Sport on TV: A grave comedy and no laughing matter

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The Independent Online
Is there no end to television drama series based on people's professions? Recently we've seen (in no particular order) a shrink, two chefs, an antique dealer, umpteen lawyers and more doctors than you can shake a stethoscope at. Coming soon, no doubt, will be Knacker, a compelling saga of horse- butchery, Glovejoy, a gripping tale of mitten-manufacture, and Inspect a Course, gum-booted gallivanting with the men who provide the advance-going reports from Newmarket. In the meantime, however, we will have to make do with Ellington (ITV), a drama series about the colourful world of the sports agent.

This is quite a promising idea, given that in real life sports agents are loud characters, not averse to a little bit of skulduggery, who are often threatened and occasionally shot. But with all these potentially tasty ingredients, Ellington is about as dramatic as a cheese omelette.

Last week's episode had the eponymous hero (played by Chris Ellison, late of The Bill) signing up a young British tennis player called Julie Kemp (Juliette Caton). Julie had the usual array of dysfunctional relatives - doting dad, dipso mum, brooding bro - but there was one unusual thing about her. Unusual to the point of implausibility, in fact: she had won Junior Wimbledon.

Sadly, we did not get to see Julie hit a ball. The opening sequence featured her serving in monochrome slow-motion, but since the camera was focused on her bum it was difficult to see whether or not she was imparting top- spin. Later in the programme she was in mid-serve when her mobile phone went off - and that was it for the on-court action.

Julie was kept plenty busy the rest of the time, meeting her new coach, Mark Cox (as wooden as the rackets he used to use), opening a gift-wrapped box full of snakes, receiving assorted sinister notes and phone-calls, slagging off her rival, Linda Hurst, and flinging herself at her agent in the manner of Monica Seles going for a low volley at the net.

Ellington, meanwhile, was fending off a rival agent, Kelly Logan (Beth Goddard) over lunch at Langan's. Logan wanted him to help her sign up cheap young footballers from eastern Europe, but Ellington is a noble character, and delivered the following speech: "I happen to love football, and I'm English. Now, if we flood the market with foreign players, they'll be able to play in the Premier League, but they won't play for England. So in a few years' time, the English squad will be made up mostly of players without Premiership experience."

This was not so much looking a gift horse in the mouth as performing root-canal work on it, and that is not the kind of behaviour one would expect from an agent. More importantly, Ellison seems unhappy in his character's skin. He has two expressions: stony-faced hard man, and stony-faced hard man with raised eyebrows. Perhaps he hankers after his old days on the beat. Sitting in Langan's acting away, he must have been tempted to snap his fingers and say: "Waiter, The Bill, please."

To cut the story mercifully short, Julie and her Dad were banged up for hiring a hit-man to beat up her rival, Mum forswore the sauce and poured her gin down the sink, and Ellington sloped off to watch his girlfriend sing jazz in a pub. Oh yes, and the hit-man was arrested starkers in some sort of library watching on video the aforementioned slow-motion footage of Julie's rear.

The key objection to Ellington - and there are many - is that the central character is such a crummy agent. The sum total of his achievements last week was to turn down an opportunity to make a fortune and to get his star signing arrested. Messrs Hearn, Hall and Holmes must have been splitting their sides.

Real life can be much more dramatic than fiction, as The Diane Modahl Story Update (BBC2) proved. It was a detective yarn, a courtroom saga and a scientific suspense chiller, all rolled into one and served up with oodles of human interest. Modahl was banned for four years by the British Athletic Federation, having tested positive for testosterone. Modahl and her husband Vicente protested that she was innocent, and produced scientific evidence which suggested that her sample had deteriorated in the lab. The BAF turned their noses up.

Then Modahl's boffins recreated the conditions in which her sample had been stored, and - Hey Presto! - naturally occurring testosterone appeared. Armed with this new evidence, the Modahls had the ban overturned on appeal. The scientists' relentless search for the truth in the face of official intransigence was the stuff of a Sherlock Holmes story, but Conan Doyle might have baulked at a title like The Case of Bacterial Degradation of Steroids in Urine.

In Wildlife on One (BBC1), David Attenborough considered the inhabitants of the New Den, males who play very little part in the raising of their offspring, and whose "range probably includes not just one but at least two other females". Millwall fans, hold off on those letters to the Director- General. Attenborough was talking about stoats.