TODAY'S TELEVISION

Tina Ogle recommends Halifax FP Sat 9pm C5 The Enormous Election with Dennis Pennis Sat 10.45pm BBC2
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The Independent Culture
Switching on to Hamish Macbeth (Sun BBC1) this pre-election weekend, one could be forgiven for assuming it was a Party Election Broadcast on behalf of the Scottish Nationalists. Save for the fact that Alex Salmond does not appear covered in blue paint, a la Mel Gibson in Braveheart, it has all the essential ingredients. "Viva Scotia," breathes one character, followed closely by the lament "Only when Scotland becomes a nation again...". What has hitherto been a bizarre but lovable cop series set in the remote Scottish Highlands, comes to an end with a two-parter which plunges us into the realms of plain silliness. Billed by the BBC as "dark", this particular plot kicks off with the long-lost, one-eyed, one-legged, one- armed brother of saintly character TV John being sprung from a South American jail with the aid of a hypnotist. The said entrancer is a glamorous woman of a certain age, complete with comedy middle-European accent, who spirits the brother back to Loch Dubh to capture the coronation stone of ancient Scottish kings. Which, by the way, just happens to be hidden nearby. The rest of the plot is too preposterous to describe, and you'll have to wait till next Sunday to see if the plucky clan win their battle for "the very soul of Scotland".

Not wrestling for the ethos of Australia, but proving very incisive is Halifax FP (Sat C5), the latest addition to eponymous super sleuths. Rebecca Gibney, a sort of Antipodean Sharon Stone, plays the criminal psychiatrist in this series of feature-length dramas, which see her merrily mixed up in murders. This week, she assesses whether a convicted killer should go free, solves two murders at the local private school, and becomes romantically entangled with a rough-diamond cop. Not bad going, but then she does seem to have nicked Inspector Morse's Jag.

Struggling with more mundane problems are the three contestants in the first of a new series of Masterchef (Sun BBC1). Not only do they have to whip up a sumptuous three-course meal in two and a half hours, they also have to put up with time-wasting questions from Loyd Grossman and his two judges. Joined this week by chef Rick Stein and hotelier Anouska Hempel, Grossman prowls around a brand new set consisting of enormous condiment containers. Now, if the waiter in your local Italian produced one of these pepper grinders, you would have something to worry about. Instead, the contestants fret about their mole sauces and obvious spots, as their hugely enlarged faces watch the flirty trio descend on their anxiously prepared offerings. If you like a dash of Schadenfreude with your afternoon tea, this is surely for you.

And so to the man who has made a career out of delighting in others' misfortunes, carrot-topped professional irritant, Dennis Pennis. This creation of Paul Kaye hosts a brave attempt to bring election issues to the young. The Enormous Election with Dennis Pennis (Sat BBC2) presents policies in a pop-culture style, studded with clever jokes and celebrity comment. Youth icons interview the party leaders, and it's worth watching for Ulrika Jonsson's toe-curling encounter with John Major alone.

Finally, prepare yourself for a long Thursday night of political partying with Swing Time (Sun BBC2). This gives an entertaining account of election broadcasts since 1935. Charting the massive rivalry between the BBC and ITN, the film elicits endearing confessions of jealousy from the normally po-faced pundits. And comfort yourself with the thought that, whoever wins next week, we'll never again be subjected to election graphics generated by a knitting-pattern machine.

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