THE great religious themes — thanksgiving, guilt and absolution, seeking out the lost, generous self-giving — were all explored in Saved by a Stranger (BBC2, Thursday of last week). Of course, God was not brought into it: all were mediated by human agency, as the sensitive and supportive presenter, Anita Rani, helped people to find those who in moments of grave danger had helped them, and yet had never been thanked.
A trainee dancer, Karl, was in a Tube carriage blown up in the 2005 terrorist outrages. In the pitch darkness, amid the screaming and certainty of imminent death, an unknown woman held his hand and gave him hope. Staggering to the street, he walked away uninjured, and for 15 years neither sought help nor dared to explore what happened, and bore the burden of guilt — not just at surviving, but at pushing past the woman to escape.
Emina and her family — including her baby sister, who was born with Down’s syndrome — were caught up in the civil war in Sarajevo, witnessing their trusted neighbours turn into pitiless killers. A remarkable doctor arranged their escape on one of the last coaches to carry refugees out of the city (the males on board were taken off and shot). Rani did the detective work, tracking down Dr Natasa Savic, in Holland. The reunion brought joy and resolution — not just to the family, but to Dr Savic. For her, it meant the discovery of a long-lost family: she had not known whether they had survived.
Susan may or may not have been the woman who helped Karl: their traumatic memories married closely, but lacked decisive proof. To his amazement, she brought him not just absolution, but gratitude: she thought that he had comforted her. This was not just deeply moving: we saw grace at work, as, even in the heart of appalling tragedies, some people found generosity and hope, and those who expected to be giving thanks found themselves being thanked.
Contrariwise, two recent programmes illuminatingly exhibited the theological non-virtue of downright rudeness. In Trip Hazard: My great British adventure (Channel 4, Friday), the comedian Rosie Jones gloriously exploits the cerebral palsy that she lives with, not just in the splendid way in which she tackles physical challenges that any able-bodied person might balk at, but also as she belittles her chosen companion of the week (this time, Jenny Eclair). “You were rubbish at that,” she pronounces gleefully, pricking our culture’s nonsensical bubble of constant praise and supposed achievement.
Steve Coogan’s monstrous alter ego returns in This Time with Alan Partridge (BBC1, Fridays). Lacking every shred of self-awareness, the chat-show presenter Partridge displays a four-year-old’s attention-seeking with none of the infant’s intellectual profundity or moral maturity. Magnificently skewering the inanities of popular TV, he veers from fake solemnity to excruciating jokiness, insulting each of his guests and undermining every colleague.