TELEVISION The critics: He's been tangoed!

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Indy Lifestyle Online
"HERE, take this. Take everything. If you need more, write to me," said Clive James, staggering from a taxi. He had just been introduced to the Argentinian Highway Code the hard way, by taking a taxi from the airport. Perhaps he was still in shock later, when he looked out over Buenos Aires from his hotel room and found the vista encouraging. "Terrible things have happened in these streets. But from high up it looked like 11 million people had somewhere to sleep." This was the superb start to Clive James in Buenos Aires (ITV), a travel show that can boast the innovation of never being boring.

Not all tourists get to interview the President. Clive also checked out the cemetery where Eva Pern is buried (and from which one is dug up if one's relatives fail to meet the bills), and dutifully joined some mothers making their weekly protest about torture and missing relatives. But he was best when sitting bemused in cafes, trying to sort out the country's ethos or, failing that, to get the attention of a waiter. The men seemed to fascinate him even more than the women, and he became obsessed with machismo.

In mad pursuit of some, he learnt to eat meat by slicing it close to the mouth with a very sharp knife. He rode a polo pony named Steady Eddy who, true to his name, walked steadily round in ever decreasing circles, leaving Clive too dizzy to combine mallet with ball. To recover, Clive sampled a high-voltage gaucho concoction he described as "liquid carpet". And with great determination and even greater awkwardness he studied the tango. He did rather labour the point that Argentina's theme - from tangoing to barbecuing - is pain and passion (Clive himself looked more pained than passionate), but otherwise I'd go to Argentina with him any time.

Worthy idiocy of a particularly disappointing kind, The Affair (BBC1) was a tale of racial antagonism amongst American GIs stationed here in the war. When Travis (Courtney B Vance), a black soldier, starts up a romance with a white woman from the welcoming committee (Kerry Fox), the village is beset with Ku-Klux-Klan-type troubles. In fact, we've seen it all before, more convincingly, set in the American South. Even Fox, as the weak white woman unable to tell the truth, couldn't save it. From An Angel at My Table to this - the only unpredictable thing about the part was the number of different Forties hairstyles inflicted on her.

It was written by Pablo Fenjves and Bryan Goluboff - one to do the cliches, the other to do the schmaltz - but could have been put together by a computer programmed to issue just the right amount of challenging material for American TV audiences (a strictly rationed amount). Its peak of banality came when Fox's husband grunted his way towards orgasm as Travis trudged to the gallows on a charge of rape. Apart from anything else, nobody seemed to remember there was a war on.

Cut to Hockneyesque calm of static brick walls and pulsating blue water. The world looks good from the horizontal level of the pool-side. Lucy Blakstad's Modern Times film, Lido (BBC2), took a wry look at the human race, clumsy on land but weirdly beautiful afloat. Above the surface was a mundane existence made up of little tragedies and misunderstandings; beneath there was only optimism and mystery, and the dancing forms of humans turned sea creatures, here a squid, there an eel; a jellyfish, a fleeing guppy, a girl who swam like an Indonesian shadow puppet, and a boy who plunged stiffly like a heavy anchor. Above, a kid hunched intently over a portion of chips. Below, an HIV-positive man rocked slowly to the bottom maintaining the lotus position.

This was as near-perfect as documentaries get - a loving anthropologist on Mars. Clinging to the side of the pool as he tried to put on his goggles, a lord (of Herne Hill, apparently) asked Blakstad why she was making the film. Before she could answer, he momentarily took both hands off the side and helplessly disappeared from view. He'd thus answered his own question. It's fascinating to watch the British negotiate the juncture between uprightness and deshabille, the tedious normalities of adulthood and the sensuality of water. It's also pretty funny watching them squirm out of swimsuits under a towel. And then there was that finicky Italian, speaking of enigmatic moments of eye contact with female pool-users while he busied himself adjusting his suit and white shirt on a hanger, which he had suspended from a railing. He may have been making eyes at women, but he was seriously involved with that suit.

As people sunbathed, smoked joints and organised commitment ceremonies, there was a great feeling of fecundity in the air. Babies were everywhere, wheeled in their pushchairs like Indian princesses on elephants. Everyone was either planning a family or dealing with one. The only sour note came from a harassed mother who said that you never get a pat on the back for being a good parent the way you do if you accomplish something at work. She was so busy talking she didn't even notice her young son giving her a pat on the back.

BBC2's Red Ribbon season offered up a few inconclusive programmes on Aids this week - a "special edition" of Horizon about a load of scientists at an international Aids conference (I could see why they were there, but why were we?), and a Fine Cut documentary which dealt more subjectively with the upheavals caused by the disease. It made the newly fashionable point that, at least in Britain, Aids is still a gay disease, and the Government's "Iceberg" campaign was misleading and ineffective. So my 10 years of abstinence was all for naught. And I'm rapidly tiring of these twee red ribbons, which look like daintily crossed legs. They seem to signify the latest method of Aids prevention: cross your legs and think about fund-raising.

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