Last night's viewing - Coppers, Channel 4; SuperScrimpers, Channel 4

 

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The Independent Culture

"Is it funny or is it tragic?" asked one of the policemen in Coppers. "I don't know." Cruelly, I'm guessing that it isn't an either/or for most people. In quite a lot of instances, it's funny and tragic, as was the case with Barbara, arrested by armed response unit officers after turning up at someone's house and pointing a gun through the window. Most people, faced with four or five agitated armed police officers, might decide that a certain amount of diplomatic retreat was in order. But not Barbara, who was heavily soused on vodka and seemed to believe the police had turned up to back her up: "He's robbed my watch!" she screamed repeatedly, a picture of outraged innocence. And she didn't much help her cause when she got back to the station: "I don't believe in robbing people and hurting people," she said reasonably, before suddenly remembering the injustice of her situation, "but I'll kill that bastard!"

It turned out that the weapon was only a BB gun and Barbara rapidly sobered to quiet mortification. She also explained how she'd been abused by both her parents and that repeated attempts at therapy had failed to lift her past this wound in her past. Indisputably tragic then... though in a way that serving police officers couldn't take a lot of account of if they were going to continue to do their job. And that's another clue to the watchability of Coppers, which is that comedy is what you pull on over tragedy if you want to insulate yourself from its effects. It works for boredom too. Last night's episode was about what one officer called "the Gucci end of the job", which means racing to an armed response with a Walther tucked in your police vest. They candidly like these calls, but every now and then they get nursemaid duties on cash deliveries, something that makes them very grumpy. The jokes come back. "I risk-assessed that and decided not to engage that threat," a gun-toting officer radioed to his partner, after an old lady had hobbled past with a walking stick. See, funny again.

SuperScrimpers began with Sixties newsreel of an Olympia Do-It-Yourself exhibition, and an entirely unjustified sense of smirking superiority to that vintage material. Because if you've ever wondered what future television-makers are going to do when they want a comically upbeat and corny bit of vintage media, the answer is that they may well turn to SuperScrimpers, a Pathé newsreel in all but name mixed with the DNA of a wartime information film. "Being frugal can be fun," someone said perkily at the beginning and for the next hour we were offered tips and wrinkles on stretching your money a little further. Occasionally, this can have an unintentional comedy to it as well. I liked Leo, who offered advice on turning leftover cream into butter – a messy process of churning and kneading that left you wondering why he didn't just find something to put the cream on. Or the old lady who helpfully pointed out that vinegar will work as a descaler, provided, that is, you don't mind your bathroom smelling like a chip shop.

But mostly it's grievously dull, and marked by an odd kind of sexism that is not nearly far enough from the saloon-bar jauntiness that greeted a dolly bird demonstrating the do-it-yourself garage in another Sixties clip ("She's no grease monkey!"). Only women featured in the item on getting the best interest rates on a credit-card loan (and, frankly, what kind of scrimping is that?) and only women were questioned in the item on phone tariffs. Even more oddly, only women took part in the section on money-saving auto tips, which ventured into such daring territory as topping up your own windscreen-washer fluid. Perhaps they thought men would have felt insulted, but they surely reckoned without the implicit insult to the women involved.

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