The Weekend's TV: Can puppy love really save a marriage?

Who Gets The Dog? ITV1; The Omid Djalili Show, BBC1; Long Way Down, BBC2
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The Independent Culture

Who Gets the Dog? was described in the Radio Times as a "one-off comedy drama", a description that was nine parts scheduler optimism to one part accuracy. No question about the "one-off" bit, I'm guessing. I doubt that ITV is going to see potential here for a string of sequels or a long-running series. It's the phrase "comedy drama" that is problematic, given a script that begins with an attritional marital row and proceeds by way of nervous breakdowns, suicide attempts and cruel professional cynicism, to a rueful and unconvincing "happy" ending. And the commissioning editors at ITV could hardly claim they had no idea what they were getting. Guy Hibbert, the writer, has a good pedigree, but Sunday evening winsomeness doesn't loom large on his CV, which majors on mental breakdown, child abuse, atrocity and bereavement. When he pitched a drama about the process of divorce, somebody must have had an inkling that laughs might just be a bit thin on the ground.

This is where the dog comes in, I think. Finished product lands on a scheduler's desk and he, or she, thinks, "Oh hell... how on earth are we going to sell this to the punters?" Then somebody spots Bounder, an animal like a rag-roller on legs, and changes the title so that the spotlight will swing away from the squalor of marital breakdown and towards something with a waggy tail and a cute expression. People like dogs, they thought. We'll try and pretend that it's a canine tug-of-love deal, a bit like The Awful Truth with Irene Dunne and Cary Grant. That was funny. And to press home this possibility, Kevin Whately and Alison Steadman pose for a publicity picture, looking daggers at each other while Bounder peers out between them, pink tongue dangling. So, that's the offer... two solidly bankable leads and something hairy that will ultimately re-unite them after a hilarious battle for canine affection.

The product was quite different - a glum descent into the legal machinery of divorce, which appeared to be fuelled principally by a hatred of lawyers (has Hibbert recently gone through a messy divorce himself?). Bounder made a brief early appearance, looking very depressed, as if he'd just missed out on the auditions for Catwalk Dogs, and then pretty much disappeared. As Steadman and Whately wept and looked desolate and tore strips off of each other, you could almost sense the nation's dog lovers getting more restive. Where's Bounder, they were thinking, and why is it only the lawyers who are talking about him? The lawyers, meanwhile, played by Stephen Mangan and Emma Pierson, have decided to turn Jack and Jenny's emotional agony into an erotic game, their own callow competitiveness steadily ratcheting up the grief and mutual fury. Eventually, other barristers, who have names like Toby and Hugo, and honk noisily about winter sports and wine lists, are called in and provoke Jack into a fierce defence of the dignity of "the little people", a scene that I think was intended to be Capra-esque, but succeeded only in being embarrassing. My general rule of thumb is that the less dog a drama contains the better it will be, but I think that in this case it may have been the exception that proves the rule.

There haven't been a huge number of laughs inThe Omid Djalili Show so far either, which is a pity because it's trying to do something genuinely interesting. Djalili is likeable and funny, although he might be advised to stop saying how amazed he is to have been given a show on BBC1. But the sketches aren't quite good enough, and the jokes about Middle Eastern stereotypes wobble between mocking prejudice and feeding it. "If the show bombs, there will be bombs, I tell you," he said during his opening routine, a line that didn't exactly undermine the kneejerk tabloid association between the Arab world and terrorism. There's also something odd about the way his Iranian background is taken as a licence to mock or comment on anything in the Middle East. That makes about as much sense as showcasing a Belgian comic as if he can give you an inside track on the whole of Europe.

In Long Way Down the team finally made it to Cape Town, having survived the arrival of Ewan McGregor's wife, Eve, with only a minimum of wounded muttering from Charley, who is as jealous as a puppy of anyone who comes between him and his best friend. They're both pretty puppyish, come to think of it, boisterous and quite incapable of guile. It's one reason the series has worked - the other being its utter lack of media sophistication. Where other travelogues look worked up and worked over, this was little more than a video diary, with a commentary that rarely rose above paraphrases of the word "wow". But they tugged on the leash so eagerly, you were happy to accompany them all the way.

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