Last Night's Viewing: The Matt Lucas Awards, BBC1 Horizon: Defeating Cancer, BBC2

 

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The Independent Culture

Was Matt Lucas a bit nervous about his new series? He prefaced the preview copy of The Matt Lucas Awards with a little personal message to reviewers, carefully explaining that "it's a little bit different to the stuff I do with David". That'll be just fine with me, Matt, I assure you, though I think I could have worked out for myself that it wasn't a sketch show.

Not sure either that you needed to tell us about the unsuccessful pilot, after you'd gone for a mock-awards-ceremony design, complete with dinner jacket and MC's podium. "It didn't feel very natural," Lucas explained. So instead they've gone for a living room feel, with the house band reduced to one bloke behind an electric organ and Matt's mum on the other side of the stage, pottering around in the kitchen. Actually, I think that's why Matt was nervous really: "Please be nice about my mum, because she is my mum," he concluded sweetly.

Happy to oblige. Your mum seemed lovely and as it happens she gave me one of the few unforced laughs of the programme, when she appeared dressed as Jimmy Savile to introduce a bit of on-set karaoke. Unfortunately, very little else works. One problem is obvious, and may well not have been a snag when you did the same show on Radio 2 (I never heard it). The basic idea is simple: three guests nominate contenders for whimsical awards such as "Smuggest Nation of People" or "Dreadfullest Football Song Ever Sung", banter about it for a bit and then Lucas decides who the winner is. As the set up for a phone-in this is pretty solid. You can easily imagine Danny Baker running for three hours with just one of these questions, spinning off little comic arpeggios as new suggestions come in. In fact, you don't have to imagine it because it's what he actually does on his 5 Live radio show.

But if you cut out the crowd-sourcing you cut out the life as well. Are the guests' suggestions their own, or are they supplied for them? It doesn't look as if they care much either way, to be honest, and since the final decision is left to Lucas (rather, say, than an instant vote from the studio audience, which might actually induce a bit of competitive spirit among the guests), we don't care much either. Henning Wehn managed a couple of good lines, but Graeme Garden and Jason Manford mostly just looked a bit embarrassed, even when looking embarrassed wasn't what the format was requiring of them. "If you didn't like it, why not just sell your TV?" Lucas sings, in the closing verses of the sig tune. Alternatively, just turn over and watch Newsnight.

Horizon was as cheerful this week as I've seen it for years, the title Defeating Cancer not being a set-up for a grim account of how insurmountable that problem is but a study of three recent advances in oncology, each humanised by being viewed through the treatment of a single patient. Two of the breakthroughs involved robots: the Cyberknife (an immensely refined kind of radiotherapy that needs physicists to plot the treatment) and Da Vinci, a robotic surgical assistant. The other was a drug tailored for the molecular level to treat melanoma, and pretty much a last resort for Rosemary, who had lesions in her lungs and liver. Both the robots did well, but you feared the score was going to be 2-1 for science, after Rosemary had to break her treatment because of side effects. But even so she had "significant shrinkage" in her tumours. "So," she said brightly, "I shall not give my winter clothes to Oxfam. I shall buy some new ones." Such breakthroughs are routinely described as "miraculous" in the popular press. They're not. They involve years of work, billions of pounds in research and great human ingenuity. Credit where it's due, please.

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