TV Review

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The Independent Culture
How startling you found Cutting Edge's portrait of Paul Gascoigne (C4) depended on your prejudices. If, like me you had an image of a Viz cartoon character brought to life - all Geordie goofiness and childish tantrums - then there was the odd surprise in store. "Would he ever be the same again?" was the curtain-raising question proposed in "Gazza's Coming Home", an account of the year in which the lachrymose footballer returned to the British game and attempted to put injury and poor form behind him.

Not if he tries that in a Gateshead boozer, you thought, as he was seen greeting his accountant and solicitor with a double kiss outside the Villa Gazza, his Roman residence. It wasn't the only change his southern exile had brought about; facing Italian journalists before his first Rangers game it became clear that Gazza spoke the language with passable fluency - well enough, at least, to make a joke about his Gianni Versace trousers. Later on, he expatiated on national drinking habits, pointing out that when Italians go to a restaurant they look at the starters first, while Britons tend to get the drinks in as first order of business. Gazza - uomo gentile, man of fashion, cultural commentator - you waited with uneasy anticipation for the scene in which he revealed a newly acquired taste for D'Annunzio first editions.

His sense of humour turned out to be a little more refined than you might have expected, too - there were no plastic breasts or naked buttocks in sight. Instead, he displayed a dry talent for the wind-up. "Me dad's great," he said about his new wealth. "He never asked for anything... except a house, a 740 BMW, a boat, and a canny wage. Apart from that, me dad's been all right." His deadpan wrinkled right at the last moment to let you know this wasn't filial innocence at all. Later, asked to display his new Scottish house to the camera crew, he led them to the exterior of an unassuming terrace house, to the obvious consternation of the woman who answered the door and found a national sporting hero asking her about her washing powder preferences.

One wouldn't want to go overboard about this - in training the mood was that generated by boisterous schoolboys - complete with playground wrestling sessions and needling exchanges of insults. It was also clear that he has some way to go before he could be fairly accused of effete gentility. "You know, Cheryl told me she was pregnant and I really shit me pants," was the gracious way in which he described his instinctive response to fatherhood. But the contrast between what you saw on screen and the cartoon offered by the tabloid headlines was pretty consistently in his favour (he was, incidentally, quite sharp about journalists, too - in particular their habit of attributing their more aggressive questions to "the critics", mythical creatures who never actually turn up to press conferences but still manage to control what appears in print next day).

Despite these modest pleasures, "Gazza's Coming Home" couldn't ever match the sense of gripping amazement that the same team achieved with their film about Graham Taylor. It was sufficiently well made - in its canny stitching of public and private anxieties and in the way the script picked up the thoughts that were just beginning to form in your mind - to conceal a slight bittiness about its revelations, but they couldn't finally transform a miscellany - Gazza making an advert for crisps, Gazza changing a nappy, Gazza scoring a story-book hat-trick in the final - into anything more expansive in its implications.

Wilderness (ITV), which last week was balanced precariously between fear and farce, is still on the wire, after a second episode which extended the comedy (Michael Kitchen's control-freak therapist fretfully trimming stray twigs off a perfect piece of topiary), while also supplying the unease that was missing from episode one. In real life, Owen Teale, the wolf- woman's new boyfriend, would have hit the ejector button as soon as her eyes turned yellow, but I guess plausibility is hardly the point when you're talking lycanthropy.

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