Thomas Sutcliffe: Column

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Psychology student Scott gets involved with a leather-clad belle dame sans merci, whom he meets after a brief flirtation on the internet. He's fascinated and she's poisonous - a drug addict and sexual opportunist who seems destined to flesh out his university course work in a particularly horrible way

Anyone who has ever played a computer game will know that they are often preceded by a lengthy, memory-hungry title sequence, in which the programmers show off their abilities with ray-tracing and texture- mapping algorithms. You can't actually play with this bit - indeed, until you find out how to skip through it, you simply have to sit out its glossy exhibitionism. Lynda La Plante, whose new series KillerNet (C4) draws its inspiration from role-playing virtual reality games, appears to have modelled her entire first episode on just such a flashy preamble. It isn't until the closing moments - when her central character is staring glassy- eyed at a computer game which invites the player to commit the perfect murder - that you sense any kind of interactivity beginning to operate. It's only at this point that the brain keys in the question "What's going to happen next?"

Until that moment it had been an exercise in style - Geoffrey Sax's direction giving La Plante's settings the look of computer-generated interiors; there's a lot of technicolour chiaroscuro, ominous shadows combined with sharp light sources, and a fair amount of point-of-view camerawork too, the computer games' most favoured means of immersing its players inside an imagined world. But the story itself, for all its contemporary accessories (Coen Brothers film posters, internet porn, a namecheck for the entire oeuvre of William Gibson) is as old-wave as a valve radio. Scott, an androgynously beautiful student interested in the psychology of cruelty, gets involved with a leather-clad belle dame sans merci, whom he meets after an extremely brief flirtation on the internet. He's fascinated and she's poisonous - a drug addict and sexual opportunist who seems destined to flesh out his university course work in a particularly horrible way. She has a tattoo of the Virgin Mary on her back, which probably doesn't mean anything but looks very sinister when she sashays naked past one of Scott's gawping flatmates. Scott's innocent susceptibility to this manifestly hazardous vamp is confirmed by the fact that after she's dumped him, he turns to internet hookers for a sympathetic ear, not an organ which they usually find a lot of call for. Nothing so far is very plausible or coherent - but the premise is undoubtedly interesting (there have been internet-related murders already in the United States) and La Plante has probably earned at least another episode's worth of patience.

I'm less sure about Tourist Trap, C4's candid camera show, in which groups of holidaymakers are scrutinised for evidence of national stereotypes with the help of hidden cameras and agents provocateurs in beachwear. This stunt was optimistically described as an "experiment" in the voiceover, which explained how ads had been placed offering a free holiday in Turkey. Out of those who replied, four groups of 30 were selected from Britain, Germany, Japan and America, each carefully coordinated for age, profession and gender - if there was a young, male hairdresser in the British contingent he would be matched by a crimper from Tokyo or Des Moines. Participants were told they would be filmed for a travel show, but not that hidden lenses would record them off-guard. The result is no more a scientific study than Beadle's About is a doctorate in interpersonal behaviour patterns - and, for the moment, revelations are thin on the ground. Nobody minded being kissed by a bristly Turk hotel-keeper, the programme's makers first test, although the script strenuously tried to amplify every tiny variation into a cultural distinction. It does appear that the British are the least honest, while the Japanese, contrary to inscrutable reputation, are the most warm and open. But the gaping flaw in the methodology is that the groups never encounter any nationality but their own inside this petri- dish. When it comes to testing xenophobic prejudices this is a serious flaw, because as any holiday rep could tell you the Germans don't prize sunbeds for their own integral qualities - they prize them because the British want them even more.

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