It can't be very long before the makeover format reaches the Nine O'Clock News (BBC1) - "Good evening ," Michael Buerk will say. "We persuaded Gordon Brown to let the IMF freshen up Britain's tired economic policies. Tonight you can see the results." Then you'd have the revelation sequence, with the Chancellor poking his head cautiously round a Treasury Office door before going into raptures over what had been done with his balance- of-trade figures. "I can hardly recognise them - you've just been so clever! Oh ... I love the Ecu stencilling!" By then the imperial triumph of this device would be complete - no stretch of the schedules free from its promise of fairy transformation. The fantasy was prompted by the moments of unveiling in A Date with an Artist (BBC2), scenes which were unnervingly like the concluding scenes of Changing Rooms in their combination of nervy expectation and strenuous pleasure. What was being unveiled in this case, though, was a serious work of art, because the series' conceit is to bring together contemporary artists with - well, who exactly? Not quite celebrities (though the first programme included Rebecca Stephens, who would surely qualify for the title) and certainly not eager patrons. The programme itself describes the other halves as "people they hoped would inspire a new piece of work" which suggests that the artists make the choice themselves, inspired by some tickle of admiration. But then why would Andrew Gifford, a landscape painter, have selected the public relations man for Middlesbrough Football Club (unless he wanted a player and had to settle for the nearest available substitute)? Perhaps the best term is guinea-pigs - these are people chosen for their certified indifference to modern art, so that when the time comes for them to see what has been made, their exclamations can be dependably ascribed to a newly acquired understanding.
It isn't entirely convincing - partly because the film concentrates more on the "getting to know you" bit of the process than the actual creation of the art (which means you arrive at the moment of revelation with a jolt). In the case of Cornelia Parker and Rebecca Stephens this consisted of quite a lot of embarrassed laughter, as they negotiated round each other's prejudices ("You're completely mad Cornelia," said Stephens as the artist scraped up dust kittens from the Whispering Gallery of St Paul's, and the hockey-sticks endearment carried a tremor of unease. It might actually be true.) When Stephens exclaimed at the finished product - a photograph of a feather from her down jacket paired with a photograph of dust from St Paul's - it was impossible to tell whether her reaction was simple politeness or a true conversion to conceptual art. Whatever you think of the device, though, these films are beautifully made; Teresa Griffiths' segment on Parker was full of subtle poetry in its structure and cutting and Kate Misrahi's piece about Andrew Gifford showed evidence of a fine opportunistic eye.
Alan Partridge (BBC2) would leap at the chance to take part in Date With An Artist - and when you think about it, it would make a wonderful showcase for his character - from the tendency to blurt out saloon-bar prejudice as if it was hard-won sagacity to his excruciatingly cack-handed attempts at ingratiation. "So ... what's Da Big Oidea," he said in last night's episode, hoping to win over two RTE executives who had travelled to the Linton Travel Lodge to discuss a new chat show. They were less than impressed by his small talk - "It was just the potatoes that were affected," he said loftily about the Irish Famine. "At the end of the day you do pay the price for being a fussy eater." The jokes are very funny, and often laid down with a refreshing trust in the audience's patience and powers of observation, but the heart of this brilliant series is Steve Coogan's performance, which, whatever the script is doing, always resists the temptations of simple caricature. There are many sequences where the comedy rests entirely on his ability to balance between pathos and contempt - as in the hand-over sequences at the end of his radio show. "Old! I'm 43 you cheeky git!" he yelped after one exchange, and an entirely persuasive terror cracked the sugar-coating of disc-jockey banter. At such moments it's situation tragedy.
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