Dirty Sexy Money, Channel 4
The Diets That Time Forgot, Channel 4
he Passion, BBC1
Holby Blue/EastEnders, BBC1
Biblical themes are relished in a new US drama, and the devil gets all the best lines
At this time of year, it is healthy to contemplate the dichotomy between good and evil, the nature of everlasting life and the power of love to overcome great adversity. In this, Dirty Sexy Money starts off well. "The love of money is the root of all evil," says Nick George, a New York civic lawyer who cares about nuns and orphans and knows better than to misquote his Timothy. He could go on to mention that they who would be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition, but all that soon becomes clear.
The Darling family is a casting triumph and a classic fictional embodiment of Timothy's truism. Patriarch Tripp Darling (played with obvious glee by a twinkling Donald Sutherland) is the snare, who persuades Nick to become the family's lawyer even though the same job ruined Nick's father's life and even though Tripp's first choice was Bill Clinton.
Temptation is three-times married Karen, who wants one hand down Nick's pants while signing her latest pre-nup with the other. The foolish one would be Juliet, who is Paris Hilton but with a better team of scriptwriters. Much has been made of the first real transvestite in American drama, who plays the love interest of sleazy politico Patrick Darling (William Baldwin). That takes care of the hurtful lusts. "You do it – he's your girlfriend", spits virtuous Nick, when Patrick asks him to dump the troublesome trannie.
There are a few duff notes in the pilot episode: the theatre director's Scottish accent is about as authentic as Groundskeeper Willie's in The Simpsons; they could have done without digitally lowering the transsexual mistress's voice, post-production; and, for rich people, the Darlings don't half have small champagne flutes. But this has all the elements of a new hit American drama. Nick is the perfect foil for the high camp of the amoral Darlings. His morally upright wife acts as a kind of Greek chorus.
There is physical comedy, social comment (as if any school would accept money in return for places) and some of the snappiest dialogue since Friends at its peak. "Look at me," says elegant waster Jeremy Darling, "I can't even win a yacht without getting arrested. I have the worst life in the world." "Jeremy, 30,000 people die of starvation every day," preaches worthy Nick. "Yeah, out of seven billion people." For a pertinent analysis of the premise behind the show, look no further than Donald Sutherland, who had this to say about his character: "If you look at Bill Clinton, you know that power corrupts, and absolute power makes you really horny." Bring on the destruction and perdition.
A similar mix of greed, power and dodgy cosmetic surgery fuelled Channel 4's The Diets That Time Forgot, in which a group of modern fatties attempt fad diets from the Victorian, Edwardian and 1920s eras. The historian, Sir Roy Strong, lost all credibility as the top-hatted Mr Nasty, as he sneered at their "shell suits and flab" and twirled his moustaches over the "luscious" Edwardian "ideal S-shape" (which women achieved by removing their bottom ribs). Elizabeth, Lady Davenport managed to offend swathes of people in one go when she accused "Welsh tomboy Nicky" of resembling "a trucker from Hull", and dressed her up as a sofa in a 1920s New Girdle and a hideous patterned dress. But Nicky and her fellow dieters still seemed to have missed the point. "I'm not here for everyone to say, 'Oh, let's take the piss out of the fat people'," complained one. All together now: "Oh yes you are!"
It must be very modern to mingle historical genres. Dirty Sexy Money was Greek drama for the Noughties; The Diets That Time Forgot enforced an element of modern eating disorders on our understanding of 20th-century history; and BBC1's The Passion offered The Greatest Story Ever Told in a post-reality TV format. "But he does miracles," protested Judas in episode two. "Well, we all want to be famous," responded Caiaphas, the High Priest. The devil has always had all the best jokes, but hats off to the scriptwriters for throwing in some plum lines for women that must have been lost in the editing of the New Testament. Penelope Wilton reprised her character from Ever Decreasing Circles in the role of the put-upon mother of Jesus. A Jerusalem prostitute performed an impeccable Cath-erine Tate impersonation, asking Pilate, "Are you mockin' us?" And what was that saucy look on Mary Magdalene's face when her Saviour told her with a twinkle: "I promise you, Mary, before the week is over you'll know God, like never before."
The idea of the Messiah as a sort of bawdy Big Brother wannabe is an interesting one, but was the drama trying to say something more profound? Nobody could have known it would screen during a particularly bad week for money lenders, but a very unmodern sympathy was evident for so-called blasphemers and religious nutters and for groups of bearded blokes entering town with suspicious rucksacks. Religious tolerance? On the BBC? Don't tell the Daily Mail.
Not much tolerance in evidence in the BBC's soaps, in which there was only one recourse for women scorned. Holby Blue, spin-off from Holby City, itself a spin-off from Casualty, saw Jaq Naylor acting like mad using only her cheekbones, while Dumb and Dumber interviewed her about the murder of a man who had assaulted her. How did her fingerprints get on those surgical scissors? And did anyone care as long as the scheming cow was put away for something? In EastEnders, meanwhile, the fate of the cheating ginger scumbag Max Branning seemed all too clear as soon as little Abi held a funeral for Marge the guinea pig. "Everyone deserves a decent burial," she sobbed. It's a humdinger of a cliffhanger for the Easter weekend: is Tanya really going to crucify her husband? And will she go back two days later to find some idiot has rolled away the stone?
Hermione Eyre is away
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