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
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
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.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits