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TV review: Extraordinary Rituals, Saving Planet Earth, and Hang Ups

24 August 2018

BBC/Robert Spanring

A scene from Extraordinary Rituals

A scene from Extraordinary Rituals

IT’S ALL about us! How splendid to have a primetime documentary focusing on the stuff we do day by day, the essential cycle of hatch, match, dispatch.

Unfortunately, the clue to what they are really interested in lies in the title of BBC2’s new series Extraordinary Rituals (Fridays). They are not interested in boring old C of E monochrome Occasional Offices: they want the glorious Technicolor of how supposedly exotic cultures mark birth, marriage, and death.

The first programme certainly found practices not to be found in Common Worship. In Indonesia, a really good funeral costs £170,000, requires the slaughter of ten buffalo, and happens months after the death.

One bizarre phenomenon is the way in which peoples the world over revert at key moments to their primitive ancestors’ costumes and practices, but are technologically entirely up to date: the most remote tribe nowadays records its rites on mobile phone, and uploads the action on to YouTube for all to see.

The programme does, in fact, provide enlightening examples of compare and contrast. What other people do is extraordinarily strange; yet they are expressing emotions and needs that we all share: love, anxiety, grief, and joy.

I’m sorry to say that I found the presentation overblown, the commentary banal, and the music soppy. But, if it promotes the essential need for ritual, for ceremonies larger and older than us, in which we can lose ourselves and find ourselves, then that’s a very valuable function performed for our sadly rootless society.

A curiosity greatly to cherish, telling exactly the opposite story from the one with which we have become tragically familiar, was found in Saving Planet Earth: Fixing a hole (Channel 4, Saturday).

In the 1970s, a couple of US scientists concluded that CFC, the miracle gas that made both refrigerators safe and countless aerosols, was thinning the ozone layer and making lethal solar rays reach the earth’s surface. Their colleagues ignored them, and, radically, they stepped outside scientists’ traditionally neutral stance to become popularisers and lobbyists for their findings.

They came up against the clout wielded by an $8-billion industry. But, for once, the David-and-Goliath myth played out in real life: CFCs were eventually outlawed, and the hole appears to be repairing itself.

The healer whose need for healing is even greater than his clients’ is a scenario grimly familiar to all clergy, and we will experience fellow-feeling for Channel 4’s new sitcom Hang Ups (Wednesdays). Stephen Man­gan’s therapist works from home via videolink. His patients are in thrall to the most extreme personal disorders. Home life and family life are utterly dysfunctional.

These are all conventional sitcom tropes, but here raised to such splendid levels of baroque excess as hugely to be relished.

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