The Critics: TELEVISION; At some point Madson and Magda may make magma
A firm jaw and good head of black hair have failed to protect Madson (BBC1) from spending eight years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Now that he's out, he wants a job as a law clerk but no one will hire an ex-con. He's also being persecuted by a crooked copper. His son's in a persistent vegetative state, the result of a drug overdose, and in fact manages to die, without a word, during the first episode. What's more, Madson's libido - like the "i" in the middle of his name? - seems to have deserted him. If you don't feel sorry for him yet, you never will. And I don't. Madson, invented by and starring Ian McShane, was not to be borne. Monochrome flashbacks kept butting in to remind us that Madson was unjustly convicted of killing his wife, and that it's no fun being in the slammer. Banal, stupid and dull, the story itself seemed to be vegetating, and underestimated the audience's intelligence by a mile. Even Hearts of Gold or The Gaby Roslin Show beat it on this front.

You'd think the Beeb would have wanted to bury Madson somewhere in the early hours, as background noise for whacked night-workers or the terminally sleepless, or find it an afternoon slot, between The Flying Doctors and a cooking show. But instead they hyped it as if it were a serious programme of obvious merit. The Radio Times had a two-page spread of photographs of Ian McShane and a resume of his career to date. You may not have realised that he's been in several movies, once played Sue Ellen's suitor in Dallas, has two grown-up children, and knows Eric Clapton. It may seem strange to shower a man who is really a small, stiff, less lovable version of King Kong with such adulation, but no doubt the BBC has done its market research: another example of the ever-popular, tedious man-solves-a- crime genre, spiced up a little here by the prospect that at some point in the next five weeks Madson and Magda, the beautiful Polish barrister, may make magma together.

Dickens said it all in Bleak House, but it's worth saying again: the law is very good at committing crimes of its own. Modern Times's story, Ellen's in Exile (BBC2), brought us up to date on an American custody battle that has led to all the wrong people being punished. From the age of two-and-a-half, Ellen complained convincingly of forced sexual contact with her dentist father during unsupervised fortnightly visits. The father denied it, claiming that she had been coached. "The popular thing to do in this country is to cry child sex abuse as a way of dismembering the father," he said in 1990. More recently he told a Congressional hearing: "It is not the prerogative of Congress to dismember ... the most important relationship known to man." He talks a lot about dismemberment. I'd like to dismember him myself.

The people who got to decide the child's future seemed to have no concern what that future might be. A distressing video showed the tiny frightened girl being torn from her mother's arms by a socially inept social worker in order to spend a court-ordered weekend with her father. Her extremely calm, rational mother eventually gave up looking for protection through legal means: "I'd been sending her for a year, knowing that he was going to molest her, and I couldn't do it any more. It was a terrible thing to do at all, and I realised that I'd been crazy to do it in the first place and I had to stop." When the system had totally failed them and the judge ordered another two-week unsupervised visit, the desperate mother sent the equally desperate child out of the country in the care of grandparents (the mother's passport had already been confiscated by the judge). As a result, the mother was accused of contempt of court and sent to jail, where she remained for more than two years, a fate preferable to having her daughter raped. Ellen and her grandparents wound up in New Zealand, which offered some recourse to justice should her father ever try to reclaim her. Her mother has since joined her there, where they live like two caged birds, with three budgies, in a tiny apartment. The father's life is intact: he lives in America, in a big ugly house, and continues to practise his dentistry and whatnot. If one could call a monster a monster, without fear of legal action, I would.

Still on a sombre note, Witness's Surviving Waco (C4) showed the almost chemical reaction that occurs when one arrogant force (David Koresh) meets another (the FBI). The only way to crush religion is through education - you don't do it with tanks and CS gas. The few survivors of the conflagration carry on the faith and mourn the dead. A melancholy little boy, wonderfully articulate and full of contempt for the actions of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms brigade and the FBI, imagined what it must have been like for the people he knew, as they burned to death. When asked if he thought David Koresh would be resurrected, he said, "Of course." Unfortunately resurrection did not seem to have been an option for his followers, whose charred corpses were manhandled by the FBI.

The happiest years are already over for Franklin Delano Roosevelt after yesterday's first instalment of a four-part biography, FDR (BBC2). "At the outset he was plump, pink and nice," said his mother, who loved to bathe and dress him. She continued to take an intimate interest in him even after his marriage to Eleanor, building them a brownstone house in New York and installing herself next door. Formidable mothers are always frowned on, but what would he have done without her? She assured him he was capable of anything, and taught him to appreciate women. Seems a fair deal to me.

There was almost no indication here of any political opinions held by FDR, only ambitions. He apparently modelled his career on that of his wife's uncle, Teddy Roosevelt, choosing to be a Democrat simply because there were too many Republican Roosevelts already. He was not immediately popular among his colleagues, one of whom asked: "This fellow is still young. Wouldn't it be safer to drown him before he grows up?" Such tidbits were some compensation for the incessant tinkly music.

People cannot decide how to treat animals: like humans - or insentient objects? In Hollywood Pets (ITV) you never see a paw touch the pavement - these animals are all transported everywhere by car and fed on cake. Patches, a small white pony, has been trained to ride in a car, eat cheeseburgers, fetch beers from the fridge, answer the phone, sit around watching westerns on TV, and tuck himself up in bed. He's no longer a pony, just a set of goofy instructions.

"Tippy, do you come of your own free will and with a conscious desire to be united in marriage to Roxie?" "Woof!" Tippy is a black and white thing with a flat face and tiny top hat. Roxie wears a veil and a pained expression. A few of the canine wedding guests weep - from boredom. These pets aren't allowed "conscious desires", they're merely the creations of their ghastly owners. One dog goes scuba-diving among sting-rays. Elsewhere, a guy gets bullfrogs to lift dumb-bells, and a woman paints red nail polish on the trotters of her pot-bellied pig - to match the dress and sunglasses. "Oh, now you're all pretty. I like red on you." The pig falls off the chair, embarrassed. "Pretty Lady doesn't think she's a pig, she thinks she's a people." Look, where's the RSPCA when you need them? You can't even look a cow in the eye any more.

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