TELEVISION / A game of wo Calfs, and a funny old game too

IN THE end, everything becomes the butt of a parody, even when it doesn't merit it. Video Diaries, the BBC's generally laudable effort to hand the reins of creativity over to Joe Public, never did anything to harm anyone, but its solipsistic style - somewhere between a confessional and a fly on its own wall - was always begging to be taken off. Paul Calf's Video Diary (BBC 2), a squalid study of urban deprivation, social inadequacy and great hilarity, did so with a kind of loving vengeance.

One day Steve Coogan will be a household name, as seems to be the birthright of every achiever on the radio who is coaxed by the box's plumper coffers. He is so possessed by his own inventions that, to borrow the phrase of someone else who also does this quite well, it is almost spooky.

Paul Calf, whose sorry tale of lost girlfriends and unwashed underwear this was, is how Andrew Aguecheek, flaxen of hair and short of words, would turn out if he had the ill fortune to be beamed into the 1993 / 1994 season as a Man City supporter. This makes him a less purely satirical creation than his sister Pauline, whose peroxide curls and whippet's tongue are the product of pitiless observation.

As for the video, it had a plot, about Paul and his mates plotting to win back his bird Julie, which tended to differentiate it from the formless format it lampooned. But if it was a home movie apparently filmed by pillocks, it allowed itself the privilege of being knowing. When a check-out girl asked Paul if he was having a party, he said 'no' in an aggrieved voice as the camcorder pulled deftly away to dwell on a grotesque stash of beer cans. A normal video diarist would never attempt anything so artful. And when Pauline goes home at the end with one of Paul's mates (Patrick Marber, who co-wrote with Coogan and Henry Normal), they planned to watch The Crying Game, with its own hidden gender agenda. They must have known there was not much point to this in-joke, but everything else was bang on.

Coogan will have discovered that it's one thing to get all the vocal tics right on the radio, quite another to add the visual ones on television. By the look of things, though, he is a chameleon down to the very pit of his soul. Compare his skills with those deployed in Rory Bremner - The Man and His Music (Channel 4), in which the best impressionist currently under contract continues to prove that impersonation works best when the only costume is a voice. His Ken Clarke, say, is infinitely subtler and sharper than his Bill Clinton, because he doesn't have to dress up to reinforce the act. With almost every joke dredging up something that left a bad taste in the mouth in the last 12 months, this was a good way to say goodbye and good riddance to 1993.

On the same day that the BBC relaunched one of its trusty flagships, Antiques Roadshow (BBC 1), the corporation trumped itself with a similar show with knobs on. The first part of Auction (BBC 2), which inspects the inner workings of Sotheby's, carries on where the senior series leaves off - at the point where the evaluation of the objets d'art has to be put to the test in the sale room.

At first sight you'd dismiss this work as a second-rate and unimportant study of men with cut-glass accents and pinstripe suits who missed out on jobs on the Stock Exchange, but closer inspection unveiled a fascinating X-ray of human behaviour that could easily have been attributable to a student of Hogarth.

On the day that a woman on a day trip from a block of flats in Stockport brought in a tatty little Dutch work in a shopping bag, a Goya showed up that had been in the same Spanish family since it was painted. One was worth millions, the other a few paltry thousand; and as its owner waited humbly downstairs, the Old Masters experts upstairs snootily trashed it. 'School of the Wirral,' one scoffed, and you wanted to land one on him, especially when a colleague came down and cooed: 'This is a lovely little picture you've discovered.' A man may smile and smile and be shown up on television.

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