time enough to do more than gawp briefly and move on. 3D is better than the strenuous apologetics of its press release suggests, but its miniature replicas will never replace the real thing.

Disguises (ITV), another new current affairs strand, opened with the image of a man with a chameleon perched on his head and a map of the world tattooed on his shaven skull. This is probably what Adam Holloway will finally be reduced to if he plans to continue his career as an undercover reporter, a role that uniquely combines blending into the background with appearing on national television. His first action here was to disguise himself so that people wouldn't recognise him from his last disguise, which was assumed so that he could discover what it was like to be homeless in London. This time he played the role of Ian, a schizophrenic trying to get help from the social services.

The technique brings to mind Damien, the aggressively self-promoting reporter on Drop the Dead Donkey, but handled honestly it can be a powerful tool - a means of looking at the world from a lower angle. As Holloway was bounced from counter to counter in his search for medical help and a place to stay he met with a mixture of responses, from businesslike concern to bureaucratic indifference. For a healthy mind this maze of referrals would have been frustrating; for the paranoid and fearful it must be a nightmare. 'So if I don't have (my national insurance number) I'm not anybody?' Holloway asked a civil servant at one point. 'That's right,' the man replied. Next week he shows you where mentally ill nobodies end up - a bed and breakfast bedlam run for profit and paid for by benefit cheques.

After a bravura explanation of the fax machine last week, involving an English field, two semaphore flags and an assistant with a paint-roller, Tim Hunkin returned to reveal The Secret Life of The Lift (C 4). The pleasure of these programmes lies almost entirely in the oily-fingered enthusiasm of its mousish presenter - a garden-shed version of Lord Clark, who demystifies the technologies that make up our daily lives. Principles are never stated, always demonstrated (as when Hunkin and his co-presenter yo-yoed up and down to show how the counterweight worked), and the result makes you feel like a child again.

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