The Guardian 18 May, 2005

TV programs worth watching
Sun May 22 — Sat May 28

This year, the Eurovision Song Contest (SBS 7.30pm Sunday) will be held in Palats Sportu, the biggest indoor sport and concert venue in Kiev, Ukraine. See what benefits the overthrow of socialism brings?

It will be hosted by a local radio and television presenter who, in the best traditions of globalised culture, calls himself DJ Pasha.

SBS may claim that The Eurovision Song Contest is the world’s largest and most watched song festival”, but actually it is just a highly commercial exercise in marketing pop music.

Bland, bouncy pap seems to do best. The most covered Eurovision hit is “Volare” — ’nuff said, surely?

The virtues of class coll­aboration continue to be extolled in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North And South (ABC 8.30pm Sundays). Kind-hearted Margaret, whose sympathies are initially all with the workers, begins to comprehend the “benefits that the new industrialised society will bring”.

She also starts to see mill owner Thornton’s “caring and compassionate side”, while he comes to admire Margaret’s “fighting spirit and her charitable nature”. Like the good employer that he really is, he begins to make changes at the mill “for the benefit of the workers and productivity alike”.

I do like the inclusion of those last three words, don’t you?

Jekyll And Hyde: The True Story (ABC 9.25pm Sunday) was made for cable network The Discovery Channel and suffers from the constant repetition of what it’s about after every commercial break. US cable programs seem to be made for people with the attention span of a gnat.

They also feel it essential to overdramatise their subject, like the cover of a classic novel after a popular paperback company has got through “packaging” it. The subject of this program is straight­-forward enough: a comparison of the life and career of the 19th century writer Robert Louis Stevenson with that of the 18th century Edinburgh sociopath, gambler, sex addict and a criminal William Deacon Brodie (known as Deacon).

The reason for comparing them is that Stevenson based his most famous creation, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, on Deacon Brodie. In the best Discovery Channel tradition, the program merrily speculates and insinuates about Stevenson’s “obsession” with Brodie, taking the invalid writer’s dependence on laudanum and other sedative drugs as justification for the wildest assertions however unfounded.

The Dollar A Day Dress, the documentary in the Cutting Edge timeslot this week (SBS 10.00pm Tuesday) is from the BBC Panorama unit. The program looks at the impact of the world’s trade system on poor countries, particularly Mali, Uganda, Peru and Cambodia.

Around the world more than one billion people live on a dollar a day or less.

Mali produces cheap, good quality cotton, but is unable to compete with the subsidised cotton farmers of America and the European Union. Despite the rhetoric of free trade the West gives US$50 billion a year in aid worldwide but also gives almost $300 billion a year in subsidies to its own farmers, making it extremely difficult for poor countries to exploit their trade advantage.

In Uganda, the local clothing industry has been almost destroyed by traders importing cheap clothes from op-shop charities in Britain and North America. Cambodia’s garment industry, which employs a quarter of a million women, is also under threat from foreign competition.

Cambodia played by the international rules and industrialised its way into the modern world. The United Nations International Labour Organisation says conditions in factories are good by international standards.

Cambodia developed a textile industry because under special international rules it used to be guaranteed a quota of clothes it could be sure of selling but those rules have now been scrapped and Cambodia has to “compete”.

British academic, broadcaster and historian Dr David Starkey, having done series on Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and The Six Wives of Henry VIII, now tackles the early history of British royalty in a six-part series Monarchy (ABC 8.30pm Thursdays).

The series covers the period from the dark ages to the Wars of the Roses and the emergence of the Tudors.

I have little time for Starkey as a historian; he is an exponent of the “great men (and women) make history” school. The economic forces and social movements that really make history only impinge on his programs when they simply cannot be ignored.

I have not seen The Hidden History of Homosexual Australia (SBS 8.30pm Thursday) but it sounds interesting enough. Written and directed by Con Anemogiannis, it takes a panoramic look at the history of gays and lesbians in Australia from the colony’s convict days, right through to the present.

The Hidden History of Homo­sexual Australia looks at the three main periods that gay and lesbian Australian history falls into: the convict era — the period of sin when it was considered a transgression against God’s law; the medical period that lasted from the turn of the 20th Century through to the 1960s; and the third period when homosexuality came to be seen as a political, cultural, and personal issue by looking at activism and the liberation struggles of the 1960s through to Mardi Gras and the general public acceptance that came about as a result of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.

In The End Of The World, the second episode of the new Doctor Who series (ABC 7.30pm Saturday), the Doctor takes Rose, the girl he encountered on Earth, on her first voyage through time.

He takes her to Platform One, a space station five billion years in the future, to witness The End of The World as the Sun expands and our planet burns. But a mass assassination is being planned.

Among the guest stars, Zoe Wanamaker plays the Lady Cas­sandra, the last human, over 2000 years old. She is vain and has had so much cosmetic surgery that she has been reduced to a piece of human skin stretched across a metal frame.

As I said last week, the aliens in the new series are on the whole very much better depicted than in any of the previous series. One hesitates to think what Cassandra — or Jabe the super-evolved tree from the vast Forest of Cheem — would have been like in the earlier series.

Back to index page