Last Night's TV: Some things are best left off the couch

Shrink Rap, More4; Horizon, BBC2; Fast Food Junkies Go Native, Channel 4
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The Independent Culture

I approached Shrink Rap's interview with Chris Langham a little warily. I was suspicious about special pleading and career rehabilitation and, to be honest, I was also suspicious of my own cynicism. I didn't want to be taken in by a calculated contrition, but on the other hand, I had no desire to find myself part of some pitchfork-waving mob, sneering at a man in deep trouble. What I hadn't expected was that the person I'd end up wanting to lynch would be Dr Pamela Connolly (*ée Stephenson).

I can't quite remember if I've seen Shrink Rap before, and if I have, my subconscious has done a very good job of suppressing the trauma, because I was unprepared for just how ghastly she is in her role as a media confessor. When the camera cuts away to her, nodding encouragingly at her interviewee, she looks as if she's trying to mime the words "searching intelligence". And it's even worse when she opens her mouth and unleashes a low voice full of clipped, therapeutic urgency. Last night's programme opened with Langham recalling the childhood incident of abuse that emerged during his trial for downloading child pornography. "May I lead you?" interrupted Connolly as he began talking. "Try to feel back, rather than think back, to the tent... What do you see... Speak from the eight-year-old... What are you hearing?"

That Langham's account was believable, filled out with psychological and physical details, didn't entirely resolve your uncertainty about the nature of this confession, which he hinted lay at the heart of his error of judgement. This is the sort of thing he's good at, after all. Indeed, describing a time in his life when alcohol and drug abuse coincided with regular penitential appearances at AA sessions, he admitted as much. "I was very good at the meetings... a great authority on the programme. But I just couldn't stay sober and clean." In other words, he was a good liar, and that's not my word but his. "I'm a congenital liar," he said later, "and that's why I tell the truth." The analogy was with the alcoholic who has forsworn alcohol but understands that he isn't cured, the only problem being that lying doesn't leave a smell on the breath. What's more, really good liars usually start with themselves. So when Langham finished by saying, "Yeah, I was really stupid, I was really arrogant... but none of it means anything because I know who I am now", was he really telling the truth? Only he knows, I guess, but for the rest of us, last night's interview at least argued that his punishment had more than met his crime. As for Shrink Rap, that appalling title should tell you enough. Chris Morris couldn't improve on it.

How you achieve a judicial balance when the crime is murder was, tangentially at least, the subject of Horizon's "How to Kill a Human Being", in which Michael Portillo set out to investigate different forms of execution. It was a very odd programme indeed, effectively running on two flat tyres from Portillo's opening pitch: "If the state's going to kill people, you want to do it as humanely as possible... I think most people agree on that." Well, no... most people don't. A lot of those that are worried about humanity don't see anyway of squaring the circle at all, while a lot of others don't give a damn anyway. "My basic attitude is, 'So they suffer a little pain... who cares?'" said the man who had invented the lethal injection, when confronted with the drawbacks of his method. And when Portillo eventually established that hypoxia, or oxygen starvation, could lead to a rapid death preceded by a state of euphoria, one proponent of capital punishment recoiled from the idea as morally disgusting. Bizarrely, all of Portillo's experiments and self-inflicted ordeals dealt solely with physical pain and discomfort, steering well clear of the kind of mental agonies you might feel if you knew that you were due to be snuffed out in six months' time. It ended with an invitation to the viewer to join the debate: "If you want to have your say about whether using nitrogen gas is the perfect way to execute prisoners, log on to..." etc, etc. Voting involves no charge. That would be morally dubious, after all.

In the documentary Fast Food Junkies Go Native, four chubby layabouts went off to live in a remote valley in the Hindu Kush, where they discovered the astonishing secret that doing a bit of physical work, cutting out the Indian takeaways and Mars bars, and generally giving their jaws a rest resulted in weight loss and a considerably improved outlook on life. How long it would last once they got back is anyone's guess, but it struck me that there is a rival here for hypoxia in the field of human execution. A bad diet takes a while, but the victims all volunteer and they even pay for the execution themselves.

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