TV- Remote Control roundup

Dr Alice Roberts: Don't Die Young

Dr Alice Roberts: Don't Die Young

Allan Radcliffe frets over the sickly state of terrestrial television

There’s very little on telly that overestimates the intelligence of its viewers these days. Getting angry at this state of affairs could well bring on an ulcer, so it’s much healthier to sit back and enjoy a good ironic chuckle at the slight return we get for our TV licence shillings and pence. Laughter is the best medicine, after all.

Which is exactly the kind of hoary old cliché you’re likely to hear in Dr Alice Roberts: Don’t Die Young (BBC2, Thu 31 Jul, 8.30pm ••). Over eight episodes, the jovial Dr Roberts presents a healthy living guide for those who are too embarrassed to take their ailments to the GP. Having tracked down some shifty looking volunteers, who admit to having little more than ‘school level knowledge’ of their anatomies, the good doc proceeds to enhance their awareness not one iota, demonstrating the body’s workings with the kind of visual aids you’d expect to encounter on your first day at kindergarten. As the first episode deals with the male reproductive system, it’s only a matter of time before Alice gets the balloons, bicycle pump, bananas and plums out. The most hilarious moment arrives when she uses the medium of bar snacks (peanuts, crisps, pork pies etc) to help a group of blokes guess the size of their prostate.

Medical matters are also to the fore over on the other side. Having scored a modest hit with Moving Wallpaper earlier this year, only to take a giant leap backwards with the crappy Rock Rivals, ITV have plumped for the more familiar doctors and nurses theme in their latest attempt to reclaim the dramatic initiative from the Beeb. Harley Street (ITV1, Thu 17 Jul ••) is so keen to capture the zippy pace and slick production values of its American counterparts that it has even nicked its opening credits from ER. This sense of familiarity extends to the array of former soap stars in the cast, all of them struggling to disguise their regional accents, with varying degrees of success. The one rough diamond to have infiltrated the world of exclusive private medicine is Paul Nichols’ Dr Robert Fielding, described by one of the other characters as ‘a brilliant doctor and a classic legover artist’. You can just imagine the same pithy report being handed to the poor actor on a postage stamp-sized piece of paper marked ‘character notes’. It also pretty much sums up the narrative arc of episode one, which veers between frenzied scenes of shagging and blow jobs and views of Dr Robert running through hospital corridors shouting things like, ‘We need a canular for the chest pain patient in bay three!’

‘Healthy’ is not the first word you’d associate with the state of STV’s dramatic output in recent times. But High Times (STV, Thu 24 Jul, 10.40pm •••) rather bucked the trend, winning a Bafta and becoming the second most popular programme in South America. Cut to series two, and it’s business as usual for the residents of the Fairmyle high rises. Recuperating from his near fatal heart attack, Frank attempts to bestow that much coveted orgasm on wife Janet, with a little help from page 47 of The Joy of Sex; downstairs, local stud Tex customises his shag pad ‘Panderosa’, complete with ceiling mirror; meanwhile, the pair of workshy stoners Jake and Rab improvise around their lack of toilet paper with socks and newspaper. As it’s quite a scatological programme, it seems appropriate to say that High Times falls between two stools. It’s billed as black comedy, and features some admittedly amusing sequences, but lacks the required slickness of execution to be really funny, while as drama it’s a bit limp and half-hearted.

House of Saddam (BBC2, Wed 30 Jul, 9pm •••) is a fairly healthy prospect, but then it does carry the HBO stamp of assurance. The opening episode traces the Iraqi dictator’s blood-soaked trajectory from seizing the presidency in 1979 and dispatching all Ba’ath party dissenters by firing squad to sending wave after wave of soldiers into battle against his nemesis Ayatollah Khomenei. The scenario plays out like a cross between The Sopranos and a Middle Eastern Dynasty, with any dramatic representation of the Godfather of Baghdad unlikely to do any real justice to the horrors he dished out to his own people. Saddam, it could rightfully be said, was one sick mutha.

Comments

1. starrynight26 Jul 2008, 3:47am Report

I really enjoy High Times, and find it odd that STV let it lie for so long. Also shocked to find out it only transmits in Scotland. I think it's the best drama STV have produced for years and think they should treat it much much better! It totally deserves UK-wide transmission. I find the drama elements quite moving and the humour hits the spot for me. Great stuff :)

2. GeorgieBoy19 Aug 2008, 10:29am4 stars TV- Remote Control roundup Report

I think your reviewer is missing the point slightly. High Times, to the best of my knowledge, has never been billed as a black comedy and, if it has, then this is clearly wrong. Stoners Rab and Jake are the only out-and-out comedy characters. The other characters have lighter moments, but these are mostly the result of that very Glaswegian trait of dealing with adversity through humour. True, the humour and drama are very low key but, for me, that's what makes the show such a refreshing change from the stuff we normally see. High Times is about the little everyday dramas in the lives of ordinary people. Long may it continue in that vein.

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