The Critics: Television - Large helpings of silicone

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The Independent Culture
Once upon a time, it was possible to tell the difference between science documentaries and margarine commercials. Cookery programmes and game shows were different in those days, too. And television's most popular gardening expert was Percy Thrower, whose nipples never, ever showed through his shirt.

But television is gradually being homogenised. A programme with wobbly camerawork, heavy kitsch, exuberant music and a big following among gay people means anything from Queer As Folk to Teletubbies. A programme with an operatic soprano warbling over the credits could be an Omnibus about Maria Callas or it could be the BBC's cricket World Cup coverage. And the landscape is further blurred by presenters who skip from genre to genre. Michael Buerk, an earnest newsreader one moment, is the next moment enthusiastically introducing a reconstruction of an incident at sea, in which three men clamber on to a buoy within sight of Barrow-in-Furness. Or whatever cheap thrills 999 is offering this week.

Anyway, this homogeneity confused me no end on Monday, during an Equinox (Channel 4) documentary about silicone breast implants. For when Carol Vorderman popped up to talk about the clinical trials of something called Benecol, I did not initially realise that we were into a commercial break. Admittedly, I was half-asleep but it nevertheless seemed perfectly likely that Vorderman was singing the praises of a type of silicone gel implant rather than a type of low-fat margarine.

If anything made me realise my mistake, it was that the Benecol advert was more solemn than Equinox. For producer-director Martin Durkin felt the need to leaven his documentary with repeated tracking shots of a well- endowed young woman walking along a road being pursued by two giant white balloons. The Beach Boys played on the soundtrack. Another woman, with a tattooed tummy, kept flashing her breasts. At times it could easily have been an advert for a family saloon. Or even for low-fat marge.

Equinox investigated the theory that silicone implants reduce the chances of breast cancer. This flies in the face of the widely-held supposition that breast enlargements or reductions are bad for the health. In America, mysterious illnesses thought to be related to silicone implants are known by the catch-all term Connie Chung Disease, after the TV presenter whose programme first explored the subject. How Ms Chung feels about this was not revealed.

In Britain, Connie Chung Disease could, perhaps, be known as Vanessa Feltz Disease, after the presenter whose programme, etc etc. However, this might cause misunderstandings. Vanessa Feltz Disease could mean health problems thought to stem from leaking silicone implants, but it could also mean a tendency to eat too many potato latkes, or even a compulsion to ask for a pounds 2m salary.

In any case, some experts think that Connie Chung Disease is all in the head. Equinox interviewed a couple of them, from the University of Southern California and the University of South Florida. This was clearly no coincidence, southern California and southern Florida being the only parts of the globe where three out of four breasts are likely to be artificial. Eventually Equinox came down firmly on the side of suggesting that silicone implants are good for you. Or at any rate, not bad for you. Yet lots of women are still anxiously having their implants removed, and we were shown the procedure in gruesome detail. "Just imagine that it's the final stages of Masterchef," said my wife, comfortingly. And by narrowing the eyes, it was almost possible to picture something intricate being done with a raw chicken and a glob of redcurrant jelly.

Which brings us, try as we might to avoid it, to Big Kevin, Little Kevin (BBC2). This is a cookery-stroke-travel programme, offering further evidence of how television has changed since those distant days when cookery was cookery and travel travel. The presenters are Kevin Woodford, a British chef with the head of Nigel Mansell and the joie de vivre of Bobby Ball - a happy combination only insofar as it might be marginally worse if it were the other way round. Cannon to his Ball is Kevin Belton, an American chef the size of Louisiana, whose idea of a culinary tip is the devastating "too much pepper can make things hot". At focus group stage, Big Kevin, Little Kevin must have seemed like a winner. Hey, let's divide each programme between Britain and America so it will sell on both sides of the Atlantic. Hey, we've had two fat ladies, now let's have a fat guy and a thin guy, both called Kevin. Hey, let's have cute, Frasier-like captions between items.

All of which would have been fine, except that the rapport between the Kevins boiled dry about two minutes into episode one. Big Kevin looks as comfortable as a turkey within earshot of "Ding Dong Merrily On High". Little Kevin's chirpiness looks increasingly forced. In short, the thing doesn't work.

The football comedy-drama Bostock's Cup (ITV) worked, despite being eclipsed for drama by Manchester United's Lazarus-like comeback in the European Cup Final (ITV), and for comedy by the post-match shots of the devastated Bayern Munich fans, their big Bavarian faces frozen in disbelief. And if you think that's xenophobic, you should have heard the Sky Sports reporter who presented an item on how both sets of supporters were getting along swimmingly in Barcelona, and to prove it interviewed a jolly Bayern fan in a silly hat. "Nice to see a German with a sense of humour," he told him.

Anyway, Bostock's Cup told the story of Bostock Stanley, a Third Division team which won the FA Cup in the mid-1970s. It was conceived by Chris England and Nick Hancock, the latter also playing the part of a TV presenter. Hancock is an actor manque, which may be French for manky actor. Certainly, other performances were more convincing. Tim Healy, in particular, was brilliant as Bostock's manager. England's script was patchy. Some of it would have barely done justice to a sixth-form revue. But elsewhere it was hilarious, and I especially enjoyed the youth team coach, a pederast whose idea of repairing a player's torn hamstring was to massage his bare buttocks. Also, I can vouch for the attention to 1970s detail, which was impeccable. As they always say about the 1970s - if you can remember it, then you were there.

Bostock's Cup was made by LWT, which wisely keeps the best of what it makes for channel three, and sells the worst of what it makes to Channel Five. Can We Still Be Friends? (C5) is unspeakably low-rent, and watching Melinda Messenger trying to be Angus Deayton - "sadly, for every hit TV series there's a Noel's House Party," she says, rounding up the scores - is about as bizarre as it would be watching Angus Deayton trying to be Melinda Messenger.

Can We Still Be Friends? is meant to be an ironic take on Mr And Mrs, with ex-lovers answering questions about each other. A sub-Blankety Blank round has the contestants filling in a missing word. Last week a young woman had to suggest the word her ex-boyfriend had in mind, when he said, "I don't like her bosoms, they're like ------, you can serve them up for breakfast." The answer, she correctly guessed, was "pancakes". Happily, though, she seemed quite satisfied with what nature had given her. Let's hope, for all the supposed benefits of silicone implants, that Equinox didn't give her any big ideas.