LAST NIGHT

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Rats in the Ranks (C4) was one of those documentary oddities - a film about a boring subject which kept you on the edge of your seat. Anyone for an hour and a half of minor-league civic politics? Australian civic politics at that? I thought as much; Rain Stopped Play from Wimbledon would be a better bet. What's more this was the short version of Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson's film, which broke box-office records in Australia, presumably because of its demonstration that local politicians are as rational and fair-minded as a bag of well-shaken ferrets.

The star of the show is Larry Hands, incumbent mayor of Leichhardt and a man now facing a tough re-election battle. He is first seen dishing the dirt on the Labour Party in an off-the-record briefing to a journalist, taking advantage of the fact that the Labour caucus cannot agree on who to nominate as their mayoral candidate. Actually they couldn't agree on anything - such as whether there was a chairman present or not (the vote split two-two on that issue) or which member had a worse record of procedural shenanigans ("You were on the point of being expelled when Peter Baldwin got bashed," accused one. "I never got charged," replied her colleague indignantly). "No one will like that at all," cackled Larry as this fiasco ended, "and I just happened to leak it to the press." The vulpine grin was wiped off his face by the news that a former colleague was standing against him: "She's a dirty rotten traitor," he seethed. "Personally I find that sort of stuff so unethical, you know." This was as cheeky as Ronnie Biggs complaining that he'd been overcharged for a stamp, but it wasn't long before Larry had bounced back. "He's a smart old prick," he said, calculating the intentions of another floating voter, "he might vote for Kath on the grounds that she's hopeless."

Connolly and Anderson put the battle into perspective by interspersed montages of the unbelievably dreary perks of mayoral office and with the odd glimpse of sepia photographs of dignitaries from the past - mustachioed worthies who looked as if the municipal butter wouldn't melt in their mouth but who you were forced to reassess in the light of the film. If there was a problem with the piece it wasn't that it was uneventful - Larry triumphed against all the odds after an eleventh-hour coup - but that its account of dirty politics seemed suspiciously clean. You suspected that, for all the reckless candour of those taking part, the really grubby stuff had taken place somewhere well out of range of the microphones.

The three comics involved in Space Cadets (C4) are described in the titles as being "on a journey from Planet Mirth". They appear to have stopped off at Planet Second-Rate and the Moons of Imitation on the way because this is yet another comedy-quiz, following news (Have I Got News For You), sport (They Think It's All Over) and pop (Never Mind the Buzzcocks). The only original thing about it is the relative brevity of its title. Greg Proops plays the sardonic quizmaster who translates all the informative stuff into gratingly thematic banter (science-fiction, if you hadn't guessed), while Craig Charles and somebody called Bill Bailey act as team captains. There are the obligatory laddish insults, some running gags that develop blisters almost instantly and quite a bit of confused shouting. Nobody seems to have noticed that one of the reasons that They Think It's All Over works is because the teams both want to be funny and to win. Deep down the object of the quiz should not be an object of contempt. Here the only person to get any questions right was the writer Kim Newman, and every time he did so he looked as shamefaced as if he'd been caught picking his nose on camera. The others took refuge in an air of bored indifference which I suppose was meant to be post-modern. It is a truly feeble bit of catch-up television, and should be sold on to Channel 5 as soon as possible.

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