TV UK, 22 February

Manchild isn't a patch on the Buffy episode where Giles is infantilised by magic cake, but what can you expect?

Dolan Cummings

Topics Politics

The trouble with show tunes is that the phrasing is often awkward, which makes it difficult to remember the words. Despite this, I have memorised fair chunks of the libretto from last week’s all-singing, all-dancing episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Sky One). Several hours well spent, if you ask me – people don’t memorise enough stuff these days.

Apart from being fantastically entertaining, the musical episode served to bring along the plot by revealing the characters’ deepest feelings to themselves and each other. Most of the progress had to do with this season’s theme: growing up. Xander and Anya’s premarital doubts worked particularly well, even if they were articulated in a retro pastiche rather than the breakaway pop hit Anya had her heart set on. Rhyming ‘she eats these skeezy cheeses’ with ‘his penis got diseases’ was a stroke of genius…. But you probably had to see it.

Buffy’s own big numbers ‘Going through the motions’ and ‘Life is a show’ neatly captured the sense of unreality that comes with an extended adolescence, especially when you are recently risen from the grave. The upshot of everything is that Buffy has to take responsibility for her own life as well as the fate of the world, and she must learn to do without her trusty Watcher Giles.

This is just as well, because Giles (or rather actor Anthony Head) is now starring as a born-again adolescent in the BBC comedy drama (I think), Manchild (BBC2, Tuesdays at 10pm). It probably goes without saying that it isn’t a patch on the Buffy episode in which Giles and Buffy’s mother are infantilised by magic cake, but what can you expect?

Manchild’s premise is that rich fortysomething men enjoy a second youth when they manage to shake off their family commitments. Nigel Havers is the ringleader, enjoying fast cars and loose women with abandon. Inevitably, the programme leans heavily on pathos and feminist disdain. Judging from the Sixties soundtrack, Manchild is aimed at baby boomers, a generation that never quite achieved gravitas anyway. Next week, Havers’ character pathetically adopts his girlfriend’s use of the word ‘bitchin’’, an error of judgement that Giles would never commit.

Pat Chapel is a fortysomething male on the other side of the tracks. He is underpaid, overworked and lives a lonely life sustained only by kebabs, cigarettes and an unhealthy fixation with prostitutes. The last of these he shares with many of the villains it is his job to pursue. The new series of The Vice (ITV1, Mondays at 9pm) picked up where the last left off, by exploring the moral ambiguities of the crumpled detective inspector played by Ken Stott.

Chapel’s notorious tendency to form painful personal attachments to the women he is trying to protect is a source of consternation in the squad, and constantly undermines his own efforts. ‘I care – nobody else does’, he declared last week, taking on a serial murder case against everybody’s advice. It didn’t seem to help. While The Vice lacks the wit and sophistication of US cop shows, in Chapel it has a suffering hero second to none.

But he doesn’t sing and dance.

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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