Whatever else it is, Election is a rich source of metaphors for politics: climbing the ladder, taking the plunge, the blind leading the blind.
The conceit of this children's series is that 10 "aspiring junior politicians" compete for the chance to present a manifesto to Gordon Brown in person. Second prize, you present your manifesto to Gordon Brown twice. Last place gets to listen to him explain post-classical endogenous growth theory.
On paper, this looks admirably civic-minded, but it turns out that politics is very low down on the list of things the programme is interested in. Among the contestants are Jac, who has won trophies for street-dancing and says that if he were elected leader of this country he would set up theatre groups and dance classes. Jac points out that dancing is "way cooler than football" (so that's the whole banking crisis sorted). Then there is Reem, who thinks that all animals are cute and friendly, which suggests she's never spent quality time with an alligator or, indeed, a politician. And what about Izzy, who lists her priorities as clothes, shopping and make-up – is that really the right message for recessionary times? The closest we got to a practical political proposal yesterday came from Ben, a professed football fanatic, who wants to promote sport in schools as a solution to childhood obesity and is going to have problems selling the idea to Jac.
You don't expect children to have fully formed political views, of course, but most children will have a reasonably detailed picture of society and some sense of what might need changing. Is the idea, then, that the programme will help them to sort out their ideas, and give them a bit of a grounding in the political process and the limits of democracy? Well, not so far, it isn't. This week, the children were sent to "election leadership camp", where they were presented with the metaphors I mentioned earlier. They had to ascend Jacob's ladder, on which the rungs are placed too far apart for it to be climbed without assistance, jump off a high tower with a rope attached, and clamber through an assault course blindfold and in teams. Apart from Angellica Bell's plucky effort to spin these as tests of leadership skills, it was hard to see what separates this from a show such as Raven, in which broadly similar games are dressed up as a kind of Celtic dungeons-and-dragons adventure. It's not as if we're going to see an actual election: the winners will be picked by Jonathan Dimbleby, and we're told that he will have his own catchphrase, telling the losers, "Your campaign is over." (Decent enough, but not a patch on Raven's "You have fought bravely, young warrior, and depart with honour.")
Perhaps the political content will improve in weeks to come. The press release promises that the children will be getting advice from the likes of Ken Livingstone, Ann Widdecombe, Vince Cable and Peter Tatchell; not that this is a representative sample of the political mainstream. Or perhaps I've got it wrong. I'm complaining that it fails as a model of politics as it is practised. Perhaps in replacing elections with bungee jumping and It's a Knockout-style games, with a Dimbleby as king-maker, the programme-makers are satirising our current political arrangements. Or perhaps they're hinting that's how things ought to be. Can we really be confident that a majority of voters would disagree?
Danger Men followed a crew of linemen working around Little Rock, Arkansas, repairing and maintaining high-voltage, half-a-million volts, overhead power lines. My own romantic ideas about this job were largely derived from "Wichita Lineman", but things have evidently changed a lot since Glen Campbell's day. These men operate in helicopters, flying insanely close to the lines, sometimes within a couple of feet. Part-way through filming, a news report came through of a rival team that had got too close: the helicopter was turned into a fireball and both men aboard were killed. There were a couple of spectacular shots of the crew at work: bolts of blue lightning flying between the cables and a conducting rod, high-pressure hoses being squirted at the cables (to wash off accumulated bird droppings – a major cause of line breakages, apparently), but danger in itself is not really enough to sustain an hour-long programme. You need some sense of character and place, and this programme didn't manage to get nearly enough of either – just some joshing man talk, and the girlfriend of a crew member talking about the strain of waiting at home.
Bobski the Builder, on the other hand, had plenty of characters but not much real content. Two builders, Terry from London and Jarek from Poland, both set out to build extensions on suburban houses. Would British skills and nous trump Polish graft? Not as such: by the end, the people who employed Terry said they'd never use a British builder again. On the other hand, the people who employed Jarek wished they'd never used a Pole. Maybe they should try getting Polish film-makers to knock up some quick, cheap documentaries.Reuse content