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Two-minute wonder

11 March 2016

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IT IS a curious vocation, my watching TV for the Church of England so that none of you has to bother; but now there is a secular version. Too Much TV is a new BBC2 programme, broadcast each weekday evening at 6.30.

It is a live studio production, and all things televisual are grist to its mill: reviews of recent programmes, interviews with actors, features about meatier topics (a retrospective of Keith Floyd’s career, a snapshot of the zanier output of other countries), and a preview of what will be broadcast later that evening, combed from all the main channels.

Because they are 30-minute programmes, simple maths dictates that none of these subjects receives more than a couple of minutes’ attention at most, and space must be found (almost as much, in fact, as that devoted to the material) for the light-hearted joshing of the celebrity presenters.

I say “celebrity”, but I must take this on trust, as I don’t really know who they are, any more than I share enthusiasm for most of the programmes that they take it for granted the entire nation watches avidly. It appears to inhabit a parallel universe from the one I know and care about; but it is light-hearted and generous in its praise, and nods towards some more heavyweight material among the relentlessly populist.

Land of Hope and Glory: British Country Life (BBC2, Fridays) is a documentary series portraying the weekly magazine whose property pages would be thin indeed had not the Church Commissioners ensured that they could be filled with an unending supply of old rectories and old vicarages. Last week’s opening episode was curious: there were short passages on the to-be-expected subjects — the girls-in-pearls who grace the only page in publishing still called a frontispiece; the architectural surveys of country houses; superficial analysis of the extent to which Country Life peddles an escapist fantasy of the British shires, irresistible to townies and retired pop stars — but then the mood changed.

Focusing on an agricultural show, it went in search of a farmer, Maurice, whose pedigree herd was not to be seen: for four years, his farm has been on shutdown because some of the cattle tested positive for TB. The testing has to be repeated periodically: if a single cow is infected, it must be slaughtered, and the lock-down of the farm must continue.

Maurice is in despair. Charged with emotion, he sent two more clearly loved cattle off to the abbatoir, and faced a bitter future. He is certain that the disease is transmitted by badgers. Sentimental urban types with no understanding of the country refuse to let them be culled; in modern Britain, they are protected, while no one cares for cows, on whose milk we all depend.

This is the cutting edge of Country Life, the point at which its claim to be “the voice of the countryside” might actually have some teeth.

Fresh Meat (Channel 4, Mondays), the farcical sitcom about student house-sharers, is back. Now, they face the end of university life, meeting — hopelessly — the careers adviser, and even revising between drinking bouts. The characters are just as sharply drawn, the comedy is still as broad and foul-mouthed, and the jokes are rather good.

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