Last Night's TV - Sirens, Channel 4; Dirty, Sexy Things, E4; Guilty Pleasures, BBC4

They've got their fingers on the pulse

Let me start with an apology for repeating myself, because I'm pretty sure I've already shared with you my very personal reason for not reviewing a new comedy series after only one episode; in fact, I would have shared it with my therapist, if I had one.

If you recall the sorry tale, feel free to skip forward, but if not, here goes. Way back in the mid-1990s, as a TV critic for another national newspaper, I watched the first episode of a new Channel 4 sitcom about three Irish priests who shared a house. Well, I couldn't make head nor tail of it, wrote that it was complete bilge, and for years afterwards the makers of Father Ted joyfully included my scathing review alongside the lashings of praise from everyone else.

So, I've been careful ever since about making an early assessment of a new comedy, and more often than not I've seen the wisdom of that circumspection, because they usually either get better, or get worse. All of which brings me to Sirens, also on Channel 4, and also with three men doing the same job at its core, although in this case the men are paramedics, not priests. As it happens, I liked last week's first episode, and better still, last night's second episode was, well, better still.

Sirens is a comedy-drama that gets its laughs out of character rather than situation, which is where so much comedy goes wrong, and squeezes drama from banality rather than improbability, which indeed is where lots of drama goes wrong.

It is mainly about relationships, and rather like The Three Musketeers, it contains pathos, bathos and Aramis. Actually, it wasn't Aramis but some other scent on another man's underpants that Stuart (Rhys Thomas) found under his new girlfriend's bed. This is the girlfriend with whom he'd been unable to consummate his lust because of issues about his estranged father, at least according to his mate Maxine (Amy Beth Hayes), a policewoman whose first foray into internet dating misfired when she noticed that her date had no tax disc on his car. Really, Sirens is an edgier, funnier, sexier version of Casualty.

It was conceived and written by Brian Fillis, who has struck on something by creating a paramedic, Stuart, who doesn't particularly like humanity. There's a long and illustrious history of misanthropes in TV comedy, and lots of possibilities in a misanthrope whose job, at which he happens to be very good, is to help people. As he says, "I may be a miserable sod, but I can generally get to your doorstep in under eight minutes." Also on board are Ashley (Richard Madden) and Rachid (Kayvan Novak), the latter an amiable dimbo who hasn't yet mastered the job's jargon. "Shall I do the eye thing with the shiny light?" he says.

Stuart drives the ambulance, but it is also driven by testosterone, with emergency calls becoming a race to get to a crisis ahead of the fire engine. I suspect Fillis has hit on something there, too. I'm full of admiration for them, and I hope I'll never need them, but in real life, as in Sirens, there's undoubtedly sometimes a boys-with-toys dimension to firemen and ambulance crews.

Perou is a boy with a toy, too, in his case a whopping big camera. He is a glamour photographer – "Debbie Harry on Tuesday, Bob Hoskins on Wednesday" – who in Dirty, Sexy Things auditioned a bunch of models and chose eight of them, repeatedly declaring his intention to push them as models and himself as a photographer, although to what purpose was never really made clear. Maybe there was no purpose except to offer us some insight into the world of modelling, but Dirty, Sexy Things didn't do that, either. More than anything, it seemed like a vehicle to show some attractive young people half, or rather seven-eighths, naked, and for Perou to show that his brain ticks as quickly as his shutter shuts. On that score, frankly, the jury is still out.

Never mind. I liked Jay, the Londoner with hang-ups about his body (neuroses that could impede his success as a model, observed Perou, percipiently), and Ariella, who reckoned that in the world of glamour modelling "you don't have to go topless to go the top". It's a neat slogan. She could have it printed on a T-shirt, then watch as the other girls take their T-shirts off and get all the best jobs. I even saw a flash of nipple in a watch commercial the other day.

Expensive watches are to us what pattern-welded swords were to our medieval forebears, status symbols and sometimes even assertions of a chap's virility. In Guilty Pleasures, the historian Dr Michael Scott looked at how attitudes to luxury have changed through the centuries, and found in the 14th century the real beginnings of the "forces of consumption that now define our lives ... the cusp of the modern world".

Ostentation, he found, goes in cycles. The monk Cuthbert, in the seventh century, was the pin-up boy for the notion that showy wealth was sinful, but by the 1300s it was all the rage, hence the 1363 Act of Apparel that tried to restrict smart clothing to those of appropriate social rank, rather than simply for anyone who could afford it. Unfortunately, it didn't work, which will come as bad news to the man I overheard on a train recently, complaining about "the oiks in morning-suits" at Royal Ascot.

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015