Last night's viewing - Wonderland: My Child the Rioter, BBC2; Prisoners' Wives, BBC1


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The Independent Culture

David Lammy appears to believe that more smacking would have prevented the riots. It doesn't exactly seem to have worked for Lei, a 23-year-old convicted rioter who appeared in Olly Lambert's excellent film Wonderland: My Child the Rioter. Lei's dad believed in vigorous physical discipline but doesn't seem to have been very good at calibrating the punishment to the crime. So, when he was 15, Lei smacked him back hard and took over as head of the family. And Lei wasn't a jobless layabout when he participated in last summer's destructive supermarket sweep. He was the family's biggest breadwinner, which may be why he eventually ended up with a suspended sentence after a sobering spell on remand. He'd do it again, today, incidentally, as long as he could be sure he'd get away with it.

Lambert's film began with David Cameron's suggestion that the riots had their origin in bad parenting: "Either there was no one at home, they didn't care much or they'd lost control," he said at the time. But these interviews, mostly conducted with miscreant and parent sitting side by side in front of the camera, revealed that things were a good deal more complicated than that. In some cases, the parents had actively encouraged their children to participate. "We'd have gone ourselves if we'd been a bit younger," said Ryan's mum, Kerry, who, together with her husband, Liam, had effectively tutored their son in the language of disenfranchisement and redistribution. Ryan would riot again tomorrow as well, because he loved the feeling of community he experienced. "Everyone was working to one goal," he said. What was that, Lambert asked. "Get some free stuff," replied Ryan, whose grasp of exculpatory rhetoric had temporarily abandoned him.

Ryan made you think of Shameless and Frank Gallagher's practised ability to reframe personal whim as politics. But there was shame here too. Lizzie, whose oldest son, Daniel, had been arrested for taking part in the riots, was so angry at his betrayal of her standards that she refused to allow him to come home on bail. He ended up in Feltham Young Offenders Institution instead, which is tough love indeed. Her partner, not Daniel's biological father, was too embarrassed to appear on camera. Other parents seemed angrier about the excessive judicial response to the riots than they did about their children's foolishness, with some justice in the case of the mother of an 18-year-old who'd turned herself in the following day (and didn't appear to have stolen anything anyway) but ended up with a jail sentence all the same.

And there was Fabiano and his dad – the latter white and middle-class, the former mixed-race and ersatz ghetto in his speech. It looked like a Daily Mail nightmare – unrepentant lout and a father who seemed to think that disapproval would simply be counter-productive. But then you got the details of a broken marriage, and rejection, and a big tear rolled down Fabiano's cheek as he contemplated the impossibility of staying out of trouble for an entire year (the length of his suspended sentence). Inside the caricature that prejudice had pasted on to the scene, there was a lost boy, terrified by his own future. And you'd have to be absolutely blameless yourself as a parent to confidently announce that it was adult delinquency alone that had produced this result. I couldn't manage the necessary self-righteousness.

Prisoners' Wives also dealt with the collateral damage of crime – in this case, the women left outside when men end up in jail. It's a good idea for a drama – a prison visiting room being a rich source of exotic process and a good mix of characters. This episode concentrated on Gemma, whose first clue that her suburban dream home has dodgy foundations came when the red dot of a police laser sight suddenly appeared on her husband's forehead. The series is on probation for the moment, awaiting further reports, but the signs are good.