TV Reviews: Meet The Ancestors and Roger Roger

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Indy Lifestyle Online
These days just about the only people safe from the soap-doc treatment are the dead, disqualified by their general lack of visual brio. This situation cannot be guaranteed to last, however, such is the gold-rush fever to open new franchises for this fashionable genre. (This week saw the arrival of Pleasure Beach (BBC1) and a new series of Vets in Practice (BBC1) and next week Superstore (BBC2) gives us an account of life in a large branch of Tesco's - I wish I was making this up but I am not.) And I would lay a quid to a BBC croissant that someone out there has Crematorium or Undertakers sitting on a proposal form. Just think of it - the tears, the laughter, the revealing slice of social geology exposed by the Grim Reaper's scythe. All it would take is a little nerve and we could be talking a big bite of percentage share. Until then, though, Meet the Ancestors (BBC2) will have to do, because for several weeks now this has been doing a steady, unshowy job of making the dead live again.

The BBC rediscovered the allure of archaeology when Horizon's trilogy about defrosted bodies proved a surprise hit with the viewers, and Meet the Ancestors pursues similar methods, disinterring various well-preserved experts from their academic vaults to flesh out the clues found in ancient burial sites - literally flesh out in the case of the facial reconstructions which are one of the series' regular features. The results are always fascinating, if slightly more prone to romantic projection than you might expect from a scientific endeavour: "I think it's a very strong face," said the presenter Julian Richards, looking at the clay bust of an Iron Age farmer, "it's almost got a touch of authority or nobility about it." The face in question could have belonged to parking attendant or a poet but this fantasy of psychological intimacy was forgivable - it is what drives you to watch the programme, after all, and what drives archaeologists to sit for hours in wet mud scraping at bones with dental picks. Last night's programme, about an Iron Age burial site discovered on a plot of building land, offered an even stronger frisson of connection than usual, because 48 of the local villagers had volunteered blood samples for DNA testing; five of them turned out to be fairly directly related to this very distant ancestor. This wasn't entirely surprising, given the mathematics of genetic inheritance, but it still gave a vivid immediacy to the notion of having roots in a particular place - bodied it forth, you could say, in a way which has been a virtue of the whole series.

I am still unable to make my mind up about Roger Roger (BBC1), John Sullivan's comedy of mini-cab life. It is relaxed and confident and full of excellent details but it is also undermined by some dramatic flaws. Last night the plot-line concentrated on the romantic fortunes of Bas, the sweetly boring postman, and the flaw was this: Bas's latest dating agency partner, a young attractive single mother, ends their first meeting by inviting him to a birthday party for her son. For Bas this constitutes a second date, the holy grail which has eluded him through innumerable encounters and as a viewer you melt, suppressing the uneasy conviction that this could never happen in real life, where Bas's almost idiotic neediness would prove as attractive as halitosis. Then the mother calls to say her son has flu and the party is off. When Bas drives round to drop off his present anyway he finds she has lied - the party is in full swing. His hurt and disappointment are wrenching to watch but also, you can't help feeling, artificial. If she felt the need to lie why volunteer the invitation in the first place? And if the answer is that she was only being friendly, why not go through with an encounter that offered no threat of embarrassing intimacy? Had Bas clumsily invited himself the entire sequence would have made sense but then we couldn't have raised our own hopes as readily. As it was the drama seduced you into suspending your disbelief only so that its inevitable drop would be all the more painful. And that felt calculatedly cruel, both to Bas and us.

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