Last Night's Viewing: The Work Experience, E4 Brazil with Michael Palin, BBC1


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The Independent Culture

I was at a party recently where the host, a man wealthy enough to be invited to such events, had just attended a charity auction in which holidays on private Scottish islands (stag shooting included) are sold to the highest bidder – that sort of thing. The particular lot that my host – the father of two university-aged sons – had his eye on was the offer an internship, although his opening bid of £500 was soon stampeded by far fatter sums. Internships are now worth their weight in gold, it seems, and they are the currency that The Work Experience trades in.

In case you missed the hostility that greeted this "sitcom with a difference", the idea is this: two real young job-seekers are offered what they think are genuine internships at a fashion PR agency, except that the agency is fictitious and staffed by actors working from a script designed to immerse the interns in increasingly embarrassing situations. It's Candid Camera meets Bruno, and of course it's as exploitative as hell, even if, at the end of each episode, the two stooges are offered real paid internships in fashion PR. It's a blatant fig leaf, although the characters in The Work Experience would probably think of fig leaves as an outré piece of outwear.

Certainly, the sitcom element of The Work Experience has to be very funny indeed to have any chance of outweighing the odiousness of the concept, and last night there was a nod to the show's origins in the Ricky Gervais school of comedy, when a dwarf was hired for a fashion shoot. It fell to Danielle from Essex to break it to the dwarf that he was too tall for the role – Danielle (perhaps disappointingly for the producers) coped admirably in a sensible, good-humoured way.

The second intern, a Canadian aptly named Brave, was placed in a rather sharper situation: did he take the blame for allowing ex-Big Brother micro-celebrity Nikki Grahame to borrow and ruin a £3,000 designer dress? Brave had asked the permission of one of the "head creatives" (played by Danny Babington), who was now denying the charge. Brave braved it but eventually shopped Dominic, who returned to wreak vengeance by throwing an orgy where Danielle and Brave had painstakingly set up a launch party. Hilarious? Actually, Channel 4's "straight" documentary series The Model Agency was far funnier than this, but at least Danielle was quietly amused.

The unpleasant taste left by The Work Experience was underscored by the final episode of Brazil with Michael Palin. While Nikki Grahame lies – or pretends to lie – in the gutter, with vomit all over her borrowed frock, poor Brazilians are being lifted out of the gutter by their nation's economic miracle, even if it means standing all day long picking recycled plastic off a conveyor belt. Suddenly, fashion PR doesn't seem so bad, perhaps, although the likes of Phillipe, a young man whose job is to spray-paint the aircraft being produced by Embraer, the world's third biggest makers of passenger aeroplanes (there's one for the pub quiz), radiated the sort of confidence in the future not seen in Britain since the early 1960s.

This was the final leg of Palin's journey, although it has felt less like a journey than a series of set-pieces, including a visit to the slightly sinister town of Blumenau, a sub-tropical picture-postcard version of Bavaria in the deep south of Brazil. Here, men in lederhosen speak German with 19th-century Pomeranian accents, and it's where Teutonic Brazilian supermodels like Gisele Bündchen are bred. Palin presented all this information, but he seemed somehow less fully engaged than in his more youthful travel series. Perhaps it's time to hand the gig over to a BBC intern… expenses only, of course.