Television review

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Cardinal Hume there, a rabid Newcastle United fan," said the commentator as a camera passed over the crowd during the warm-up for the FA Cup Final (ITV) . A lot of people find they are football fans on Cup Final day, of course, but the word "rabid" did seem to imply that the Cardinal was doing more than merely recognise one of sport's holy days of obligation. Indeed I found the mental picture that "rabid" conjured strangely satisfying - you could imagine Basil, wearing a heavily-logoed black and white soutane and a fun wig, and chanting "We 'ate Arsenal and we 'ate Arsenal. We are the Arsenal 'aters". When it was later revealed that the Archbishop of Canterbury was a keen Arsenal supporter the fantasy was complete. On one side of a Wembley-bound tube train sits the Anglican primate, sweating anxiously in his red and white fun-foam mitre, because he has inadvertently boarded a carriage crammed with the diocesan chapter of the Toon Army. On the other side of the train, hanging boisterously from the straps, is Cardinal Hume, his finger jabbing derisively at his plump counterpart as he leads a chorus of "Who ate all the pies?"

This fantasy was a bit more interesting than the match, to be honest, which despite the obligatory concluding remarks about "marvellous" afternoons and "very special" days was rather ordinary. Arsenal were expected to win and they did, after a fortunate first goal which was miskicked between the keeper's legs. In what followed, good luck and bad luck seemed to play a larger part than it really should in a top class match. This isn't anything remotely like informed judgement, incidentally. Even someone as clueless as me can tell when a game is beginning to bore the devotees, because the incidence of remarks about the volatility of the game increases sharply. "You could get a right dramatic swing round couldn't you?" said Ron to Brian, his voice full of forlorn hope. "As a great commentator once said `It only takes a second'," said Brian to Ron. It's a rough but reliable rule of thumb that the greater the ratio of what-could-happen- next to what's-just-taken-place, the duller the football match.

ITV acknowledged that the afternoon was essentially a male festival with the sponsor's filmlets that topped and tailed the ad-breaks. These showed grainy, underlit video footage of people watching a football game. In those with mixed couples, the women sat morose and impassive while the men groaned or yelped in helpless empathy. There was one which showed an excited woman ("Take him, skin him and do him!" she yelled at the screen) but seeing as she was with a bored looking woman too, you couldn't help but feel a suggestion of butch and fem about the relationship. Clearly the sponsors assumed this to be a man thing. Everything about Close Relations, BBC One's new Sunday evening drama, suggests the exact opposite. "Ooohh! Men!" shouted one of the characters in last night's opening episode and that exasperated line serves as a pretty good epigraph for Deborah Moggach's story about three sisters.

It began with a fairy tale simplicity ("Once upon a time..."), a voice- over characterising each woman with a question-begging neatness. Louise is "the perfect wife and mother", Pru is "the clever one, the sensible one" and Maddy is "the adventurer". The men are there in supporting roles only, though supportive is the last thing they are - Louise's husband is a complacent Tory banker, while Pru is snared in a fruitless affair with a man who won't leave his wife. Maddy doesn't have a man, having been briskly introduced to the delights of lesbianism by Kate Buffery's bohemian gardener/novelist. The sisters' father, Keith Barron, is a narrow- minded workaholic. All of them take their women for granted, a complacency that seems certain to be sharply corrected over the next four episodes. Close Relations is solid popular television of a fairly familiar kind - but the script has its promising moments; one early scene consisted of a whole string of uncompleted sentences, the sisters knowing each other well enough not to have to spell everything out. The fact that Moggach didn't either was a good sign.

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