Last Night's Television - Imagine, BBC1; Tony: I've Lost My Family, BBC3; The Truth About Crime, BBC1

Guilty pleasures
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Given television's addiction to the flashing blue light it's something of a miracle that such a thing as unrecorded crime still exists. Car Crime UK, for example, boasts that over the last six months it's had 50 cameras following specialist car-crime units across the country while Nick Ross opened the second episode of The Truth about Crime by boasting that the production team had "swamped" Oxford with cameras for the programme's special "crime audit". And we haven't even counted Send in the Dogs yet – the hour-long programme that preceded Car Crime UK – or Traffic Cops or Total Emergency, which also gives ambulance crews and the fire service a crack at 15 minutes of fame. People worry about CCTV cameras, but you can barely move out there for television crews, all of them out to feed adrenalin mainliners their regular dose of chase sequences and mayhem.

Car Crime UK sticks Trevor McDonald on its dashboard to give itself a spurious air of journalistic inquiry but is actually just standard ride-along telly, less interested in criminological metrics and offending trends than the lively jolt you get if you take a speed bump at 60 miles an hour. You can't suppress the sense, while watching it, that the very last thing the producers want is a dip in the crime figures, since that would strangle the supply of high-speed pursuits through suburban estates. The Truth about Crime, by contrast, is a little more interested in sociological perspective and solutions. They kept cutting into the action for a computer graphic in which they mapped reported crimes onto a map of Oxford, the whole town coming over all pustular with illegal activity, like time-lapse footage of someone undergoing a nasty case of measles. And though they pay their dues in terms of boot-through-the-door house calls by local coppers, they also follow up their stories to give you some sense of the hopeless circularity of most crime. First, we saw Kelly being arrested – after a gruesomely incompetent attempt to steal a student's lap top – and then we returned later for Kelly's considered reflection on her offence: "Yes I done it," she said. "Yes it was bang to rights... I weren't basically myself." Ahem. Yourself was precisely what you were, Kelly, it's how you can be persuaded to be someone else that's the tricky thing.

Kelly was stealing, she eventually admitted, for a "10-pound bag", her addiction typical of what drives most theft. One man in the Oxford area had been responsible for 35 break-ins in three months, another for 29 and one policeman candidly admitted that the best they could probably do was to dissuade these Stakhanovites of larceny from stoving in pensioners' back windows and start stealing from shops instead, a crime-prevention measure that shopkeepers are understandably less keen on. But having just had my car quarter light reduced to pavement diamonds for the second time in four days, I'm inclined to think that it might be cheaper and less stressful for everyone concerned just to give them the smack for free. In the interim, perhaps we could have a few television crews round my way for the next few weeks.

"My life... it's just a bit rubbish," said Tony, the subject of Max Fisher's Tony: I've Lost My Family, a touching film about a teenage runaway trying to grow up. It certainly involved a lot of rubbish, since Tony and his mate John-John appeared to be only marginally more domesticated than a pair of hamsters. Part of the film was about Tony's search for a job ("I won't be doing it every day of the week, will I?" he said, appalled, when he got his first interview) and part of it about his search for his family, including a long-lost brother who left home when he was just 11. Both quests seemed frankly hopeless, given Tony's fey detachment from the realities of life. But in the end he got a job and found his brother through a social-networking site, developments that had you, in spirit at least, joining in with Tony as he skipped jubilantly down the road like an effeminate version of Tigger. His longing for maternal love ran through the thing like a dark seam and was never finally resolved. He stared at her house from a distance at one point, shaking with nerves, and then retreated with the melancholy words, "I think she probably just thinks of me as a mistake." Quite how he had preserved his sweetness of spirit in the teeth of betrayals and foster-home bullying I don't know, but after the sour taste that Young, Dumb and Living with Mum leaves on the tongue, this was the perfect antidote.

Imagine's interesting film about art in recession hovered between two contradictory positions. Culture thrives in adversity because the true values emerge from mercantile froth. Culture is not a luxury but a necessity, and coming cutbacks will be a catastrophe. Discuss, but don't expect a conclusive resolution.