Last Night's TV: Driving Mum and Dad Mad, BBC3; Superhuman: Super Strong, ITV1
It's enough to send you round the bend
Wednesday 03 September 2008
Joe has goth-black hair with a luminous-green fringe, pink nail polish and wears high heels for the morning teeter to his job as an apprentice hairdresser. His dad, Eric, has a shaved head, lifts weights, polishes his motorbike, and – I'm only guessing here – is still struggling to come to terms with Joe's sexuality. The only thing they appear to have in common is a taste for piercings, Joe opting for a cheekbone stud and a bottom-lip rivet while Eric chooses the more vanilla option of a row of curtain rings along one earlobe. And last night, in a move that anybody but a television producer looking for a new reality franchise would discourage as unwise, they were going to climb into a small car together and Eric was going to teach Joe to drive.
That was the essential premise of Driving Mum and Dad Mad. Instead of being trusted to trained driving instructors, two teenagers had been encouraged to co-opt their parents to teach them to drive. And just in case there wasn't enough stress, anxiety and frustration in the mix already, they'd been told they had only three weeks in which to do it, from first stuttering kangaroo hop to official driving test. The driver who passed the test with the least black marks would win a car of their own. In the meantime, the BBC got lots of in-car screaming matches – in the style of the very successful Driving School – and some exciting shots of near-misses and unplanned emergency stops. "It's a risky business," boasted the voice-over, apparently unashamed at endangering the lives of BBC licence-payers. "There are no dual controls."
It was, frankly, a recipe for disaster, which is presumably precisely why it was commissioned in the first place. Nobody with any sense would try to learn to drive in just three weeks, and even if they did, they wouldn't choose a teacher who would bring 16 accumulated years of resentment and misunderstanding into the car with them. Yet poor Joe, desperate for a life that involved social venues more appealing than the local bus shelter, found himself being taught by a man whose chief instructional tool was the furious insult. Verity – hoping to be able to visit her divorced father a little more often – had much better luck with her mum, Susie, a paragon of quiet patience and encouragement. But then Verity insisted that she wanted her father to help out, too, and we got a practical demonstration of how unhelpful the fallout of a soured marriage can be when you're learning how to reverse around a corner.
Miraculously, nobody was killed and Verity actually passed her test. "It won't hit me until I get in my car and drive off to see my friends," she said, deploying a cliché of incredulous relief that was worryingly double-edged in the circumstances. Joe had to console himself with the fact that his father didn't tear up his test report, throw the pieces in his face and call him a useless numpty, which, given Eric's previous behaviour, was tantamount to a lip-trembling declaration of love.
One hopes nobody is tempted to bring this reckless idea back as a series, particularly since the programme appeared to drive a large, car-shaped hole through the BBC's editorial guidelines. "Prizes should be described in an informational and non-promotional manner," they read. "There must be no element of plugging." I'd be interested to know how you square that with the voice-over line "the perfect first car", and the immediate close up of the badge mark of a Vauxhall Corsa.
Superhuman: Super Strong featured Benedict Magnusson and his new bride, Gemma. Benedict set an all-time world record for deadlifting, picking up 80 stones of truck tyres without, somehow, driving his thighbones straight through his pelvis. I don't know whether he carried Gemma over the threshold after they were married, but I doubt that any lesser man would have been capable, given that Gemma is also a weightlifter. Whenever they appeared on screen, it looked as though the aspect ratio had suddenly clicked out of whack, but they were very sweet together, funny and gentle and quite unmarked by the narcissism or pumped-up aggression that characterised some of the other subjects in this unabashed freak show.
These included Travis, the current world arm-wrestling champion (not a sport for those hung up on bodily symmetry, since it leaves you with one relatively normal arm and one which looks as if you've stuffed a 40lb tuna up your sleeve), and Flex, a Welsh bodybuilder who'd been turned on to his sport after seeing a picture of a muscle-man when he was seven. "It was something about his legs that rocked my little world," he said. And so now Flex too has legs that look like a peeled turkey drumstick under a double coat of polyurethane varnish.
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