TV REVIEW: The little green men land in suburbia, again

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Among the 10 Commandments of scheduling is a diktat concerning horticulture: Thou shalt not show programmes about gardening on any day but the fifth day. Green fingers, like fish, are for Fridays. But some of us like gardening a fraction more than we like fish. The 3,000 Mile Garden (C4), a bright new series which compares two gardens either side of the Atlantic, is a novel ruse for sucking in the unpersuaded, but it looked hopelessly coy alongside The Plant (BBC1), a drama about a gardening prog ramme.This was a carrot designed to beat even the most stubborn resistance.

It also looked like Putney's riposte to The Wimbledon Poisoner, a case of however strange your apparently normal suburb, ours can be stranger. The street in The Plant housed not solicitors and surveyors but a concert pianist, an alien and a kamikaze pilot who survived: it was just that kind of neighbourhood - the cast of Twin Peaks resettled to a safe Tory seat.

The common denominator of both dramas was dead bodies, lots of them. Where they went their separate ways is on the thorny issue of laughs: Nigel Williams's adaptation of his own novel dug for them intentionally; in Jonathan Lewis's script, which he directed himself, you stumbled over them by surprise. Like the corpses that sprouted out of the earth on live TV, they weren't meant to be there.

The best exchanges took place between the lead characters before they flopped into bed together - the researcher for the programme that broadcast live each morning from a row of suburban gardens and the one resident who didn't take part. "Don't expect too much; I don't watch a lot of television," said Max, little pondering the irony that they were about to more than meet the week's flesh quota. "Relax," said Connie, "I'm a biologist." "I'm just a dusty old navigator," he replied. "Then you will know whe re we are going." Clunk.

It turned out that there was a justification for this dialogue, which at times was on such tall stilts it was in orbit. While Joanna Roth's Connie came over as something of a space cadet, the proverbial million miles away, it just so happened that Max was the genuine article - a visitor from the galaxy. (He was played by a Pole, Valentine Pelka, presumably because these Slavs don't look quite right.) The dead bodies that kept on surfacing live during the show (called Down to Earth, nudge nudg e) turned out to be fellow travellers who failed to blossom in David Mellor's constituency.

You always feel a bit swindled when murder cases end up having a supernatural solution. This and The X-Files seem to be saying that rational explanation is so passe. The Plant did hint at this mystery in its title; it might have been called The Planet, but that would have shown its cards too early.

The couple of coppers who couldn't make head or tail of the case were nicely portrayed by Clive Francis and Ian Burfield as cartoon buffoons. The police, who work from known fact, here stood for the stunting of imagination, the stupefaction of fantasy. Clutching at straws when the first body was dug up in the garden of the Irish concert pianist, they even called in an IRA specialist in case the suspect had Republican connections. It was an absurd plot twist, but then it was meant to be.

The script could find no way over the hurdle that a desperate line of questioning can also look like a desperate line of writing. Connie was also hauled in for questioning, in the course of which she implausibly found out that her long lost grandfather and a neighbour from the street had once jointly murdered someone. The point here was to show that the unknown doesn't necessarily have to arrive on a space ship. It might even turn up the next time you watch Gardener's World.

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