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Monday, 22 March 2010

Avenging Angels and Dancing Demons

Lizzie and Sarah, BBC 2
Pineapple Dance Studios, Sky 1

Amid the frankly frightful - and frightening - spectrum of televisual tat on offer at the moment (Life of Riley -license payers, claim your rebate now; Push the Button - what, the "off" button? Gladly; Married, Single, Other - don't even get me started) came a ray of hope on Saturday night in the form of Lizzie and Sarah. Confined to the BBC2 graveyard slot of 11.45 and sadly not yet comissioned for a full series, it appears that the Beeb aren't quite so sure. Let's hope the response to last night's taster is enough to ensure we get a full series. Whatever happens, the pilot alone looks set to be a cult classic.

Penned by the respectively quirky and twisted minds of Jessica Hynes (Spaced) and Julia Davis (Nighty Night), Lizzie and Sarah centres on two middle-aged housewives trapped in loveless and emotionally abusive marriages who, after a joint epiphany decide to throw caution to the wind and have girl's day out. A shopping spree turns into a drinking binge and before long the pair are bumping and grinding in a club with some shifty-looking strangers. Sobering up, the ladies realise that their dancing partners have mugged them and, filled with years of pent-up resentment and frustration, give chase. What follows is a shocking and hilarious sequence of events that see the pair righting wrongs and settling scores with a gusto and determination not seen since The Lives and Loves of the She Devil. Hynes and Davis are both on top form, giving genuinely complelling performances and shifting effortlessly from moving to side-splitting throughout.

Speculation is already rife in the media that the long shadow cast by the Russell Brand/Jonathon Ross debacle may have finally called time on the BBC's long-running love affair with dark and daring humour. Certainly, recent offerings seem to indicate a move towards the traditional in terms of both format and content. BBC3's surprise hit Gavin and Stacey may well have had the odd raunchy joke, but it was essentially a classic "boy meets girl" scenario and the closest the BBC had come in years to making a show that the whole family could and would watch together; My Family having slumped immeasurably after Kris Marshall's departure. There's nothing wrong with Gavin and Stacey of course (well there is actually, but we'll leave that for another post); it just seems a shame that the envelope-pushing agenda that brought us The Day Today, Absolutely Fabulous, The League of Gentlemen, Alan  Partridge and Human Reamains might be ditched in favour of a more coy approach which could leave us watching post-noughties revamps of The Brittas Empire, Goodnight Sweetheart and As Tine Goes By.

Debbie Moore of Pineapple Dance Studios - "Time goes by...so quickly"

Perhaps such knee-jerk reactions are inevitable, talking of which, Pineapple Dance Studios continues to scissor kick and shimmy its way across the schedules, gaining an ever-bigger fanbase. Harry Hill and his TV Burp can probably take as much credit for this as the show itself, which lends itself brilliantly to Hill's gently mocking format. Of course, we'll all be sick of Louis Spence before long, by which point he'll no doubt have guaranteed himself near continuous rotation on every reality TV show going and we'll be stuck with him forever. Frankenstein was an amateur compared to modern-day TV producers, who seem to have a knack of churning out monsters on a daily basis. Perhaps Dancing on Ice is merely a celebrity training camp for the inevitable day when we will chase our C-list stars across the North Pole, aghast at what we have created. As the saying goes "our idols and demons will pursue us, until we learn to let them go."* As far as those demons go, the BBC would do well to take note.

* Ten points to anyone who can source the origins of that quote, btw.

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