Last Night's TV: Beaver Falls/E4
Thursday 28 July 2011
It's possible that there are viewers who tuned into Beaver Falls (E4's new comedy series about a trio of oversexed Brits doing a season at an American summer camp) in the hope that they would find a delicate comedy of manners, distinguished by its tender observation of human frailty. But if so they're the kind of people who shouldn't be left unsupervised with a box of matches. The title, with its sophomoric double entendre, surely gives fair warning of what you're going to get, and even if you ignored that red flag it wasn't very long before it was clear what we were in for. Fresh out of Oxford (Brookes, but they don't mention that on the application form), Flynn, Barry and A-Rab have plans for a perfect working vacation, looking after spoiled rich kids, and opportunistically taking a crack at any girl old enough not to provoke a queasy sense of sexual abuse in the viewer (they may not entirely have pulled this off).
When they turn up at Beaver Falls there is good news and bad. The bad news is that their boss is a puritanical hard-ass straight out of a high-school teen comedy, one of those high-blood-pressure martinets whose doom is to be perpetually outwitted by his bacchanalian underlings. The good news is that the camp appears to be run by Abercrombie and Fitch: occupied almost exclusively by California hotties of both sexes. And then there's bad news again, because just as our heroes are wiping the drool from their chins, the Baywatch slo-mo cuts out and they turn to find themselves facing their own special charges – a clutch of overweight misfits who include a supercilious preppie, a compulsive masturbator and a wannabe rapper. It turns out there's a reason their hut is nicknamed the Chunk Bunk.
It's an odd kind of camp this, one in which the Calvinist rules of the supervisor (no sex, no drugs, no alcohol) seem to go hand in hand with a regime lax enough to allow all three without much need for concealment. Hardly has the first ad-break gone by than Flynn (the group's Casanova) has inadvertently succumbed to the advances of his boss's wife (did he not wonder why she was at least 20 years older than any of her colleagues?) and Barry is smoking dope on the dock with a friendly blonde. The Abercrombie and Fitch counsellors, meanwhile, are strutting about the place like off-duty SS men, tormenting the fat campers and bouncing chests with their British counterparts, who are morally distinguished here not by the fact that they're nicer to the losers, but by the fact that they simply can't be bothered to put in the same effort to bully them. When they do eventually form an alliance of outsiders, it's only because they've been blackmailed into decency after the children have ferreted out discrepancies in the CVs that got them their jobs.
Like The Inbetweeners, it prides itself on its callow plain-speaking. So if you think that the line "Who wanked on my flip-flop?" is screamingly funny then this may well be for you (I won't judge, I promise). Unlike The Inbetweeners, though, it can't claim the mitigation of a world viewed through the letterbox of teenage sexual desperation, and that occasionally gives it problems. When the fat children demand help in finding free internet porn as one of the conditions for their continued silence and Barry blithely agrees to help, you may find yourself wondering about the niceties of a 20-year-old mentoring a 14-year-old boy in this way, and that's even before the tricky issue of statutory rape has come up. The cruelty of the jock faction is also so overblown and nasty that it is simultaneously unpleasant and unbelievable – a definite lose-lose. Flynn and A-Rab both have back stories that may allow for something a little less coarse and cocky, but I won't be holding my breath.
If you were to judge Marcus du Sautoy's new series, The Code, solely on the basis of its musical soundtrack you'd swear that it was a gothic thriller, and his voiceover wouldn't do anything to disabuse you, going on and on about a hidden code of great power, crafted into the walls of an ancient cathedral and the key to the secret laws of the universe. He means maths, which may come as something of a disappointment to Dan Brown fans and to fans of mathematics, too, who will find they have to wade through a lot of fancy-dress enticement to get at the substantive stuff. I take it the series is intended for people who aren't fans of maths at all and might be expected to run away in fright if confronted with it too abruptly. Anyway, the innumerate may find themselves drawn in. For one thing, Du Sautoy is a likeable screen presence (if not quite as box-office as Professor Brian Cox) and for another there are some nice illustrations of the intimately mathematical nature of the universe, including periodical cicadas that have evolved to emerge at prime-number intervals (because that gives them the best chance of not bumping into the wrong kind of cicada) and some real live nautili (who presumably don't spend a lot of time dwelling on the fact that they're a perfect example of Fibonacci geometry). Anyone nagged by the philosophical question of whether mathematics is just a symbolic description of reality or reality itself will have to go elsewhere. There wasn't any way to make that issue sound like a Dan Brown thriller.
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