It is as much as Anton Rodgers can do just to get his lines out. "I'm very angry at what was done to that pony," he said last night, in the kind of mildly inquisitive tone you would use to ask if anyone had seen your watch recently
My five year old is currently very fond of a small plastic pony which came free in a box of cereal. After a short time in the freezer the pony develops a bleeding wound which can be magically "healed" by a gentle rub. You can collect a whole set of such injured animals - all mutely appealing and all suffering from the same minor hurt. No rubber gloves are needed and certainly no lethal injections. For the moment then, until the cereal manufacturers issue a tiny captive bolt as part of their vet's set, it wouldn't be entirely fair to say that Noah's Ark is indistinguishable from this calculated piece of merchandise. The television series might be identical in its exploitation of bestial sentiment, it might be just as lifelessly plastic and produced by a similar injection-moulding process but it narrowly has the edge when it comes to realism. Damn close thing, though.

This is, I freely confess, an ill-informed opinion. I gave up watching last night's episode when someone said "It seems our lemur was part of that container load of wild animals that was smuggled into the country". (What had the smugglers done - barcoded their exotic fauna and supplied an itemised shipping docket?) The line was so indolently insulting in its fudge that I thought I had better leave before I lost my temper. It's possible that the drama then developed into a troubling and moving account of rural life, one alert to the complexities of emotional life. But not if it kept faith with Part One, which was a shameless pick and mix of recent bucolic escapism - complete with local bad boys (minor chord here please) and cosy marital banter. The episode began with a cat being rescued from a telegraph pole - a departure from cliche that counts as grittily subversive and which was also the occasion for a little generational sparring between Anton Rodgers (kindly, wise, rumpled wool) and his son Peter Wingfield (clinical, efficient, starched cotton).

The plot consists of animals being comical and animals being pathetic and the dialogue is utterly shameless: "Kerry really loves that little horse," says one of Noah's clients as he arrives for a consultation, "...it's her first pony you see". The little girl playing Kerry did a creditable job of looking upset when there was a loud bang from the stable but it is as much as Anton Rodgers can do just to get his lines out. "I'm very angry at what was done to that pony," he said last night, in the kind of mildly inquisitive tone you would use to ask if anyone had seen your watch recently. If you really want an idea of the tortures an actor's life can include, though, tune in for the ineffably sappy look on Peter Wingfield's face during the soft-focus credits. Think of your most embarrassing passport photograph ever and then imagine that every Monday evening at nine it is broadcast to the nation.

In A Prince Among Men Chris Barrie plays a dim-witted boor, insensitive and unbudgeably convinced of his own importance (his catchphrase is "Hey... I'm always right"). He plays Gordon Brittas, in short, but this time graced with a Scouse accent and a background as a celebrity footballer. Tony Millan and Mike Walling, the writers, mostly have fun with the lifestyles of the newly rich - even Gary's garage is half-timbered and everything he owns is operated by remote control (if you like malfunctioning gadget jokes then this programme is for you). In one of these, it looked as if Gary was inadvertantly going to lynch his own guard dog (the animal had been left leashed to the automatic garage door, which was then accidentally activated). But the pooch was spared - in deference, I suppose, to the same tender public instincts that have visited Noah's Ark upon us. I took this to be a symptom of a certain weakness in the comedy - evidence of its reluctance to bite down hard on a subject which is certainly open to some mordant satire - but there were other moments that promisingly exploited Barrie's talent for blithe indifference to the feelings of others.

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