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The Independent Culture
Over a cappuccino, Holly explained to Slade that she owned a time machine. After a brief burst of blokeish incredulity, he leaned forward. "Do you go into the future?" he asked. She scoffed. "Don't be silly. How can you travel into what doesn't exist?"

Quite easily, actually. The first episode of Crime Traveller (Sat BBC1) provided us with ample opportunity, if not to experience the future, at least to foretell it. We knew, for instance, that cop Slade (Michael French), having been sacked for rugged individualism, would be quickly reinstated. When Holly (Chloe Annett) explained that it was essential to be back at the machine "at the same moment - I mean the same half-second - that we left", we knew that the pair would only make it by a cat's whisker. We knew that the duo would solve a murder-suicide riddle by going back in time. Projecting further into the future, I predict the following, based on present knowledge: Holly's boffin father is caught in a temporal schism and is going round and round in an infinity loop. Bet they're going to try to save him. After Slade reappeared in the present with an injury miraculously healed (parallel dimensions, don't you know), I predict that there will be a race to get a fatally injured cast member back to Holly's mansion flat for reanimation. And, the laws of time dictating that you can't change things that have already happened, someone's going to die and Slade won't be able to save them.

But this is carping. Facing the extremely demanding challenge of filling the slot vacated by the ever-popular Casualty, Crime Traveller displays considerable promise for the future. Anthony Horowitz's script combines a cleverness at glossing over temporal theory that almost matches the deftness of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, with a lightness of touch that allows scope for the series to slide between seriousness and comedy in the future. Director Brian Farnham maintained a fast pace, not an easy feat in an opening episode which needed to combine a vast amount of characterisation, pseudo-science and scene-setting into a very tight schedule.

And then there was French himself, the former David Wicks of Albert Square. A surprising number of EastEnders cast members - well, the male ones, anyway - have successfully jumped over the wall into wider programming, a fact which bears testimony to the talent of the soap's casting department. Following his former half-brother, Nick Berry, French - who was a sad loss as the scheming car dealer, should do well. Actors always have the odd trademark - in French's case, those sparkly eyes and that teasingly overfamiliar way with actresses - and the differences show in the things they leave out. As Slade, he has ditched that sly, hunted, weasely look so familiar in Wicks, and replaced it with cheeky-chappie cockiness and a seemingly excellent rapport with Annett. Her character, meanwhile, remains more of a cipher, but there's only room for so much in a first episode. Overall, a strong follow-on contrast to the increasingly dire Lottery, which even the cheery Dale Winton can't save. I only wish someone would give the admirable Susan Tully a part.

Less gripping, despite the initial temptation of fly-on-the-wall intrusion into other people's private lives, was Love Lives (Sun C4). Based around the theories of Dr Janet Reibstein, the series sets out to explore the ingredients essential to a happy marriage. This week's theme was "protection": a couple's ability to support and trust one another. Illustrating this were Nina and John, the happies, and Lynn and David, a couple whose relationship had deteriorated into long bouts of silence and door slamming. The sight of the miserables sitting with their backs to each other got a bit dull after 10 minutes, and the happies were so coochy that you longed to throw a bucket of water over them.

Which just goes to prove that, if you want viewers to make a happy long- term relationship with a programme, schadenfreude is more important than positivity. If there's one thing that gets up the average human nose, it's the idea of other people being happy. Which is why EastEnders continues to ride so high in the ratings.

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