REVIEW / Is that a gun, or are you just pleased to see me?

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The Independent Culture
BY ONE of those odd coincidences - call it Zeitgeist, call it spooky, call Arthur Koestler - the title sequence for Men of the Month (BBC 2), a drama about images of masculinity, was strikingly similar to that for Men Only (C4, Monday), a new series in which women directors look at men. The latter is rather ingenious - a slow track past a series of tasteful monochrome portraits of men in which you can glimpse dim reflections of their female observers. Well, not that ingenious, I suppose, but stylishly done and promising. (A correspondent recently ticked me off for writing about a title sequence but I am unrepentant - they are the way a series chooses to dress itself before going out, and when you know how much the clothes cost you don't lightly dismiss them as a mere incidental.)

Men of the Month elaborated on the Men Only conceit, transforming its principal characters - bike messenger, site foreman, stonemason - into erotic black-and-white pin-ups - all glistening pecs and peekaboo overalls. There was a reason for this besides a sexy sense of style. The drama was set in and around the offices of a magazine for women, one which dealt in pin-ups rather than pin- tucks, and it was, in part, about the difference between how women see men and how men see themselves.

It opened with a pair of chatty cleaners discussing their sex lives, but by the end had turned into an impromptu Men's Group, convened, for convoluted plot reasons, on the jib of a crane and on some nearby scaffolding. Don't ask me how we got there, because the play was so skittish and furtive in its manner that you sometimes got the impression that it knew you were following it and was trying to shake you off in the crowd. Small scenes would send you in one direction while the main plot took a sudden deviation down a side alley.

Men of the Month was chiefly memorable, though, for a remarkable performance by Douglas Hodge, strangling the memory of his Dr Lydgate in Middlemarch and burying it in a shallow grave. Here he played a bike messenger called Tracey, a hyperactive, lycra-clad zany with a mental age of 12. Normally you would hand a big chunk of the credit for this to the writer but Hodge hardly had any words to work with - his character was a brilliant assemblage of bleeps, zooms and swooshes - all vocal sound effects and funny voices, a man who had nothing much to say but a hundred different ways to say it.

In Men Only, Lynda La Plante had asked, 'Why are so many men fascinated by guns and killing?' I suspect the answer, if there is a simple one, will look rather similar to the solution to another conundrum, 'Why is Lynda La Plante so fascinated by serial murder and violent crime?' A touch more introspection might have helped her in her quest for truth but, though her own voice at times trembled with the thrill of weaponry ('I have never been so close to so many real weapons'), the assumption was that men were a different species in this respect. To her credit she didn't sink to sub- Freudian theorising. 'It's all true what they say about the length of the barrel,' said a smirking gun-freak, levelling 18 inches of blued steel at a target, but she mercifully left him to it.

La Plante is good company, seducing her experts with a dirty laugh and learning to shoot in the course of the programme; she's clearly the sort of dame you could rely on to drill the baddie from behind without getting a fit of the vapours. She also formed a close attachment to a delicate filigreed automatic, at one point caressing it longingly, so I assume she found out the answer to her opening question, even if she didn't pass it on to the rest of us.