Television Review

DOCUSOAPS ARE a bit like terraced housing. You get loads of them all in a row, each with the same basic layout, cramped dimensions and deceptive utilisation of available space. It's the people you find inside them that give them their individual character. They're also cheap to build, and surprisingly valuable on the modern market, which is why ITV has announced plans this week to build another terrace with 30 docusoaps.

As they wake up this morning and drive in fuel-injected company cars to offices thick with the fug of hard-sell patter, estate agents everywhere can allow themselves to feel even more smug than usual. In their very own bespoke docusoap, they have sold the biggest one of all: that a universally vilified profession is peopled by some quite nice chaps, actually.

It may well be that The Estate Agents (ITV) found its eponymous subjects on their best behaviour. If you've ever dealt with one, you wouldn't put it past them. There was a telling scene where one agent, showing some clients round a property, flashed a quick, isn't-this-nice-grin at the camera, as if he had something to sell to the programme, too, which of course he did, though he wouldn't be charging a two per cent commission on it.

A reaffirmation of the unvarnished grotesques would have been more entertaining, but the series, about the travails of an agency in Bristol, cut its losses and chose instead to home in on the venalities in the agency's clients. In order to be closer to God's house, one vendor was putting her own house, complete with gold-plated mermaid fittings in the bathroom, on the market. However, she wouldn't move to within walking distance of the church for less than pounds 300,000.

If it wasn't greed, it was lust. A much younger female buyer with hotpants used the viewings as a chance to flirt with the fetching male trainee agent (and, it must be said, to make several blatant passes at the camera while she was at it). We met this poor boy's perfectly nice girlfriend, and understood why he seemed reluctant to play ball with a woman he didn't know in order to sell her a flat. By the end of the programme, he had been sacked though, mercifully, not on film. "He hasn't got it," said his boss, "it" being an ability to seduce clients, but also the parallel ability to seduce a camera.

Was there a furtive message in the running order which found The Estate Agents making way for Deadly Crocodiles (ITV)? Both programmes were about a species which eats innocent victims for breakfast. Television last encountered Steve Irwin practically snogging the deadliest snakes on the planet, but he also runs a crocodile sanctuary where he enjoys lobbing the carcasses of pigs into the gargantuan jaws of the residents. His mission here was to track down, trap and give such a nasty fright to a 14ft male crocodile that he'd give up eating the visitors in northern Queensland. The fright took the form of a deterrent: Irwin spent an entire night flashing powerful lights at him. A more efficient method might have been to show him one of his own performances on television: far more garish, far more inescapable.

It's one thing, like most natural history presenters, to impart a sense of enthusiasm for your subject; another to come at your audience like a hyperactive presenter of Play Away. But however hard he mugged, there was no upstaging the crocodiles, any more than there's any upstaging Jennifer Paterson, who lobbed a lobster into the boiling pot with a quite fearless disregard for her own squeamishness. "You've just got to face up to it," she said. She has a similarly dauntless approach to other culinary tasks. "You mustn't be frightened of mayonnaise." A lot of people probably will be now.

The return of the Two Fat Ladies (BBC2) has done nothing to assuage my suspicion that they are in fact the Two Ronnies making a comeback in disguise. This episode, in which they motored to a Benedictine nunnery in Connemara, was a giveaway. The mother superior wasn't letting the two school cooks anywhere near her nuns, for reasons that were apparent the moment they did accost one in a field tending a herd of cows. Paterson: "Do you have help with your cows?" Nun: "I have a man once a week." Paterson: "Goodness!"

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