TV UK, 5 June

The producers of Big Brother are only mildly nefarious compared with the politicians who fawn over them.

Dolan Cummings

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I’d like to be able to preface my remarks on Big Brother by saying how much I love it. ‘Personally, I can’t get enough of it, but…’ sounds so much less elitist than, ‘It’s a meaningless diversion for teenage girls and shop assistants, and…’.

Never mind. It’s the second clause that counts: what’s really objectionable about Big Brother is not the people who watch it, but the people who make it. And even the producers of Big Brother are only mildly nefarious compared with the politicians who fawn over them.

The Hansard Society recently launched A Tale of Two Houses: the House of Commons, the Big Brother House and the people at home, a study urging politicians to learn from Big Brother how to engage young people (1). I’d like to be able to preface my remarks on parliamentary politics by saying how much I love it….

At least the BBC’s political thriller State of Play (Sundays at 9pm) is developing nicely, and this week we get a first sniff of the Big Bad behind the killings. I’ll be intrigued to see how the drama copes as we get closer to the conspiracy that seems to be emerging. What’s worked really well so far is the tension between the reporter Cal and his politician friend, among the journalists themselves, and between the journalists and the police. There is no need for cartoon villains when you have such a faithful rendering of real-life complications.

I was all for sacking Della a couple of episodes ago, but now her willingness to work with the police is proving useful, and Cal’s getting all foppish and ineffectual. These characters have depth, so even if the plot does stutter in the final two episodes (and I doubt it will), State of Play will have the rare distinction of being superior to most American TV drama, like, say, the increasingly wacko 24.

Spooks, on the other hand…. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that the BBC had only made this drama about MI5 (Mondays at 9pm) as part of a conspiracy to make State of Play look even better. Monday’s opening episode about a Serbian war criminal trying to wreak his revenge on the British state for the killing of his sons was truly, mind-bogglingly awful. The only thing worse than the dialogue was the trailer for next week’s episode about a mad mullah recruiting suicide bombers in Birmingham. Come back to politics when you can do plot.

Meanwhile on ITV1, The Vice is back (Tuesdays at 9pm), minus the iconic crumpled detective Pat Chapel, who murdered a pornographer in episode one. The writers have made things hard for themselves with highly improbably stories: an undercover detective so hooked on crack that she couldn’t leave the afore-mentioned soon-to-be-murdered pornographer’s house; another detective enchanted along with a string of other women by the ugliest pimp in the world; and another pimp (of teenage boys) turning out to be a sympathetic pederast.

All improbable stories, but all pulled off with aplomb, except maybe the first, but even that was saved by Ken Stott’s final performance as Chapel. The gap is to be filled by Tim Piggot Smith’s evil DCI Vickers and his enigmatic disciple Kirsty. They’ve done enough so far to win The Vice the benefit of the doubt. Ruthless ambition, scheming, the ability to make the improbable plausible: maybe our insipid politicians could learn something from them.

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)).

Read on:

spiked-issue: TV

(1) See the Hansard website

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