Over the past 20 years or so, exclamation television has steadily increased as explanation television has dwindled. You could take last night’s Horizon film Fracking: the New Energy as a representative symptom.
Presented by Iain Stewart, currently the BBC’s geology enthusiast of choice, it proved to be deeply frustrating. This wasn’t entirely its own fault. The subject of fracking is a complex and controversial one, in which what we know is fogged by what we fervently hope to be the case (those who stand to profit) or what we fear might be (those who don’t).
Attitudes are coloured by the prospect of immense profits and political payoff as well as an inherited suspicion of big business. What most viewers could do with in this murk is something forensically exact, establishing at least a small foothold of factual ground. We didn’t get it.
One of the problems – and this was Horizon’s fault – was that 35 minutes of that hour was taken up with the most basic introduction, beginning with the origins of shale itself. When Stewart visited a Pennsylvania drilling site, there was no mention of the fact that the name on every vehicle was Halliburton, not exactly an uncomplicated brand, to put it mildly. Stewart visited a “shaleionaire”, one of the local farmers who’ve hit the shale gas lottery, and then came back here for a primer on power-supply management and energy security. He watched some men from the
National Grid bringing power stations on line to cope with a kettle surge at the end of Strictly Come Dancing. And there were a lot of exclamations. “It’s absolutely humungous,” he said about a Kent gas-storage tank. “Wow! It’s just like a massive wall of steel,” he gasped in front of an LPG ship. And yet we still hadn’t got to the meat of the thing. Awe consistently substituted for analysis.
When you did get to the meat, it wasn’t very meaty either, fuelling the suspicion that all that preliminary dithering might have been because there was actually nothing very new to say about the subject.
“We simply don’t have the evidence that separates out coincidence from a direct source,” said Stewart, after visiting an American couple who believed that their water source had been contaminated by fracking.
He touched briefly on the lack of transparency in the US regarding the chemicals involved in the process (UK frackers will have to put on record what they use) and watched as a scientist tested the levels of methane in a rural well (enough to set light to), but there was nothing that took you much closer to resolving your uncertainties about the subject.
Stewart ended by leaving it to us. “Should we do it? Do we want to do it? And what is the ultimate price we’re going to pay?” He was absolutely right that those questions were for all of us to answer, not just scientists. Unfortunately, he hadn’t left us even a bit better equipped to do it.
Doon Mackichan stars as the proprietor of a down-market hair salon in the promising new comedy Quick Cuts. It’s not the most original idea in the world for a sitcom, but it is a robust one, with the turnover of customers giving you all kinds of opportunity for comic interludes that are a break from the ensemble dynamic (“Do you ever worry that you might be the anti-Christ,” asked one pensive punter).
And it has a very good cast, including Lucinda Dryzek as Becks, the resident airhead and Jessica Gunning as a staff member trying to break a long sexual drought. It’s described as semi-improvised in the Radio Times. I do hope that one of the improvised moments was when Mackichan sheared a clean swathe through the hair of her errant boyfriend, Trevor – a genuinely unexpected sight-gag. But if so, Paul Reynolds deserves some kind of medal for staying in character.