Last Night's TV: Jamie: Drag Queen at 16/BBC3
Franklin & Bash/E4
The Corrie Years/ITV1
Thursday 21 July 2011
"I've got a secret," Jamie said. "I've had to hide it all my life. Even my dad doesn't know." If your secret is that you're gay, you thought, watching the opening moments of Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, then I think it's just possible that your dad has already guessed. Jamie sashayed home from school as if he was on a Paris catwalk, his soft voice and peroxide flop not doing a lot to contradict the impression of a joyfully embraced effeminacy. On pretty much anyone's gaydar, Jamie would show up like the mid-morning sun. That wasn't his secret though, because inside the wide-flung closet doors of his sexuality he'd got another closet. Jamie wanted to become a drag queen and planned to take his first tottering, high-heeled steps towards this ambition by attending his school prom in a dress.
Some people already knew his secret. His best friend, Sam (a girl at school), knew, as did his stalwartly loving mother, Margaret. In fact, Margaret seemed to have known for years, judging from the fan of old photographs she showed us in which the infant Jamie posed in a variety of her dresses. I'm guessing that their neighbours knew too, given Jamie's habit of practising his high-heel technique by vogueing along the top of the garden wall after dark. It's the kind of thing that would catch your eye if you happened to be looking out of the window. The big question, though, was what would happen when all this became common knowledge, and how Jamie's dad (who didn't live with them) would react when he found out.
To perfect his make-up technique, Jamie went off to a Newcastle drag lounge where the resident compere Betty (aka Simon Green) offered tips on eyebrow masking and a guest slot, so that he could widen the circle of those in the know with a special invitation performance. When he first saw Jamie's proposed act, Betty wasn't exactly sisterly: "Ain't gonna cut it," he snapped. "At the moment, it's shit." But with a little help from Sam and Margaret's best friend (who was helping Jamie construct a drag-act persona), the routine started to acquire a little polish. Elsewhere, things weren't going as well. Jamie's dad turned down an invitation to the premiere, which saddened him, and some knuckle-headed parent, getting wind of Jamie's costume plans for the school prom, had rung a senior teacher to say that it was "disgusting". Hearing this, Margaret's best friend offered a quietly understated rebuke to reflexive prejudice: "Oh, fer fuck's sake!" she said, "Honest to God, it boils my piss!"
Even Jamie's supporters were wary about how his school dance would go down. "Life isn't always a film," said Betty warily. You braced yourself for a deflating slump into small-mindedness and conformity and for a while it looked as if you might get it, when Jamie turned up to the prom in a slinky black lace number and was turned away at the door. But life is a bit like a film, it seems. The pupils and parents outside were on his side and those who'd already gone in flooded out to see what all the fuss was about, and threatened not to return unless Jamie was allowed to go with them. In the end, the authorities caved in, for fear that they might otherwise have the North-east's first cross-dressing school riot on their hands. We didn't, sadly, get the full Billy Elliot emotional climax. Jamie's dad sent him a text telling him that he'd ruined everybody's night for his own selfish ends. He couldn't have been more wrong. If anything, Jamie had made the evening. Now every school will want their own drag queen.
Franklin & Bash, E4's latest American import, is pure bubblegum television. It begins with a great burst of synthetic flavour and steadily gets more boring. By the end, you're faintly disgusted with your own bovine mechanical persistence and wondering where you can get rid of the flavourless wad you've been left with. Which doesn't mean, of course, that the burst of flavour at the beginning doesn't have its pleasures. Set in an unusually easy-going Los Angeles law office (one where nobody blinks twice if one of the partners greets a client in his boxer shorts), it centres on two monumentally self-satisfied young bucks who trade effortful banter and win cases. Last night featured a trophy wife, charged with doing away with her elderly husband by means of strenuous sex – a case that unfolded in a ripple of increasingly implausible plot twists and revelations, arriving at such speed that it felt as if you were watching the elevator pitch for the programme rather than the finished product. There was a nice cameo from the excellent Fred Willard, as a gag-cracking attorney, and if you're a fan of Malcolm McDowell you might want to watch his turn as the firm's boss, but overall it doesn't have nearly enough laughs to work as a comedy and nothing like the forensic attention to detail you need to make effective courtroom drama.
The Corrie Years should really have offered a complete antidote to phone hacking and Murdochiana. But tucked away in this desultory bit of schedule padding was a reminder of the moment when the prime minister of the country pledged his support to a campaign to release a fictional character from jail, after Deirdre Rachid ended up behind bars and the tabloids went tonto with the story. What was behind that moment? Tony Blair's sense of fun? Or Alastair Campbell's anxiety that the red-tops might turn nasty if he didn't play ball?
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