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TV review: Mad Women, Black Ops, The Curse, and Bafta Television Awards 2023

19 May 2023

Channel 4

Mad Women (Channel 4, Tuesday of last week) told the story of women in the male-dominated world of advertising

Mad Women (Channel 4, Tuesday of last week) told the story of women in the male-dominated world of advertising

“YOU can change the world through advertising.” This refreshingly direct claim for the value of her profession was proclaimed by one of Channel 4’s Mad Women (Tuesday of last week), telling the story of those who, since the 1970s, have broken into the formerly male preserve of creating TV adverts.

Does this multi-million-pound industry hold up a mirror to, and therefore simply reflect, society’s values and attitudes, or does it point the way to something new? The women profiled were strongly on the radical side, but worked subtly and, from today’s perspective, controversially, by employing methods acceptable to dominant men: sex and humour.

The man stripping off to put all his clothes in the launderette washing machine receives the hungry attention of women present, in an inversion of the sexist norm; the hundreds of bikini-clad beauties chasing the man enhanced by Lynx deodorant was considered just about OK because, while the objectification of nearly naked girls is standard, their excessive number was clearly tongue-in-cheek. The campaign for Dove products “tested on real people” broke new ground in celebrating underwear-clad women of all shapes, colours, and sizes.

The programme ignored the underlying moral dilemma: whether it is right to persuade people to buy one product rather than another; but, despite that, this was an encouraging account of enlarging public perceptions and acceptance, demolishing gender stereotypes and championing diversity.

Racial stereotyping is a key part of the energy driving the farcical police drama Black Ops (BBC1 from 5 May). It is written by and stars black players: a couple of hapless community police support officers are set to infiltrate a lethal drugs gang dominating a London estate, and, to their bemusement, they are remarkably successful. The woman (Gbemisola Ikumelo) is far brighter and more streetwise than her dopey sidekick (Hammed Animashaun); but he depicts something new: a committed Christian who runs his church prayer group. While his faith is a source of humour, it is considered — here’s radical for you — as something serious and worthy of affection and respect.

Channel 4 offers us more criminal comedy in The Curse (Thursdays from 27 April). This riff on the Brink’s-Mat bullion robbery shows just how much crime doesn’t pay. Only Emer Kenny’s brilliant Tash has any sense and grip — another splendid dominant female — while the men in her gang are incompetent clowns. The grit that provides the backbone for this tomfoolery is the lethal violence threatened by the genuine criminals seeking to retrieve their gold.

The BAFTA Television Awards 2023 (BBC1, Sunday) People’s Prize went to the two-minute Queen Elizabeth and Paddington Bear Film. Had the industry understood where its true gold lay, a Lifetime Achievement Award would have been given posthumously to Her Late Majesty for her unrivalled seven decades of Christmas and other crucial TV broadcasts, subtly developing our national priorities and perceptions.

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