Last Night's TV: Beeny's Restoration Nightmare/Channel 4<br />Meet the Parents/E4<br />The Beauty of Diagrams/BBC4

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Gawd! What a disaster. Time of economic crisis, etc etc and poor old Sarah Beeny is having problems with her stately home. How. Do. Some. People. Cope. Honestly: there's 97 rooms and everything. It's just too tough. OK, OK, enough with the jibes. Let's be serious. This is a woman in suffering – albeit in a peculiarly privileged, property-and-a-half-owning kind of way. "This is costing a fortune," Beeny pleaded. "It could easily take us down." And so, the plan: to renovate the Hall – bought seven years ago but not, apparently, all that lived in – and rent it out to weddings and parties. Just like Property Ladder, except with higher ceilings (not to say stakes.)

Formal hall it may have been, but Beeny's home near Hull cost about the same as a suburban terrace to buy. It's the upkeep that really breaks the bank. There are, for instance, 149 sash windows, all of which are nigh-on caving in with rot, and all of which are going to need to be sorted, not just to prevent them buckling, but also to stop the rain leaking in and making the rest of the house even more decrepit than it is.

The only thing is, it would cost £1,000 to replace each one. At the same time, the roof is buckling. Ever since they bought the place, Geoff the roofer (everyone on this project is given their own, rather quaint title: Geoff the roofer, Karen the head decorator etc etc) has been patiently tinkering away, slowly replacing the tiles across the building's massive expanse. "It's not like work when you're in a beautiful place like this," he protested, wanly. I suspect he'll feel rather different when the snow starts falling.

Oops – too late. It already has. Or at least it had just as we left Rise Hall. Our heroine, having given birth to her third child just a few weeks earlier, was pacing the frosted lawn fretting over works' imminent standstill. It's the worst winter in decades; the builders can't even get to the front door. Whatever will she do? The pressure mounts! Deadlines loom! Will Beeny rid herself of her financial albatross?

Actually, yes. The end result is just a Google away. Type "Rise Hall" into your web browser, and you will rapidly be redirected to Ms Beeny's new website. "Rise Hall," it says. "Project of Sarah Beeny!" Alongside a series of decidedly dry-rot-free images (banquet halls, chandeliers, spiral staircases) comes the chirpy announcement: "Prices for the hire of Rise Hall range from around £2,000 to £7,000 plus VAT." Catering costs, it turns out, add rather more on to that. I like Sarah Beeny: she's jolly and fun – an enthusiastic labrador of a presenter. And I like stately homes – they're nice to watch in that escape-from-your-own-grim-life kind of way. But, charming as they both may be, I'm struggling to feel too much sympathy on this.

Meet the Parents is a horrendous idea for a television show. Just the thought of it is enough to make you squirm. An unwitting girl- or boyfriend, on their best behaviour, being introduced to their beloved's parents. Except that they're not their beloved's parents at all, they are a cast of actors, chosen with the specific intention of winding up the new kid. Oh yes – and it's all being filmed by hidden camera. If he or she manages to stick it out, the young couple win a holiday (retro!) If they don't, well, they don't.

Last night was pretty much as you would expect: bumbling boyfriend Rich, shirt untucked, arrived to grapple with the melodramatic mood swings of mum and the fearsome temper of dad. Added to the equation were a born-again gap yah student of a sister, a surburban crap rapper of a brother and a gardener whose relationship with his employers isn't strictly professional. Rich is put through a string of humiliations: being grilled about his sex life, having his school reports read out aloud, being co-opted into a rap about hard-ons in the gard-on (ha-ha).

It's all excruciating, of course: the situation, the fuzzy cameras, the whole thing. Quite why anyone would tune in, I'm not sure, though perhaps that's not the point. Like all of those hidden-camera shows (Beadle's About, Candid Camera) the purpose seems to be less the active seeking out so much as the bland time-passing. Meet the Parents is amusing enough in a nothing-much-else-on kind of way. And that's sort of it, really.

Whoever dreamed up the title for The Beauty of Diagrams really wasn't going for the hard sell. The driest sounding offering on last night's television schedule, and it may well have been the best. Contrary to all expectations, this was no stuffy leaf through biological charts, but in fact a rather romantic romp through the mind of Leonardo da Vinci as he constructed his famous Vitruvian Man.

Hosted by mathematician-cum-presenter Marcus du Sautoy, the programme took us out of foggy England and into sunny Venice. We got a look at other artists' failed attempts to conduct a similar study, at the symmetry Da Vinci identified within the human anatomy, and the role it had to play in his – and others' -architectural designs. Quite how he managed to incorporate man, circle and square – all proportionately perfect – and quite where he begun in order to do so remains a mystery. GCSE geometry it ain't.