Last night's viewing - Death Unexplained, BBC1; Alex Polizzi: the Fixer, BBC2


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The Independent Culture

It's always pleasing when programmes contain practical advice and Death Unexplained delivered fairly early. It came from the police and was passed on by coroner Alison Thompson: "If by any chance you do kill your partner without meaning to, of course the best thing you can do is actually ring and say you've done it as soon as you can. Once you start prevaricating you've had it." Very understanding, the police. These things happen, just don't tell fibs about it. What's the best thing to do if you meant to kill your partner, they didn't say, but then you can't have everything.

As it happened, Death Unexplained also featured an excellent plot twist for any thriller writer out there looking for something new. The mystery would be the unexplained death of a pathologist, found in a locked autopsy room by the opened body of her latest case. Whodunit? Well, amazingly, the dead man did, because, as we learned from last night's episode, people who've committed suicide by taking cyanide can give off dangerous quantities of cyanide gas when they are opened up. Ashley was just about to start the autopsy on a young woman called Jessica, when word came through that a pot of cyanide had been found in her flat and he didn't need a lot of persuading to hand the body over to a specialist laboratory. Death Unexplained is about all those who deal with a death of unknown cause, and a surprisingly cheerful bunch they turn out to be. Alison is herself the raw material for a television series, a breezy, attractive woman who drives a Pagoda-top Merc, wears one of those dashing lawyer's white ties and approaches her baleful task with far more puckishness than you might expect: "We can't now hold courts in public houses," she said at one point, "which is a bit of a shame."

Olaf, one of the pathologists who works with her, is even more upbeat, a positive little ray of sunshine in a place that needs every one it gets. "I do really enjoy coming to work," he said, as we watched him prepare to autopsy Fred, who'd only been found some time after his death, "I'm a very morning person... I really enjoy doing post-mortems." Naturally, Olaf wouldn't want anyone running away with the idea that it's all upside: "When you're looking through the bowel at lots of pooh, all the glamour fades away very quickly." "All the glamour", Olaf? You cut up dead people for a living, some of whom are so ripe that even three pairs of gloves won't stop the smell getting through to your hands. I don't think you need to worry that recruits might be dazzled by the stardust.

Alex Polizzi doesn't play a coroner's role, though you sometimes get the sense that she's dealing with the walking dead in Alex Polizzi: the Fixer, a trouble-shooter format aimed specifically at family businesses. Last night was about the Chough Bakery in Padstow, a business with a good product, a perfect location and Elaine, a founding matriarch with a death grip on the firm's windpipe. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," she growled ferociously, at one modest suggestion. It is broke, Elaine. That's why you've got Alex Polizzi pursing her lips outside the front door. Actually, Elaine's motto also seemed to be "If it is broke, don't fix it", because one of the things that had provoked that moue of disapproval was a broken window pane in the shop front, part of a generally exhausted aspect that left Elaine's prize-winning Cornish pasties looking a bit foxed.

It is absolutely impermissible for these things to end other than with a rosy dawn just beginning to show on the horizon, but Polizzi looked promisingly testy from time to time. I live in hope that at least once she'll just scream, "Oh, sod the lot of you then! Go bankrupt!"