TELEVISION / The unbearable lightness of entertainment

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The Independent Culture
LIGHT entertainment is a bit like professional boxing: they're both branches of showbiz, they both stuff silly money into the pockets of people it's hard to admire, and they're both separated into divisions. In light entertainment, though, there's no such thing as a heavyweight. There are just degrees of lightness: bantamweight, flyweight, featherweight, paperweight, mosquitoweight, dustweight, etc. When they started broadcasting The Word (C 4) they had to invent a new division called airweight.

In Home Truths (BBC1) there's another new division called Wrightweight, in which a sharp-witted tittle-tattler from radio lends all the spark at his disposal to a TV show without a thought between its ears. The format puts it in the no man's land between game-show and chat-show: rent-a-celebs score points by answering questions about themselves. It just can't fail, can it?

Last night among Steve Wright's guests we had Lulu, who must have appeared on more of these things than anyone this side of Tony Slattery. We had Michael Praed, who looked embarrassed even before they mentioned his Broadway flop that closed after 32 seconds. Last and - let's face it - least, if only by a whisker, we had Austin Mitchell MP, one of those media politicians who has that painful habit of cracking what-a-wacky-place-Parliament-is jokes at every opportunity.

The point of the show is to find out things about the guests that you didn't know already. The only genuine revelation was of the Honourable Member's ankles, which peeped blanched and stumpy out of the gaping hole between their owner's socks and trousers as he leaned forward to unburden himself of another House of Commons sidesplitter. It just goes to show that you can design your set and your one-liners and your camera angles to kingdom come, but a show can still look off-the-peg. It went well with the limp joshing about Frank Bough: it would be better to invite someone with genuine skeletons to air on to the show, rather than snigger behind their back.

If Home Truths needs improvement, Home Improvement needs truths. The basic premise of the latest of Channel 4's import from the States is that man likes to assert his manhood and woman would rather he just backed off. It's the No 1 sitcom in America, so someone obviously likes it, but comparison with Roseanne (C4) highlights a lack of . . . not exactly depth, but definitely width.

Roseanne Arnold is the closest to heavyweight that a light entertainer can get: the way she leaves a gap before she delivers her punchline is an equivalent privilege to the one accorded to the pre-war actor-managers, who would stand in the spotlight and not let anyone trespass within a sword's length. That said, last night's best line was delivered by John Goodman, who was not being assertive enough with Darlene. 'I thought you were supposed to be the man in this house,' said Roseanne. 'No you didn't,' said her husband, with mocking incredulity.

Just as Roseanne stars a Roseanne and The Cosby Show stars a Cosby, Home Improvement star Tim Allen plays someone called Tim. Are these sitcoms successful because they overestimate no one's intelligence? Tim has his own DIY show and does a lot of ape grunts to assert his masculinity. The joke is that this tool obsessed with tools can't fix things in his own home. His obstreperous wife won't let him customise her kitchen appliances, but he still tries, yielding the well-turned boast, 'It's the only blender on the block that can puree a brick.'

So, no home improvement, but this wouldn't be the hugest comedy on the US network without some homily improvement. The old guy next door dispenses wisdom over the garden fence and teaches Tim new words like 'autonomy' and 'atavistic'. This being the pilot episode, they had to start with A. There are 24 shows in this series, so they'll obviously deal with X, Y and Z in one go. It should be worth the weight.

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