Robert Hanks

Robert Hanks is a freelance writer and broadcaster.

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Television Review

YEARS AGO, I remember reading a letter in a newspaper from a reader disgruntled by young people who carried on as if they had invented sex; in fact, the reader continued, he personally had invented sex some years previously. The impulse to claim sex as a novelty appears to be universal and ran riot in the first part of The Sexual Century (ITV).

Television Review: Into Africa with Henry Louis Gates

IT'S ALWAYS healthy for traditional orthodoxies to have to fight for their place in the sun. So you can't overestimate the usefulness of a series like Into Africa with Henry Louis Gates (Sat BBC2), which sets up against Eurocentric versions of history an African alternative, in which the "Dark Continent" is a place of sophisticated, ancient civilisations, monumental buildings and huge wealth.

Television Review

IN THE SOPRANOS (C4), Tony Soprano has started to be bothered by paintings. In his psychiatrist's waiting-room, he gazes at a pastoral landscape with a barn, and sees only the shadow of something hidden in its gloomy interior; at his girlfriend's house, a Hockney swimming-pool seems to be nothing but a portrait of the darkness lurking at the back of the changing hut. In addition, a fellow gangster is in hospital with cancer, but Tony won't admit he might be dying; and he is further unmanned by an encounter with a Hasidic Jew who would rather "go down with the ship" than give in to threats.

Television Review

IT'S POSSIBLE that this country is ready for Ally McBeal (C4). Last week, the new series was heralded by a feature, McBeal Appeal, analysing the attraction of the fey attorney, presented by Davina McCall. McCall also presents Streetmate, a brash programme in which men and women are encouraged to go up to perfect strangers in the street and ask them out; so this was roughly like getting EastEnders' Mike Reid to present a programme on the evanescent charm of the haiku.

Television Review

WHILE THE first 25 minutes of Saving Private Ryan set new standards of realism in the depiction of spurting blood, severed limbs and gaping wounds, in one respect at least Spielberg proved squeamish: amid all the slaughter of Omaha Beach, all the sweat and trembling, there was hardly a cigarette in sight. Compare actual footage of D-Day, and you see every- body puffing away as if their lives depended on it.

Robert Hanks' Television Review

WHEN The Moral Maze tried to make the jump from radio to television, it fell flat on its face. But that hasn't stopped television producers looking to it for inspiration, perhaps inspired by the knowledge that Ian McEwan won the Booker with a novel apparently concocted entirely from left-over Moral Maze dialogue. Now they have come up with Life Support (BBC1), a drama series about a medical ethicist evidently inspired by, but rather prettier than, The Moral Maze's Dr David Cook. I suppose we should be thankful that, so far, we've managed to avoid television dramas inspired by The Moral Maze's Dr David Starkey.

Robert Hanks' Television Review

YOU DON'T have to look far to find precedents for The Sopranos, C4's new drama about a modern-day Mafia family. There are clear echoes of Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather films in the way the series meditates on the kinship between the institution of the family and the institution of the Family, the way organised crime is equated with American life. Early on in the first of the two episodes broadcast last night, Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), the anxious Mob boss at the centre of the narrative, was trying to describe his mid-life crisis to a psychiatrist: "Lately, I get the feeling that I came in too late, that the best is over." To which she replied: "Many Americans get that feeling."

Television Review

AT THE beginning of The Secret Life of Twins (BBC1), Robert Winston rated twins "amongst... the most valuable people in the world, because they help us understand what makes us who we are". This seemed overstated, but twins do encourage that sort of thing - they bring out the part of us that wants life bigger, gorier and freakier.

Television Review

WHEN IT comes down to it, an awful lot of sitcoms are about girls sharing a flat. Sometimes there are twists to the situation - in Man About the House one of the girls turned out to be a man; in Golden Girls they were all senior citizens. At other times, the situation is absolutely pure, as in Girls on Top and, the most recent addition to the genre, Babes in the Wood (ITV).

Television Review

GENERALLY SPEAKING, it seems clear that secrecy - as in obsessive state secrecy, etc - is bad, while privacy - as in protection of privacy - is good. But drawing the line is not always easy, and what seems laudably private from one angle, looks culpably secret from another. When doctors Margaret Jack- son and Mary Barton began pioneering work in artificial insemination by donor (AID), in the late 1930s, it was plain to them that the whole process needed to be kept under wraps.
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