Would I Lie to You?, BBC1
Nothing but the Truth, Sky Three
Lab Rats, BBC2
Nothing can dig daft archaeologists out of a hole, while lying games make you hiss and holler for more
Sunday 13 July 2008
Here come the new TV archaeologists! Trowels blazing, theodolites bristling, sandals on fire, Bonekickers hit town last week like a bucketful of nonsense. It's a relentlessly souped-up drama about archaeology, like watching our own dear Time Team take steroids and start mud-wrestling on a freshly excavated burial mound.
Your suspicions start with the try-hard title. Would you call a drama about librarians "Bookslappers"? Or water diviners "Gushbusters"?
The Bonekickers team comprises tart, troubled Dr Gillian Magwilde (Julie Graham, swaggering like a traffic warden who's just effected a clamping); likeable creep Professor Gregory Parton (Hugh Bonneville, who gets to wear the Indiana Jones hat); sweet, scholarly Dr Ben Ergha (Adrian Lester, gently wonderful as usual). The writers, Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham, have a feeling for teams, as we saw with Life on Mars – and this one also works well. You feel they know each other, and you care how their relationships will evolve.
This doesn't make up for their atrocious trowel-work, though. They charge on to precious sites, scrabbling for finds like babies in a sandpit. It's Tony Robinson's worst nightmare; a methodological dog's breakfast. This dig is really infra dig; all fizz and not enough geophys. Bonekickers could have used the pedantry of archaeology to comic effect, but instead they've gone for the "exciting" option of grandiose, panting, everything-you-know-is-wrong historical revisionism. Hysterical revisionism, if you like.
The team discover a chunk of chargrilled timber. A barbecue base? No, it is a piece of the true cross, ferried back here when "the crusades went tits-up". A Christian zealot (played with brilliantly beatific spookiness by Paul Rhys) gets involved, and before we know it, we're in a secret underground mausoleum full of burning crosses. As plots go, this seemed to have passed through Dan Brown's oesophagus a few times. Like Doctor Who, Bonekickers is really too silly for grown-ups. It might be worth acquiring a child, though, as a pretext for watching later episodes.
Murderous Christian fundamentalists, like the ones on Bonekickers, are frequently on TV, but their Islamic counterparts rarely make an appearance. Our TV controllers have a tendency to make like the three wise monkeys when it comes to Muslim extremism: hear no evil, see no evil, broadcast no evil. During this year's 7/7 anniversary it was the great unmentionable. Over the weekend we had a feature-length documentary that invited us to view 9/11 from the point of view of conspiracy theorists. Then, on the day itself, there was a Dispatches special on Islamophobia in the UK, entitled It Shouldn't Happen to a Muslim, though "It Shouldn't Happen to a Commuter" might have been more appropriate. I don't doubt that the topic of Islamophobia itself is worthy of attention. But broadcasting the piece on the seventh of the month was so pointed that it felt less like a genuine inquiry into Muslim experience and more of an exercise in cheek-turning, in white liberal piety.
There's none of that in Angus Deayton's Would I Lie to You? in which panellists compete to show what adept liars they are. It has the quality of a rowdy after-dinner game, a quality all panel shows aspire to but few achieve, especially now Have I Got News for You is so worn out through overscripting. But here, you sometimes feel the guests – usual suspects such as Rob Brydon and Lee Mack – are actually enjoying themselves, and not just because they're on camera.
Still, Would I Lie to You? is just a bit of froth. It's Jerry Springer's show Nothing but the Truth (launched last year and now repeating on Sky Three) that makes you gasp. There are no preening comedians involved, just ordinary volunteers, competing for money, hooked up to a lie detector. Their belief in this machine's ability to read their minds is so profound, it works like a truth serum. They confess everything, from infidelities to phobias of fat people. They squirm; the audience hisses and hollers. Am I selling it to you?
If you liked The IT Crowd, you'll enjoy Lab Rats, another safe, traditional situation comedy that works well within its own tiny confines. Jo Enright impresses as the moronic lab technician and Chris Addison, star and co-writer, has bagged himself some good lines. "I never really lost my virginity," he sighs. "It just sort of wore off."
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