Last Night's TV - The Secret Millionaire, Channel 4; Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, BBC3

The caring,sharing type

There's nothing very secret about the success of
The Secret Millionaire, the sixth series of which began last night. All the features of feel-good drama are there. The hero in search of redemption; the epic quest for meaning; the deception of noble souls for their own, ultimate benefit; and the final reconciliation, in which a grand "reveal" brings all parties to the same dais of knowledge. Why on earth didn't they think of that earlier?

That the show is embarking on another series is testimony to its enduring appeal. By the time each episode finishes, we ache with the glorious sense that a better world is possible, that good may triumph. This feeling alone justifies our hour-long investment, as it did last night, when Sean Gallagher was dispatched to Middlesbrough with customary zeal. And even for a show as formulaic as this, his fitness for the role was exemplary.

For 12 years, he told us, he had built up an IT recruitment business (is there a drearier three-word phrase in English?) as a kind of surrogate for his personal failings. A long relationship with a fiancée broke down, and he never found love again. This deprived him of children, so instead he directed his paternal sensibilities toward his two nieces, a project made poignant by the death 25 years ago of their mother – Sean's sister – through an epileptic fit. That event was the true beginning of our plot, so that the chronology was disrupted and constantly informed by painful memories of an event we never saw.

Even before he got to Middlesbrough, the waterworks had begun. Sean didn't often speak about his sister. The presence of a camera and crew cajoled him into confronting his anguish, but each time he did so it proved too much, and he stepped away to compose himself. These teary recollections combined with an over-zealous script, so that by the time we got to the first ad break the sense was that Channel 4 was laying it on a bit thick. Our hero boasted of his £8,000 LED television, on which he just loved to watch sport; we saw him looking out over the balcony of his lush penthouse in Spain; then he was testing out a £120,000 Aston Martin, telling his man at the dealership he just loves that new car smell.

Cut to Sean traipsing around grim Middlesbrough, interviewing locals about their quotidian miseries. Then the script went into overdrive, piling cliché on to cliché. This town allegedly has the country's highest levels of unemployment – compared with other towns of similar size? Among what age group? And was that trusty thing, a Northern "former economic powerhouse", "blighted by drugs and crime". Such phrases don't take much imagination, but Sean reinforced the message with the highly predictable assertion that this place was "like a war zone". There followed shots of him peering out from behind his curtains, and close-ups of his home security.

All this was in aid of pumping up the contrast between where he had come from and where he was now, but this was draining long before the missionary had done his work. He was more than redeemed, however, by his efforts for charity.

Sean turned up at the offices of Fairbridge, an extraordinary group that helps children who have fallen between institutions. It would be remiss not to mention that Fairbridge does precisely the same kind of work as Prospex, a charity in Islington of which I am a trustee, because I could see a familiar dilemma on the face of the workers and their young people. Many young people who might be involved in crime are terrified of the camera, fearing a conspiracy from the police. For Sean and his Channel 4 team to have convinced them to take part was a considerable achievement in itself. And Fairbridge's staff were also in a familiar difficulty, of not wanting to seem desperate for exposure but keen for all the help they can get.

Our hero had the most wonderful rapport with the young people, refusing to patronise them and sensitive to their intelligence. It was thrilling to watch; but even that was not as heart-wrenching as his second charitable encounter, with the founders of Abbie's Love. This small charity was set up by the parents of a young girl called Abbie Clarke, who died of an epileptic seizure. The link to Sean's sister was immediate, and didn't need to be laboured. Abbie's father lived with the guilt of thinking his daughter was asleep when in fact she was in a seizure. All he and his partner wanted was to raise money for bedside alarms that would prevent future such tragedies. The solidarity between our grieving brother-hero, and these grieving parent-champions, was marvellous television.

I dare say it left me exhausted, though. By the time we got to the opening salvo of series nine of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, the old compassion fatigue was setting in. And devotees of this show, which used to be awful and is now rather addictive, will know that Gaz (played by Will Mellor) is now in a wheelchair.

Just as in Byker Grove many years ago, when PJ and Duncan, later and less enjoyably known as Ant and Dec, went from being joyful youngsters to morbid goons after the paintball accident that blinded PJ, so sitcoms are harder to pull off when the main character is paralysed. Laughter feels wrong. Send for a secret millionaire, I kept thinking to myself, and undo this injustice.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test