The Week on Television: Making a drama out of male crisis

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The Independent Online
A Night in with the Girls (BBC2, Sat and Sun) told of the long fight for sexual equality in the television industry. In the early days a woman's place was in front of the camera, providing she was young and beautiful. Thanks to hard graft, a willingness to be ballsier than male colleagues, and by suppressing the biological urge to breed, they have arrived at a kind of executive parity. All to no avail, though, if they allow dramas like Have Your Cake and Eat It (BBC1, Sat and Sun).

Have Your Cake and Eat It is about a weak, spiritless, craven man (played by Miles Anderson) who can't choose between wife and mistress. Its first two episodes were concurrently scheduled against A Night in with the Girls, which can only be some sort of private joke between the two BBC controllers, both of whom are male. If anyone spent the weekend scoffing the eponymous gateau, it was them. "Hey, ladies, here's a boring two-part documentary about your struggle, and here's a gripping four-part drama about ours.''

More coincidentally, Have Your Cake And Eat It arrived on the tail of ITV's Reckless, which offered a rather less neanderthal take on the eternal triangle: for once the middle-aged woman got to choose between two men. Perhaps the bakers of Have Your Cake - it was cooked up by Rob Heyland, one of whose previous dishes is Between the Lines - will plead that, far from a reversion to the old gender stereotypes, they've redressed the balance of sexism. So that now there are more eyefuls of nudity for female viewers than males. Emancipation equals five primetime sightings of Miles Anderson's buttocks (which, in case you're annoyed you missed them - but don't be - are as quirkily indented as his other cheeks). And only one of Holly Aird's.

In A Night in with the Girls, the screenwriter Paula Milne said she couldn't have written dramas like The Politician's Wife, in which the politician's son deeply resents his father's adultery, without the knowledge she gained from having five children. Sam and Charlotte, the married couple in Have Your Cake, have five children too, and they're all screwed up - thieving and spliffing, etc - but their grabbag of designer dysfunctions arises less out of their - at best sketchy - domestic environment than out of the requirements of the drama. Though Sam hypocritically tells his wife to think of the children before arguing in front of them, his creator has not heeded the advice of his own dialogue.

That scene did yield one shaft of searing truth, when their teenage daughter walked in on a row between her parents. To shoo her away, Sinead Cusack, as Charlotte, screwed her mouth into a false and hideously effortful smile of reassurance. Nothing to do with the script, of course: just an actor digging for character between Heyland's lines. Of the other central performances, Anderson did his usual long-lost younger brother of Richard Harris, all Celtic braggadocio and uncorked charm. And it would undermine this column's feminist stance if it said what it thinks about Aird's other woman. Suffice to say she'd have held down a job presenting in the old BBC.

True equality in television will come when they start making drama after self-indulgent drama about the female menopause. For the moment, the male version seems to be the only strain of the mid-life crisis officially endorsed by the small screen. You'd think they'd have cottoned on by now, what with so many women having kept their jobs presenting beyond the menopause. Some programmes owe their entire vitality to the seniority of their frontwomen. The thrill of The Goldring Audit (C4, Sat) derives from a battleaxe in advanced middle-age poking her nose into essentially masculine sanctums and telling them they're all washed up. This week it was the racing industry, whose own demise now looks a racing certainty.

It would be thrilling to see Goldring sniff around the BBC and help cure its chronic, internecine troubles. An employee at Birt House told me this week of whole departments being employed to thwart the efficiency of other departments, and that working days are most productively spent with nose in newspaper. The reason A Night in with the Girls was less than intriguing was because it was largely about prehistoric office politics, commotions recollected in tranquillity.

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