Last Night's Viewing: Scott & Bailey, ITV1 Dara O Briain: School of Hard Sums, Dave


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The Independent Culture

Scott & Bailey, it is becoming increasingly clear, actually takes place in an alternative universe, broadly indistinguishable from the one its viewers occupy but given away by one significant inversion. In our universe senior police officers are mostly men. In theirs it looks as if promotion exclusively favours women.

You can go whole episodes without hearing the word "Sir", which, by the standards of most police procedurals, is little short of a miracle. Even when there's a big press conference and one of the big wheels turns out to get some television exposure, as happened in last night's episode, the honorific is going to be "Ma'am". Last night, it even turned the tables on conventional relationship angst, with Rachel breaking up with her husband using that classically masculine evasion: "This isn't working... and it isn't your fault... this is my fault".

It's a moot point as to whether this qualifies as radical engagement or not. After all, pretending that a problem doesn't exist isn't always the best way to address it. The glass ceiling appears to have been simply willed out of existence here, which is something a fiction can easily do, but doesn't stop you thinking that it might be avoiding a battle rather than fighting it. But you can't deny that the basic premise delivers a police show that is noticeably different in its dynamics. There's a lot less rushing about, for one thing. I haven't done a detailed analysis but I'm willing to bet that Scott & Bailey is longer-breathed than some more conventional cop shows, with a rhythm that lets scenes run on, so they're more pensive in style.

There's a lot less shouting too. In one nice scene a male colleague let slip a rasp of classic locker-room sexism as he stood smoking a cigarette with Rachel and Janet at the police station's back door. They said nothing, simply staring him down until he (and anyone insensitive enough to have missed it at home) couldn't be in any doubt about the offence caused. And is it my imagination or are the police interviews a more coaxing, empathetic affair as well? That feels as if it might have the smack of an inverted sexism itself (aren't they touchy-feely, lady detectives?).

But Janet's attempt to get the convincingly self-pitying Joe to own up to burying his torture victims in the cellar involved none of the fist-pounding and antler-locking you expect from male interrogation. Somebody did a fist-pump and one of those hissing yesses that are compulsory in police procedurals, but it only highlighted how quietly unmelodramatic the previous scene had been. Not our world, really, but an intriguing one nonetheless.

I'd quite like one of the audience members in Dara O Briain: School of Hard Sums to calculate the probability that an A-star grade in maths would one day win them a ticket for a comedy panel show. They must be fairly long odds, mustn't they, advanced mathematics not being an obvious choice as raw material for laddish banter. The idea of the programme is that O Briain's two stand-up guests tackle a problem by guesswork, instinct and trial and error while he and the studio audience of maths nerds use their acquired knowledge.

The problems themselves range from the kind of Saturday puzzlers you find on the crosswords page of a broadsheet paper to more complicated conundrums that illuminate abstruse fields of mathematics, such as convex polygons or topology. And in between time, Marcus du Sautoy drops in arithmetical curiosities, such as how you can use chaos theory to fake a Jackson Pollock or the best logical strategy to use if you find yourself in a three-way Mexican stand-off. The comedy element, not entirely surprisingly, turns out to be a bit strained, but the maths is quite interesting. In fact, you find yourself hankering for a bit more maths and fewer gags. Calculate the odds on that too.