TV Review

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Indy Lifestyle Online
"He's all gas and no flint," Curly said contemptuously in Coronation Street recently, dismissing vague threats from Emily's eco-terrorist nephew over the continued sale of Norwegian frozen prawns. Unfortunately the same could not be said of Richard Bennett, the psychotic lead character in Heaven on Earth, (BBC1) who was manifestly possessed of both fuel and ignition system. He proved this on Sunday night - torching the meeting house in an attempt to block-book his increasingly doubtful congregation on an early flight to the promised land. It was a spectacular conclusion - gouts of flame surging from windows - but also mildly disappointing in the neatness with which punishment was apportioned. As far as I could make out only Richard himself died in the conflagration, with even his most zealous lieutenant choosing life here rather than the life hereafter.

But Adrian Hodges' script had elsewhere been rather clever in the way that it arranged its play of desires and dreads. To begin with the Shakerish simplicity of the community to which Richard and his family had fled was worthy of a spread in Elle Deco, so that its appeal could work even on urban viewers for whom rural Wales would represent a good approximation of hell on earth. The attractions of this lifestyle (not least the style attractions) meant that there was a time when Richard's conversion seemed more embarrassing than actively threatening - when it was at least plausible that his arguments about the outside world, with its mercenary deceits and career disappointments, might be right. What's more the way the plot set women against men added another unsettling element to the brew of zealotry and psychotic self-righteousness. Secular viewers for whom the religious elements to the story (how can you tell when conviction has turned poisonous?) were just a kind of exotic set-dressing, will have felt their own thrill of blasphemous utterance when the church elders announced that girls were no longer to be educated beyond 15.

Other elements were less satisfying. Even in the remotest areas the purchase of a shotgun presumably requires more than a quick trip to the nearest gunshop - Richard seemed to find it as easy to get hold of a weapon as it was to pick up a copy of The Guardian. And on a less trivial level there was a sense that the drama wanted to have its spiritual cake and eat it; Richard's visions were presented as a dangerous psychosis ("He's sick, anybody can see that," protested his wife, at a time when most of those around her couldn't) but one of the reasons we could be sure of this was through the supernatural visions of Deborah's grandfather (blood welling out of a cornfield) and her own premonitory dreams. In other words, this wasn't a drama in which vigorous rationality found itself at odds with deranged superstition - a proper subject for the dying embers of the current millenium - but an old-fashioned competition between good and evil. Implicitly, if in no other way, it endorsed Richard's world view rather than contradicting it.

One of the things that might make one flee to a closed community is the comedy quiz, second only to the soap-doc in terms of its virulent colonisation of the television schedules. They're not all bad - Never Mind The Buzzcocks has absorbed the crucial lesson that viewers must be able to compete alongside those on screen, so that you have something to do besides look on admiringly. In most rounds you stand a chance of getting to an answer before those on screen. If I Ruled The World, (BBC2) a new comedy quiz based on the premise that all politicians are mendacious self-seekers, has not learnt this lesson, and has also elevated the usual cheat involved in such programmes (the participants are always given time to polish their ad-libs) to a ruling principle. Even spontaneous interruptions from the opposing team appear to have been pre-planned. It has a strong cast - but its slightly mechanical exercises in political satire don't seem to me designed to sustain much repetition.

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