Review: Television

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I'm not sure what it's like with a clear head but BBC 1's daytime programming is curiously soothing if you have a bad hangover. It helps, naturally, that you are not at your most intellectually demanding - at other times, you might want something to chew over but in a crapulous condition, the conceptual baby-food of the makeover and the do-it-yourself tip are likely to be the only things that you can keep down. But something larger is conveyed by the almost seamless diet of improvement that the morning schedules offer - an implicit promise that everything is getting better. Though many of these transformations are couched in terms of a "challenge" (a very busy word in daytime television), the truth is that the programmes contain nothing challenging whatsoever. Even their idea of a modern anxiety leaves you feeling that the world isn't such a bad place after all: "It seems like quite a big problem," said the presenter of The Really Useful Show, furrowing his brow conscientiously as he interviewed a woman from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. He was talking about the safety hazards of wonky supermarket trollies, a terror I think I can take in my stride even when I'm feeling unusually vulnerable.

The curative effect really begins with Style Challenge (let's face it - Can't Cook, Won't Cook can induce queasiness on the best of days). Yesterday the models were both survivors of the grandest makeover of all - a heart transplant - and they celebrated their restoration to vitality by acting as clothes horses for the resident designers. One of them was changed from the sort of man you see leaning against a greenhouse in Radio Times small ads into an Italian cigarette smuggler, complete with two-tone shirt and metallic blue shades. The other was converted from pin-striped respectability into the kind of rumpled geezer who hangs around public libraries: the dresser perhaps should have realised that plastic sports holdalls and stripey tank-tops are not age-blind accessories. Even so the haircut and facial had left him looking a good deal trimmer than when he arrived and both men observed the pieties of the form: "I'm beginning to feel like a new man," said one, as little pills of dead skin were sloughed from his face. Similar refurbishments were enjoyed by an old pine pew and a rusty milk churn ( "John's challenge" in Change That), an overweight dachsund (apparently an entrant for Slimming Dog of the Year, unless that monstrous detail signals the onset of delirium tremens) and a former railway station (in Room for Improvement, the very title of which sums up the pervasive glow of can-do optimism). By midday, you're almost ready to face the intellectual rigours of Call My Bluff.

This demonstration of the power of the makeover struck an echo in last night's Horizon (BBC2), and not only because its subject was the potential of mind and mood to help healing. What was involved for the scientists exploring the connection between brain and body was an enormous mental transformation - the scientific term for such a change of costume being a "paradigm shift". Jill Fullerton-Smith's film began more flamboyantly than it concluded - showing you a picture of a woman performing an aura massage and hinting (though never quite stating) that there might be some scientific foundation for such clearly demonstrable tosh.

Professor Stafford Lightman, appropriately from the Division of Medicine at Bristol University, appeared to lament the mutual hostility of alternative and conventional medicine. But at the end of the programme - after an intriguing account of the detective work that had established real links between the mind and the immune system - he seemed to come down firmly against the crystal strokers - warning that the acknowledgement of a genuine effect should not be taken as a general affadavit for the quacks.

There was also an element of makeover about the look of the film itself, which had added some very chic accessories (quick flashes of B-movies, in the style of Adam Curtis) to a far more conventional dress sense (lab equipment and animated diagrams). The effect was slightly bizarre at times, but the subject was attractive enough to carry it off.

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