Last Night's Television: Bang Goes The Theory: The Human Power Station BBC1<br/>Wonderland, BBC2<br/>The Restaurant, BBC2

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The Independent Culture

The Collinses are a very happy family indeed. There's dad, doing the hoovering, teasing his son about his freckles. There's teenage sister, showing off her hairdryer, computer and curling tongs. There's mum, jumping around with the Wii Fit as her smiling children look on, joking with one another. Oh, the bliss! The wholesome fun! They're like an advert for vitamins, or insurance, or something. But not for long. "The secret to a relaxed life is a cleaner and lots of electrical appliances," according to Mum. "I couldn't cope without a tumble dryer." Unfortunately for her and her modern family, all that's about to change.

In Bang Goes the Theory: the Human Power Station, the Collins family switched their energy supplier from a regular energy company to a warehouse full of sweaty cyclists, who were powering the house by cycling on a set of exercise bikes. Every time any of the family turned on the TV, or the toaster or – God forbid – the electric shower, the cyclists went crazy, legs flying like spinning tops. As the day wore on, they dropped like flies: faces red, foreheads sweaty, eyes rolling, they yelled discouragement each time anyone got near a switch. When Mum left the fridge door open they looked ready to expire. When she turned on the oven for a roast, they almost had a heart attack. Literally, in some cases.

As always, BGtT was packed full of creative thinking and sparkling new facts (at one point, we learned that it's the men of the family who tend to be worse – apparently women are the more energy conscious in most families. Children, for all their hair-straighteners and Nintendos are the best. Who knew?) They did all the usual gimmicks – they cooked a whole chicken with the heat wasted by one non-energy-saving light bulb, they got Mrs Collins's sister to cycle for her own cup of tea. Though, as ever, it wasn't short on serious messages. Not just about the environmental damage – when we were shown precisely how much energy in terms of fossil fuel was used, that became apparent too – but also in terms of the National Grid unsustainability, which is a seriously worrying concept. Will the Collinses change their ways? Maybe. After having their home powered by a cycling team for a day, they certainly have to say they will. Whether or not the rest of us follow suit is a different question entirely.

Far less happy than the Collinses were Frederick and Pauline. Pauline is 80 and lives in a house full of junk. She had so much rubbish that it fell downstairs unprompted. Bills arrived, were left unpaid, and then re-arrived with threats of bailiffs.

Pauline shrugged it off as a kind of quasi-feminist statement of individuality. "I've been neglectful of things most women do," she explained. "I've never been interested in cooking or anything like that." Of course, it's no such thing, nor is it any of the other charming quirks that Frederick – her wild-haired bachelor son – cited: "The convent school girl in her", or her "unusual character". In fact, Pauline is a compulsive hoarder. In last night's Wonderland film, "The Trouble with Mother", we saw Frederick try to help her get her life in order: pay her bills, throw away her rubbish and, hopefully, find some genuinely worthwhile mementos among the clutter. She, meanwhile, sat back and abused him. "He's a damn nuisance," she muttered. "He's always trying to break my neck." She would have a certain amount of charm if she wasn't so belligerent, though I suppose you have to admire her spirit, particularly when she sat down at the piano. A former concert pianist, her gradual loss of technique clearly pained her.

Still, the abuse made Frederick miserable. As well as his constant berating at the hands of his mother, he got it in the neck from his younger sister too. Pauline did nothing but shower praise on her daughter. At one stage, she was shown an old love letter from her late father. The daughter waved it around at will, to much encouragement from her delighted mother. When Frederick picked it up, Pauline screeched abuse at him for touching it. He slunk off, tears in his eyes while mother and sister continued oblivious. Once again, Wonderland delivered a moving portrait of a slice of British life – life on the smallest scale, but life nonetheless.

Meanwhile, Raymond Blanc continued to grit his teeth in The Restaurant. This week, our hapless duos were tasked with creating a singles' night, a concept which, seemingly, eluded all but the increasingly irritating JJ and James. Rebecca and Stephen's party was almost uniformly straight men, while Chris and Nathan had all women. As far as I'm concerned, they should still win, though if possible the prize should be restricted to Chris. Nathan appeared to do virtually no work whatsoever. At one stage, he was tasked with writing up a menu. He spelled everything wrong. Ah well, he shrugged, leaving it all as was.

a.jarvis@independent.co.uk

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