Last Night's TV: Children's Craniofacial Surgery/BBC2<br/>Two Greedy Italians/BBC2

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Has there ever been a blunter title than Children's Craniofacial Surgery, the it-does-what-it-says-on-the-tin name for BBC2's new series about... well, I imagine you can probably guess. I suppose it could have been called "Another Chance to Watch Babies Have Life-Threatening Surgery", but that might have been a little too explicit. And, to be fair, there's a little more to the films than that, even though such programmes will surely look decidedly odd when they come to be viewed from the perspective of another time and another culture. What did the British do for entertainment in 2011? Well, quite often they liked to pop the cork on a lively little viognier and relax while watching a surgeon peel the scalp off a one-year-old. You could argue, of course, that the surgery scenes are simply a grisly by-product of a film that is actually about medical prowess and the intensity of parental love, but then you need to ask yourself whether it's conceivable that such a programme would ever be broadcast without the surgical money-shots. There are a lot of things to see beside blood in these films, but it's the wound that makes us look in the first place.

Intriguingly, Children's Craniofacial Surgery began with a metaphor for the main attraction rather than the thing itself – a neurosurgeon practising his technique by removing the shell from a raw egg with a surgical drill. The thin membrane inside stood in for the dura mater, or the skin beneath the skull, to paraphrase T S Eliot. I don't know whether the egg trick is something brain surgeons really do – as a training exercise – or whether someone had come up with an ingenious way to depict the delicacy of the gestures required, but the sight of that fragile bag of white and yolk being laid on the table ensured that the film kicked off with a memorable image of the proximity of disaster in these matters. One tiny slip and the egg would have had it.

Most of the surgeon's pre-operation briefings, indeed, seemed to emphasise what might go wrong, rather than what probably would go right. It's all part of the disclaimer process, which ensures that anxious parents must leap a hurdle of their worst fears before signing on the dotted line. In the case of Coral, a baby with Crouzon syndrome (in which the bones of the skull don't form fully), there was the possibility that the surgery intended to stop her brain growing out through the hole on the top of her head might induce a crippling stroke. But her parents, for want of a better option, went ahead anyway, so we got to watch the sanguinary do-it-yourself of cranial reconstruction. First, the surgeons took the eggshell off and then they put it back together in a different way. The end result looked a bit like a three-year old's attempt to mend a smashed vase with Play-Doh and string, but once the skin had been restored Coral was – nearly – as good as new. Jay Jayamohan, one of the surgeons here, had a characteristic surgical swagger to his manner, the assurance that comes from knowing you're one of the theatre's A-listers. But later, recalling an operation that had gone wrong, his eyes filled up a little and his voice thickened, a different kind of reminder that the distance between triumph and failure can be eggshell thin.

In Two Greedy Italians, Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo compete to see which of them can be the best stereotyped telly Italian. "Boy... I'm a cookin' so good!" said Gennaro in one of the teaser stings at the beginning of the episode, establishing an early lead. Antonio hit back as he established the mission statement for their journey round Italy, which is to discover "'ow match of an appetaht do we steel 'ave for the country where we wair born." But then Gennaro trumped him by pulling a live octopus out of his swimming trunks and throwing it in Antonio's face (a genuinely startling television moment, which I can't help feeling they should have made more of). You get the general idea. It's one of those culinary road movies (a genre originally kicked off by Two Fat Ladies and continued by The Hairy Bikers), jam-packed with synthetic dramas, comic bickering and the occasional bit of alfresco cooking.

At the beginning it was about as challenging to lazy stereotypes of Italy as a Dolmio pasta sauce advert. The two trundled along Italian roads in an open-topped Alfa Romeo, rhapsodising about the joys of the tavola and the embedded love in a home-made tortellini. But then, just as you were thinking "Well, someone in Italy must eat all that factory-made pasta", the film acknowledged that modern Italy has changed a lot. The pair visited a pasta factory, and a chain restaurant and hectored various elegant young women about their failure to learn to cook as mamma did. There was also a strain of melancholy to it, as Antonio confessed to his loneliness – the cue for an excruciating blind date arranged by a Bolognese dating agency. Some of it was about as authentic as a Goodfella's pizza (made by machines in Ireland), but then the two of them would get the giggles while in the middle of some setup and you realised not all of the banter was out of a bottle. And their visit to a drug-rehabilitation community – which uses food and cooking as part of its therapeutic regime – was genuinely moving. Uovo di curato as they don't say in Italian.