And yet, at the end of every programme, there's the faintest sense of something missing. I would venture two possibilities. The first is that Hughes's sharp talent for the superlative has been blunted on one of its edges. So that while he is still able to deploy a recruiting trumpet-blast for the art he loves (last night he convinced you to fall in love with Falling Water, Frank Lloyd Wright's astonishing cantilevered house), the art he doesn't gets away relatively unscarred. Discussing Georgia O'Keeffe, for example, he was equivocal about her talents, hinting that her fame was a result of gender politics as much as her own achievements. But he finished by describing her as a "very considerable painter", an unusually inert phrase for such a muscular writer. I may be imagining it, but something in his voice suggested he didn't really believe this - that O' Keeffe was present because no comprehensive endeavour could afford to leave her out.
Which leads on to the second possibility - that the overwhelming problem of all such projects (the battle between inclusiveness and coherence) hasn't been quite resolved here. American Visions sensibly orders its material by theme, rather than chronology, which means that each episode can have its own shape and can also avoid a monotony of style. But it can also sometimes seem that the thematic connections are wearing a little thin. In last night's programme about the influence of immigration on American art, Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House appeared because of the Japanese influences on its interior. But importation is not really the same thing as immigration - it was as though a place had to be found for this precious object somewhere, as though the cataloguing instinct had won out over the argumentative one. Other passages struck you as being a continuation of earlier programmes rather than this one, as if Hughes had found a glut in one thematic area succeeded by relative scarcity in another. None of this, incidentally, argues against watching these programmes - Hughes slightly off his best is still better than most and there are reasons to believe he will hone his blade as he comes closer to the present day.
TX's programme (Sat BBC2) about Eddie Izzard's world tour conveyed something of his weird courage (watching him struggle through a set in French, the phrase that came first to mind was "mourir comme un chien" - his style of surreal comedy requires an absolute confidence that the performer means what he says and isn't just having vocab problems) and the brilliance of his material. But it may have been unwise to include so many shots of aeroplanes taking off and landing in a programme that never quite managed to leave the runway itself.Reuse content