Watch out for that big black guy

A strange colossus of negritude presides over The Lenny Henry Show, which rounds off BBC1's new crowd-pleasing Saturday line-up. There, at the back of the set, sits a right-on version of an Easter Island statue, a bust of black manhood. This gets dressed up occasionally with votive offerings - it was unaccountably wearing a monocle for part of this weekend's show - but it is always there, an icon of attitude. And, indeed, this is conspicuously black humour, more preoccupied with black experience and, for want of a better phrase, race relations, than anything he's done before.

It isn't, this being Lenny Henry, black black humour. When Richard Pryor did a routine about visiting Africa, he produced an uncomfortably hilarious story about picking up a hitchhiker with fearsome BO - a shrewd, confessional gag about how much "brotherhood" could exist between a rich American entertainer and a poor rural African. Touching on the same subject, Lenny Henry just gave you the solidarity, a genial account of being suddenly at ease. He's probably telling the truth because he's probably a much nicer person than Richard Pryor; but the contrast brings home his essential amiability, a fact that accounts both for his popularity with a mass audience and the slightly soft edge to his stand-up.

This isn't necessarily a problem: Henry got some big laughs with a gag about the slave trade as an involuntary form of tourism - a joke that could have turned queasy or bitter with a less confident voice. And his easiness about the issues isn't simply an avoidance of them. "Racism - are we being too complacent," he asks at one point in a stern voice. Then he answers himself with a big genial shrug. Some might take that as denial but it feels much more like someone saying, "You worry about it for a change". Without ignoring such topics, he asserts his right to think about other things or simply to find it all a bit of a giggle -as when he recalls his friends warning him to "watch out for them big black guys" before a visit to New York. The sketches are even better, drawing on his real talent for caricature and rooting a general comedy in specific reference. In the past, Henry's been open to accusations that he's bleached his material out, but that's not true here - it's both funny and naturally coloured.

In a recent interview, the producer Paul Marcus used the word "uninflected" to describe Helen Mirren's performance in Prime Suspect (ITV). This sounded like faint praise, but he's right and it isn't. In the first of three new stories, each of them single episode films, she showed off the technique again. Prime Suspect has always taken pains to compromise its policemen, to give them a private interest in the case at hand. This was a little crudely done in Sunday night's episode, which concerned a child abduction and murder and was prefaced by a brief scene of Tennison recovering from the abortion she decided on in the last series. Child-killers, a maternal sense of loss, unresolved guilt - you get the general picture.

But Mirren's acting doesn't let this get out of hand. In one terrific scene, after the identification of the child's body, she loses control in the briefing room, a shocking tremor in the voice as she shouts commands. It was gone almost as soon as it arrived, leaving an exactly judged residue of embarrassment behind it, a room full of people trying to pretend it hadn't happened. The script also included some nicely sardonic procedural details - the budget won't allow for extra manpower to find the kidnapped girl but provides six extra men as soon as it becomes a murder inquiry. The drama lost its pace a little towards the end, but the way the film played with your ready prejudices showed again how to make police drama that isn't morally simplistic. This isn't about securing fictional convictions but disturbing our real ones.

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