Us (BBC3, Wednesdays) is reality TV with a vengeance.
Harpurhey, in Manchester, has every mark of classic urban
deprivation - it is a place of unemployment, crime, squalor, and
abuse. This series follows the stories of some of its residents,
and, on the scale of standard Christian moral codes, they score a
cocktail of zeroes.
There is bubbly Amber,
aged 18, swaggering off the plane from her first holiday abroad in
Magaluf, proudly displaying her battle honours, having been barred
from every establishment imaginable; a market trader, Jamie, whose
only hobby is sexual relationships (not the term he employed), at
which he appears to enjoy remarkable success; transgendered Nikki -
formerly Nigel - and her alcoholic half-her-age partner, Chris; and
the gay couple David and David, who run the corner shop.
But the programme's
overall effect - on me, at least - is not to induce despair. There
is an extraordinary level of energy, a kind of acceptance of others
not often found in more sorted-out communities. The two Davids
organise the first drag night in the local pub, and it seems to be
enjoyed beyond the gay community. Nikki shows a remarkable
tolerance for Chris, who starts on a programme to reduce his
addiction. Amber is off to college, where her zest for life will
surely make a mark.
Despite the rows,
tension, and widespread obesity, this seems a place with an
extraordinary amount of love and commitment.
Unreality TV was on
display in its most seductive guise in the first two episodes of
Dancing on the Edge (BBC2, Monday and Tuesday of last
week). The BBC has a remarkable relationship with Stephen
Poliakoff, apparently throwing money at his creations in
compensation for the accounts-driven predictability of the rest of
its output. This loyalty seems unrelated to any critical assessment
of the quality of his screenplays.
In 1930s London, the
members of a black jazz-band are taken up, apparently on a whim, by
an ambitious journalist. In a short time, they are in residence at
a grand hotel, the band of choice of the royal princes, and
employed by them in the eternal battle against stuffy tradition and
The cast is fabulous, and
the settings and costumes are terrific. But I do not believe a word
of it. The nagging feeling is, though, am I missing something? Is
the plot's unrealism a slow-burn device whose denouement will make
me seem unperceptive? I don't really care.
Ice Age Art
(BBC2, Saturday) presented extraordinarily realistic human
creations that were 40,000 years old. Andrew Graham-Dixon presented
a trailer for the new exhibition at the British Museum, and was
completely bowled over by the quality of cave-paintings and
carvings. I think that his enthusiasm is well-founded, and the most
crucial point is that these mustn't be considered as remarkably
accomplished prehistoric artifacts, but as works of as great a
level of sophistication as we can manage, by humans with the same
brains and emotions as ourselves.
But this is not art as an added extra for those with time to
enjoy it: these images of animals and humans were central to
understanding life and death itself.