Television review

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Indy Lifestyle Online
"It's amazing what you can tell from someone's rubbish" said a bearded archaeologist in Meet the Ancestors. This will be heartening news for the makers of The Truth About Women (ITV), who can at least congratulate themselves on having created an invaluable resource for some 23rd Century expert in dung analysis. It may look a mess to us, but two or three hundred years from now a dedicated copro-archaeologist will be able to sift through the fragments and reconstruct vital facts about our society.

They wouldn't learn a lot about contemporary women, because, despite the grand claim implied in the title, the sample of women polled in Janine Waddell's film was representative of little but our current notions of celebrity. All of the contributors were successful and confident women, whose emancipation from social expectations is an integral part of their success. "I think women are more assertive," said Denise van Outen, a judgement which is likely to be true for the sort of women who present breakfast television programmes and appear in men's magazines, but which may not hold good for women in general.

A disproportionate number of the interviewees were also comediennes, whose stock in trade is comic exaggeration. And whenever "ordinary" women appeared it was only because they were in some way extraordinary - the 35-year-old virgin, the woman who lives in a different house to her husband, the wife with an open marriage, the female executive who hires male companions for social occasions.

These were useful, not because they offered illustrations of the programme's notional themes, but because they were dependable material for the snappy montages of contradiction and ridicule that were the film's favourite device. Very occasionally someone was allowed through who hadn't quite got the point of the exercise - "Independence, not interdependence," said Claire Bloom solemnly, during a montage about the recipe for a successful relationship. But the series instantly reminded you of its preference for shallow flippancy with the follow-up from Arabella Weir: "Daily blow- jobs for the boys and no cellulite for the ladies." There was the occasional flash of truth - Christine Hamilton cannily pointed out that the crucial rule for successful adultery is to make sure that both parties have as much to lose by exposure - but as a whole, the programme was more like one of those one-liner competitions you find on comedy quizzes than a serious attempt to reflect women's experience. This is hardly worth getting in a state about. If you want serious sociological reflection you don't turn to ITV at primetime. If you want mental junk-food you might well, and they are not likely to disappoint you.

The truth about men is that, whatever veneer of disdain they might adopt, many will envy the presenter of Jeremy Clarkson's Extreme Machines (BBC2) to the point of stomach cramps. I watched the first of these ludicrous programmes with a fairly passable imitation of scorn - but then found myself unaccountably looking forward to the next one. How do I account for this lapse of good taste? Well, it's partly because his small boy glee is so candid and free of calculation - the manic giggle he issued when he was told he would be given control of an F-15 fighter and the series of whoops, moans and regurgitative hackings that accompanied the flight itself will have taken viewers far closer to the thrill of the real thing than the most elaborate formal description (though it was interesting that Clarkson was so overwhelmed that he actually used the words "ladies and gentlemen" at one point). The other pleasure is the high-octane, turbo-charged incorrectness of his passion for motor vehicles. "It actually carries 3,500 gallons", he said, patting an F-15 on the flank. "That sounds a lot, but with the afterburners on it'd be gone in... 10 minutes." His knees almost buckled with pleasure at this unmatchable affront to ecology. For Clarkson a tranquil rural landscape is somehow incomplete, aesthetically flawed even - until it includes several hundred horsepower, spewing exhaust fumes and doing some serious spoiling. While I don't share this taste, there is something oddly compelling about watching it at play.

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