Last Night's Television: Desperate Housewives, Channel 4
Air Medics, BBC1, Banged Up Abroad, Five
"The moment will come when we ask ourselves, 'Where did the time go?'" said the Valium-voiced Mary Alice at the beginning of last night's Desperate Housewives, dispensing another of the tranquillising banalities that are the series's stock in trade. For devoted followers of the programme, I think that moment will have come sooner than they expected when it became clear that an awful lot has been going on while we've been away. Lynette's tearaway boys now tower over her and can drive her car, Bree is well on her way to transforming herself into Martha Stewart, and Gabrielle, one hardly dares write the words, is looking a little plump and tugging a tubby daughter around behind her. "Where did the past five years go?" you ask yourself, and the answer is into the bin. Wisteria Lane needed a real jolt, one imagines the writers must have felt, and hitting the narrative chronology hard with a sledgehammer was what they came up with to do the trick. Cue some rather neat time-lapse editing in which our heroines walk out of five years ago into today, and into circumstances that their older selves would never have dreamt of.
Gabrielle had it hardest, with a blind husband at home and a daughter who is a daily affront to her almost religious devotion to bella figura. Looking for a princess dress for a friend's birthday party, little Juanita discovered that she couldn't get into any of the available sizes. "Did you try the costume section?" asked a lethally superior shop assistant. "I think they have a Mrs Shrek costume that would fit her." So distressed was Gabrielle that she tried to introduce exercise into Juanita's life by forcing her to run home behind her convertible after the party was over. Lynette, meanwhile, was still struggling with childcare, her problems complicated by the fact that her children have now graduated to tequila shots and running an illegal poker school in the pizza restaurant. And Susan, five series in and countless complicated relationships behind her, was still behaving like a 17-year-old, concealing her painter boyfriend from her friends. Does it count as affectionate allusion that a semi-naked man is bundled out of a window to avoid embarrassment, as happened in episode one all those years ago,or is it simple proof that the series has run out of places to go? I don't imagine fans will care much, since the new series already has in place one of those long-burn menaces that have proved successful in the past (Edie's new husband is clearly bonkers and clearly after Susan). But I found myself checking my watch and wondering why time wasn't passing more quickly.
Not quite as frequently as I did in Air Medics, though, an hour-long opening episode for a crash-and-dash series that exploits the potent fascination of other people's accidents. Titled "The Golden Hour", this first film somewhat insistently underlined the medical justification for air ambulances, which is that getting assistance to people inside 60 minutes can make a big difference to their chances. This is not a complicated concept, it seems to me. Most people should be able to hold it in their heads for at least an hour. But the makers of Air Medics were taking no chances, with a voice-over that hammered away at the ticking-clock urgency again and again and again, until you wanted to beat your head on a wall to make it stop. "Sixteen minutes of the golden hour has gone," said the narrator seriously as distressed moans emerged from the wreckage of a car, and over the next 55 minutes he visited every hourglass-watching cliché in the language. "With five minutes left, time is against them", "All they can do is work fast and hope they're still inside the golden hour", "Time could be running out for Keith", "Twenty-five minutes into the hour, time isn't on their side". The effect, rather unfairly, was to suggest that everyone on screen was medically naive, convinced that, as the clock ticked over from 59 minutes and 59 seconds, their patient was going to expire in front of them. The helicopter shots are exciting (though rather confusingly edited together with sequences showing the aircraft swooping around over completely different terrain) and the vignettes at the end are touching (when you encounter in the pink patients you last saw grey-faced with pain and fear). But it's a mercy future episodes are only going to last half an hour.
Banged Up Abroad told the story of Daniel, who spent three years in a hellish Ecuadorean prison for his part in a cocaine-smuggling operation. Helpful tips? Don't do a runner on your hotel bill if you want to remain incognito, and don't dig into the cargo and reduce yourself to a jittering caricature of sweaty paranoia shortly before presenting yourself at the check-in desk for the flight home. I'm guessing you knew this already, though.
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