TV UK, 18 September

Two new dramas fall for different kinds of love.

Dolan Cummings

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Second Generation (Channel 4, early this week) was presented as an edgy drama about young Asians dealing with the conflicting demands of family and modern life in east London. At heart, though, it was an incredibly old-fashioned love story.

Indeed, it was so old-fashioned that a careless viewer might have taken it to be saying that racially mixed relationships don’t work and we’re better off sticking with people from our own culture. That would be unfair, though. The drama’s message was much less politically incorrect and much more conservative.

In fact, the love that triumphed at the end was mixed: he was a Muslim and she a Hindu. When Sam told Heere that he understood her in a way her white boyfriend never would, he wasn’t talking about race or culture, but the fact that they had grown up together. Recurring home videos of the two playing together as children reinforced the point that their childhood affinity conquered all.

This childhood fetish was equally apparent in a subplot involving Uzi, a young Asian ragga-style performer being courted by Sam’s music label. Watching his younger brothers playing without a care in the world, Uzi told Sam that was the best age to be. Similarly, Sam’s own reluctance to sell out was in large part a fear of growing up.

In Second Generation’s childish worldview, love was presented as a mysterious, unbreakable bond over which the protagonists had no control. A cynic might argue that all love is based on this kind of bad faith, but a very different model is presented in the third of the BBC’s contemporary versions of the Canterbury Tales.

The Knight’s Tale (BBC1, next Thursday at 9pm) is the cleverest adaptation so far in the series. As in Chaucer’s (and Boccaccio’s) story, two prisoners fall in love with the same unattainable woman. Instead of spying her in the garden from their tower, however, they meet her in the prison classroom, where she gives literacy lessons. This could simply be a sop to feminist objections to Emelye’s passive role in the original, but in fact it works quite well.

This version of the story is concerned as much with Emily’s attraction to the prisoners, as with their attraction to her. As Ace (Arcite), played by the ever-impressive John Simm, explains, it does happen. There are good reasons why women fall for men they can’t have. In this worldview, love is not transcendent and mysterious, but rooted in particular circumstances, and entirely predictable. That only kills the romance if you prefer Cupid to thinking, acting human beings.

Indeed, the drama comes as the three protagonists each try to get a grip on the situation (and each other). As in the original, Ace is freed but consequently separated from Emily, while Paul (Palamon) gets to stay close to her, but unable to touch her. Life is like that.

This adaptation is not as ‘grittily’ realistic as its setting might suggest, which is probably a good thing. It does at least rise above the daytime soap level of romantic narrative indulged in Second Generation.

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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