The Guardian 4 May, 2005

TV programs worth watching
Sun 8 May ó Sat 14 May


Are you, like me, constantly amazed at the amount of knowledge that modern archaeological science has been able to uncover about ancient civilisations that have left only seemingly indecipherable weathered ruins?

On the Trail of the Nabataeans, screening on Lost Worlds (SBS 7.30pm Sunday), follows archaeologists as they unearth more secrets, this time about the Nabateans. Who were the Nabateans? Donít know? Go and stand in the corner.

They were, it seems, a nomadic people, whose camel caravans 2000 years ago dominated an area stretching from Saudi Arabia to Southern Syria. At some stage they forsook nomadic trading to settle down and build great cities (and of course tombs) carved from towering sheer cliff-faces.

Their cities, like Petra in modern day Jordan, show that what is now arid desert was once rich and fertile.

Thereís archaeology in this slot on both channels this week: the first episode of a two-part series on ancient Crete, The Minotaurís Island, screens on the other public channel (ABC 7.30pm Sunday).

Unusually for today, this is a traditional TV documentary rather than being a re-enactment. Presented by Bettany Hughes, it contains an enormous amount of information ó as well as a fair bit of rather unscientific speculation.

Crete lay at the centre of Bronze Age trade routes in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is also seismically active.

Nevertheless, despite the pro≠gramís account of palaces, bull-vaulting, a hierarchy of female gods, volcanic cataclysms and tsunamis, and cannibalism, the program is ultimately irritating.

This is thanks to Ms Hughes, who thrusts herself into almost every shot (and seems to have an endless supply of wardrobe changes). The way she and the director (Melanie Archer) flaunt her figure hardly seems designed to illuminate the subject.

The English novelist, short-story writer, and biographer (of Charlotte BrontŽ), Mrs Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (1810 ó 1865), was the daughter of a Unitarian parson and wife of another.

In 1832 she moved from rural gentility in Cheshire to settle in the overcrowded, problem-ridden industrial city of Manchester. She had great sympathy for the plight of the poor and in middle life began to write to "give utterance" to their "agony".

Her first novel, Mary Barton, is the story of a working-class family in the late 1830s. The father, (as the Encyclopaedia Britannica puts it) "lapses into bitter class hatred during a cyclic depression and carries out a retaliatory murder at the behest of his trade union".

The novel appeared in the revolutionary year of 1848 and was praised by both Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle. Dickens published her next major work, Cranford in 1853.

However, Mrs Gaskell was no revolutionary. She is adept at depicting lower middle class characters, but her themes are class peace and reconciliation.

North And South (ABC 8.30pm Sundays) is a four-part series adapted by Sandy Welch from Mrs Gaskellís 1855 novel about "love across the social divide" as the ABC so touchingly puts it ó in other words, the love story of a parsonís daughter and a mill owner.

The religious right is on the offensive again, via reactionary Popes, Hindu and Islamic fanatics and fundamentalist Evangelical Protestants. This last bunch dominate the White House and have a strong base in Australia too.

Rather than standing up for the separation of Church and State, for the rejection of "faith-based" parties in Australian political life, leading figures in both Labor and Liberal/National parties are desperately seeking to claim the religious vote for their own parties.

As the ABC puts it: "Kevin Rudd, possibly the next leader of the Federal Opposition, has come out of the closet and declared himself as a devout Christian. He is leading the charge for the Labor Party to reclaim God for its constituency with the media sound bite: ĎGod isnít the wholly-owned subsidiary of the Conservativesí."

For those with a strong stomach, Geraldine Doogue interviews Kevin Rudd on Compass (ABC 10.25pm Sunday).

Are "friends, fun, snogging and BOYS!" truly the only important things for young teenage girls? It is, according to the new "teen drama" series from Britainís Granada, Girls In Love (ABC 5.40pm Mondays).

Itís competently directed, photographed and acted, but if people learn by example, then itís a kind of instruction manual for being an airhead. No doubt some serious concerns (about life, education, unemployment, what have you) will raise their heads in later episodes, but for now "Shallow" does not even begin to describe it.

While Israel continues unhindered to pursue its genocidal program in Palestine ó killing, bulldozing, terrorising, seizing land and colonising ó the heroic but costly efforts of the Palestinians to defend their country are labelled terrorism and their destruction is tolerated as somehow their own fault.

In the Canadian program Jenin: Massacring Truth (SBS 8.30pm Tuesday), an attempt is made to whitewash Israeli military attacks on Palestinian civilians. The program focuses on alleged misreporting of the attack by Israeli paratroops on the West Bank city of Jenin.

Military attacks against the civilian population of another country are war crimes, but the program does not question Israelís "right" to "retaliate" for Palestinian suicide bombings.

Instead it concerns itself with whether the number of Palestinians killed in this instance was as great as was initially reported. It concludes that the number was less.

Professor Alan Dershowitz, "American jurist and author", tells us that "the European press has demonised Israel" and view events there through a "prism of a pre-≠disposition". He cries "anti-Semitism" while implicitly condoning everything Israel has done in the last half century of anti-Arab terrorism and warfare.

The concept behind Blue Water High, the ABCís "new Australian teen drama series" (ABC 5.25pm Wednesdays) is simple: programs set in a high school provide plenty of scope for soap-opera type "drama" about "relationships".

Set it in a "high performance surf academy", add the appeal of Bay Watch: "babes" in bikinis and "hunks" with pecs. Canít fail!

Not for these teenagers a desire to "change the world" or "make a difference". For this series the world of a teenagerís dreams is "to surf the pro circuit".

As shallow as Girls In Love, Blue Water High is even more knowing in its conscious pitch for ratings.

Finally, the two-part docu≠mentary series (with lots of dramatised sequences following ten real-life individuals) about the end of the Second World War in Europe, Ten Days To Victory (ABC 8.30pm Thursdays).

The program is a catalogue of anti-Soviet propaganda: some crude (Russian soldiers are intent on exacting a bloody revenge on Berlin and proceed to rape every woman they find), some more subtle.

In the latter category is the story of one of the main characters, British Commando Cliff Morris, fighting his way north, "clearing the way for Field Marshall Montgomeryís army trying to reach the Baltics before the Russians". Hang on, werenít the British and the Russians on the same side?

Not in this series, mate.

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