The weekend's viewing: The Real Thumbelina, ITV1; Young Apprentice, BBC1


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The Independent Culture

Lovely little girl..." said Zillah Clift's mum fondly, looking at an old photograph of her daughter as a three-year-old. "And then they grow up," she added meaningfully, though in Zillah's case there wasn't a lot of up about it. Now an adult, with a husband of her own, Zillah is still only four foot two inches high, and still obliged to shop for her shoes in the toddler section. Zillah's taste runs to buzz cuts, piercings and black leather – not a look much catered for in under-fives footwear. She pretty much has a choice of pink, pink, glittery pink or pink.

Real four-year-olds seem happier with those options, and four-year-olds don't have to worry quite so much about being undersized either. In fact, one of the odd things about The Real Thumbelina (a crass title, by the way) was the way its central subjects – young girls with restricted growth – short-circuited some deeply instinctive adult reactions. The very thing we cherish in tiny children is their tininess, and that odd pang many parents get as their children grow out of infancy was here married with the deep pang you would feel if they didn't. Amelie Gledhill, now four but still wearing clothes sold for three- to six-month-olds, was as cute as a doll but just beginning to reach an age at which being doll-like would deprive. And Ollie Mitchell, six years old but still eye-to-eye with her two-year-old brother, has been trapped in dependency by a world that's built for bigger children.

Their story followed a pretty familiar template for ill-children documentaries: visits to specialists, the cruel dilemmas of parenthood, even that regular trope of such films, the trip to an American convention about the condition. It was, variously, touching and heartening. But it was Zillah's experience that really stuck with me, chiming uncomfortably with an increasing doubt over whether Ricky Gervais's Life's Too Short gives a voice to small people or simply exploits them for comic effect. Some of the things that happened to Warwick happened to Zillah here, and she laughed at them. But she did so in a rueful way and one of her misadventures – being taken for a child at a petrol station and having the pump shut down on her – had been so humiliating that she'd never tried to fill her own car again (until this film).

It's easy to imagine that scenario in Life's Too Short, and easy to imagine that Warwick Davis (who has genuine comic talent) could make it funny, but it's hard not to feel that it might cover up something we really should know about the experience. It's one thing to laugh because of an absurd misunderstanding, quite another to laugh because otherwise you might burst into tears. After another episode of Life's Too Short last week in which the main character ended up in a toilet bowl and got a cheap laugh by falling out of his car, my doubts are beginning to resolve themselves. Don't know what Zillah thinks about Life's Too Short, but her philosophical sense of humour about her circumstances helped me make up my mind.

"Nothing's funny unless it offends someone," said James in the last episode of Young Apprentice, taking a Gervais line on comic theory as he prepared a viral ad for the online game he'd devised. His ad offended me (mildly) by being completely unfunny, but it didn't inhibit James's pitch to industry professionals, which was impressively confident and polished. His chief rival, Zara, was equally assured, as she pushed the merits of a rather derivative-looking platform game. Clearly, they're both going places, though at the time of writing I don't know which of them got the nod from Sugar. My money's on Zara, if only because James made the dangerous mistake of admitting that he'd spend his potential winnings on further education.