The Critics
Good News for men. If television drama in any way reflects real life, then we all stand a good chance of being bonked by extremely independent and predatory women. The bad news is that we'll almost certainly be dumped - and sometimes even eaten - afterwards.

This is the peril confronting the unwary lovers of sexy librarian Alice White in Wilderness (ITV, Monday). Most of the month the hungry-looking, dark-eyed Alice (Amanda Ooms) seduces slightly overweight and pathetically grateful businessmen, gives them the night of their lives, and then departs wordlessly. But every 28 days, she gets a bout of Pre-Lunar Tension, becomes very agitated, buys in 15lbs of fillet steak and locks herself naked in the cellar. So far, so unremarkable. What really marks her out from other women I know is that she then turns into a wolf. And you do not get much more independent and predatory than that.

It all began when she was 13 and went down to the woods. Her senses became heightened (she could hear her father digesting his dinner, for instance), she took all her clothes off, and ate a live rabbit. This confirmed all my prejudices against taking my daughters to live in the country: it's too dangerous. Not least for one poor bumpkin, whose senses did not need heightening to fancy a roll in the hay with the dangerous nymphet. He was fumbling with his flies when the object of his affections morphed into something furry with teeth. Before he had time to apologise, he was turned into 150lbs of not- yet-detumescent fillet steak.

Since that awful day Alice has been careful not to step out when the moon is full. So when she makes a miscalculation, and is having her independent, predatory way in the library with a chap who she really likes, she is forced to lope out into the street and eat someone else. This is terribly unfair, of course, and illustrates the amoral aspect of lupine promiscuity. The rule should be: if you don't get the nooky, you don't get to be dinner. Otherwise where would we all be?

All right, I hear you mutter impatiently, spare us the metaphor. We know there was plenty of nudity and humping, but was the programme any good? Er, it was terrific. Really. Nice acting. Subtle. OK?

It was a shock to discover that forward women, who know what they want (and go and eat it), are not just a phenomenon of the late 20th century. The new Poldark (ITV, Wednesday) reveals that they abounded in the early 19th century too. Though avoiding bestial transformation, the women of Cornwall c 1810 all have immensely heightened sensibilities.

Take young Clowance Poldark (who sounds like a character from Stella Gibbons), the 17-year-old daughter of Ross and Demelza. Clowance is all hair and lips. Particularly lips. And you can tell she's a virgin by the way she puts her hands behind her back, thrusts her hips forward and sways. (If girls put their hands on their hips and sway then they are not virgins, but saucy wenches.) Any road, when a half-drowned, scrubby faced young man is brought in from the sea, is laid in bed, and goes "grawheurgh" (as the half-drowned tend to do, apparently), there is a sudden surge of music and Clowance - instead of being repulsed - falls instantly in love. Two more conversations and she is hav- ing her enormous lips chewed in an orchard. Her posy falls. Her jacket falls. She has no zips, so we get plenty of hands at the bows on bodice and waist. Scrubface must be thanking the deus that machina'd him to that part of the Cornish coast.

Cuby Trevanion (yes, really) is not far behind in the instant love stakes. When she discovers young Jeremy Poldark in her gardens, scratched and filthy and on the run from the Excise men, her first reaction is to lick her lips, roll her eyes, sway and ask "what are we to do with you now?" For some reason, Jeremy doesn't realise that the answer is "snog". These days only the women are allowed to be independent and predatory.

Come on, Aaronovitch, what of our old favourites? I like Demelza. Television is beginning to realise that women can be sexy after childbirth, albeit in a different way, and Mel Martin is great. But Ross Poldark is a big letdown. His creator, Winston Graham, has said that he originally intended to call the character Paul Green, after a friend, and John Bowe plays him as though he was indeed Paul Green. He has one expression, and no charisma. When the Prince Regent falls asleep during Ross's interminable and tediously heroic report on The Wars, it is supposed to be a comment on the dissolute Regent. In fact it seems an entirely natural response to having this Ross Poldark in your living room.

The locations, of course, are brilliant - Wuthering Tors, if you like. But if ITV specialises in gorgeous landscapes, the BBC seems to prefer the area around King's Cross in London. Perhaps there is a special rate available from Camden Council and Railtrack, but many of Auntie's dramas now use St Pancras station and its seedy environs as a backdrop. Beck (BBC1, Wednesday), the new private dick series, is set in this world of whores, pimps, addicts and runaways. The drama features our old friend, Gritty Realism, so there is vomit on the floor again and a dosser on every doorstep.

Beck herself (Amanda Redman) is an independent (modestly predatory) fast- food junkie, who specialises in finding lost people. Disappointingly, this main character failed to develop very interestingly during the 50 minutes. Rather like the main plot (boy runs away after discovering army dad in bed with man, is thought to be murdered, isn't really), the character of Beck was far too familiar from other, similar series. Eating pizza in the bath doesn't constitute a personality.

What was very good, though, was the secondary plot and the secondary characters. A story about a runaway daughter (single mum but getting by making and selling dresses at Camden Market) and her relationship with her own alcoholic mother was acted with understatement and genuinely felt. Beck's sidekicks also had real existences - particularly another single mum, Therese, who is a dab hand with car engines.

If this was a dark programme, dealing inevitably with the consequences of familial breakdown, it also abounded in characters who - though vulnerable - were pulling themselves up from the depths. In that sense, there were some very good role models on display.

I only wish there was something positive to be salvaged from I'm Your Number One Fan (Saturday), part of Channel 4's week examining the price of fame. A film about obsessive fans, I found it the most depressing thing I've watched for a very long time.

Part of my gloom was caused by the sheer awfulness of watching the obsessed in full flood. Like the woman who believes that she could have married Cliff Richard, and who obliged the camera with a croaking rendition of "Shout", while it sneakily panned down to her pink, fur-lined slippers. It is a mark of the deluded that they do not think to ask what documentary producers are up to, when they bring their crews into people's houses. They also do not realise that they will be spliced together with the inevitable psychiatrist, telling us how most obsessives are "socially isolated individuals", seeking affection and recognition; just in case we were under the illusion that they were happy, balanced folk like us.

Perhaps I was in a scratchy mood, but I found the section of the programme featuring Blue Tulip Rose Read (who believes she is married to the mediocre DJ Mike Read) almost intolerable. That this hugely fat and troubled woman was shown buying T-shirts proclaiming her delusions, talking about suicide and sobbing uncontrollably was bad enough. These scenes were probably necessary to establish the scale of her problem. But the shots of her naked at the typewriter, or barking like a dog were simply demeaning. Not just for her (she is probably too far gone), but for us. We had no right to be there, frankly, and I wondered where the director, Jaine Green, would have drawn the line. The best programme-makers (like sensible people) understand the value of self-restraint.

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