Here’s the idea; big city bloke uproots to a small town community at the extreme tip of the United States, where he encounters a host of eccentric folks living life at a different pace and accepting the bizarre as commonplace. But beneath all their quirks lie the same problems and fascinations which endure the world over. Sounds familiar? The American critics thought so, and before you could say ‘Cicely, Alaska’, they were shouting ‘llorthern Exposure rip-off’.
lot so, responded David Beaird, the show’s creator, insisting that he’d never seen the Alaskan series. While it’s tempting to respond ‘Yeah, sure’, as executive producer Allan Marcil says: ‘I don’t think any one vehicle can claim copyright on a character who moves from somewhere to another place.’
In Key West, the away-from-home character is Seamus O’lleill (Fisher Stevens), an Irish-American blue- collar worker with a Hemingway fixation. 0’1leill’s lottery win allows him to escape the shop floor and follow his hero’s footsteps to the town at the southernmost tip of the Florida
If CA 1:
,Fre literary giant (maybe) Seamus O’Reilly and mystery girl Savannah
/ l 1 -. Keys. He hopes the magic of this ‘town at the end of the world’ will unblock his frustrated writing ambition.
like the deep forests around the town of Twin Peaks, the ocean expanses surrounding Key West are portrayed as a powerful force, with shots of bleeding sunsets over restless waters, crackling electrical storms and mutterings about ‘angels in the seaspray’. There are other correlations with Twin Peaks; sex, politics, environmental scandals, voodoo magic, with one of the characters, a ruthless business type, even having an autistic son a la Ben Home.
At least initially, Key West lacks the depth of lynch’s series. Storylines are telegraphed and many of the characterisations are a bit too pantomime in their effort to be quirky. One the other hand, Jennifer Tilly’s Savanagh - the hooker-with-a-heart - is better than it sounds; the gay mayor isn’t a camp cartoon, and best of all, the show boasts ‘Tickled Pink’, an alligator in ribbons. Snappy name, lhuh? (Damien love)
Key West begins on Channel 4 on Thursday 10 ilovember at 12.55am.
I Table Talk Special Series: The Indian Spice Trail (Radio 3) Sat 5 Nov, 1.02pm. A new series of Table Talk concentrating on India and its famous spicy food. Broadcaster/writer Leslie Forbes takes off on a ‘spice trail’ to discover where these spices are used, why they’re used and who uses them, and creates a vision of India relating its culture to its cuisine.
I The locker Room (Radio 4) Sat 5 Nov, 6.50pm. As 90s new men and likely lads everywhere grapple with their testosterone levels, Radio 4’s magazine programme presented by Tom Robinson returns to put it all back in perspective. Seven weeks covering the Seven Deadly Sins, the opinion slot ‘Unzipped’ and other topical issues ranging from male infertility to baldness.
I The Duke’s Month of Sundays (Radio Forth) Sun 6 Nov, 10pm. Regular Forth DJ Allan Campbell moves into this late night music slot, which promises a wide playlist of rap, ragga, Latin and indie sounds to bring you down from the weekend and move you mellow into Monday. Speech-based element includes an Edwyn Collins interview lined up for the ﬁrst show.
I The Story of Pop: Rap it Up (Radio 1) Tue 8 Nov, 9pm. The Story of Pop continues with the story of rap in the first of two programmes which delve deep into rap and hip-hop traditions. This week covers rap’s origins in West African Griot music and the prison chants of Deep
South and Jamaican toasters, with insights from Grandmaster Flash and Africa Bambaata and other esteemed masters of
IpEureka (Radio 4) Sun 13 Nov. 10.45pm. Radio 4’s science-based talk show returns to the airwaves for a new series in which presenter Barbara Myers ponders on what drives some of the world’s leading scientists. First under the Myers microscope is Bill Gates 111, head of the Microsoft Corporation, who discusses his life, his computer software and his global vision.
I Shuttleworth’s Showtime (Radio 1) Mon 14 Nov, 9pm. There’s only one John Shuttleworth, and on Monday evenings at 9pm he’s back on your radio and in your living room to share the wisdom of his years with young unsigned bands. give us a few songs on his Yamaha organ and play Ker-plunk with top celebrities.
I East, West, Hong Kong’s Best (Radio 4) Tue 15 Nov, 7.20pm. The clock ticks on the future of Hong Kong, as its people brace themselves for hand over to Beijing in just three years’ time. Britain has come to expect a flood of refugees leading up to the event, but there is little sign of such a trend. Recent evidence in fact points to a counterdrift, with British-born Chinese leaving the UK to live and work in Hong Kong. Sarah Olowe investigates.
I Harry llill’s Fruit Corner (Radio 4) Thurs 17 Nov, 6.30pm. Harry Hill goes bananas, with the help of his eccentric family in this new series of his popular comedy show ‘Fruit Corner’. Arthur Mullard is this week’s guest. (Ellie Carr)-
That there are two sides, minimum, to every story is an axiom of television joumalism; indeed the very idea is enshrined in the BBC’s Charter. The responsibility to offer a balanced perspective is traded off against the privilege of collecting a licence fee from every television viewer in the country.
The way this balance is achieved is trickier, however. Should every programme be ‘intemally' balanced, a nil sum of Opposing views? That’s the basis on which, say, Question Time operates, assembling a gang of four — usually representing left, right. centre and independent free radical — who are ranged into a square which is assumed to form the boundary of all ‘reasonable’ opinion. The programme achieves an internal balance, without necessarily representing a wide range of views.
For instance, members of Combat 18, the far-right organisation that was the subject of last week’s Dispatches (Channel 4), would never be invited to sit on David Dimbleby’s panel of the great and the good. And nor should they; it’s doubtful that much ofthe invective spouted by Combat 18 (named after the numerical position of Hitler’s initials in the alphabet) could be legally broadcast under race relations legislation.
Nevertheless, Dispatches devoted an entire programme to this shadowy organisation whose membership is drawn from the tiny minority of violent neo-Nazis operating in the UK. The objective of the documentary, the result of a ﬁve-month undercover investigation, was to expose C18’s links with the British National Party. For the programme to work as a piece of public interest journalism, we first had to accept the idea that the BNP is the ‘respectable’ face of British far- right politics. Do you buy that?
Video-taped evidence of BNP and C18 links was shown to the BNP’s leader John Tyndall, who claims that his party would expel perpetrators of violence. Tyndall was allowed to give a politician’s answer to questions about BNP members allegedly involved in Cl8’s violent campaign of hatred. ‘I can’t possibly comment until I have all the facts etc,’ he flannelled.
Dispatches was ‘balanced’ by Tyndall’s right to reply, but this was little more than a device to justify yet another programme which played on the fascination of extreme violence. The voyeuristic thrill of watching a bunch of football hooligans repeatedly stamp on the head of a rival, can only
bejustifred as a ‘shocking’ illustration of far-right violence. Really, so what you’re saying here is that BNP members are not a legitimate political party but a front for acts of violence against ethnic minorities? That conclusion sure was worth a five- month investigation.
Real balance was achieved by watching another programme on the same channel, different night. The Critical Eye (Channel 4) documentary ‘Living With The Bunker’ dumped all pretence of seeking an ‘objective’ truth about racial violence in the London Borough of Greenwich, the unwilling host to the BNP's headquarters. Local photojournalist Paul Halliday offered a video diarist’s eye view ofthe BNP's effect on those who are forced to live with racists in their own back yard.
Halliday made it clear he wanted to show these people as members of a strong community, not isolated victims. The neo-Nazis themselves were implicitly in the film, but Halliday didn’t glorify their existence by filming skinhead rallies and football wrecking crews, or offering the ‘respectable’ face of the far-right the chance to justify itself.
Early on, Halliday expressed disbelief that a bunch of BBC set designers could spray racist graffiti on walls to add authenticity to a location shoot on a Greenwich housing estate. No surprise that Dispatches had done pretty much the same trick with an Equity card- carrying boot-boy spraying C18 for the camera, while the portentous voice- over intoned: ‘In the shadowy world of the far right, violence and paranoia are never far from the surface.’ While Dispatches went through the motions ofjoumalism, it was essentially assembling an entertainment of preconceptions.
Critical Eye lacked this drama, but behind the downbeat style was a real sense of honesty and integrity as Halliday talked to Greenwich residents with direct experience of racially- motivated violence. The sense of collective power demonstrated by hundreds of local people turning out for a memorial service for Stephen Lawrance, a black man who was beaten to death by a gang of white youths, was worth far more than hours of ve’rite’ violence filmed undercover.
Fortunately Critical Eye was on hand to redress the balance of John Tyndall’s legitimised opinions. Perhaps that was the deliberate intention behind Channel 4 screening the two programmes 24 hours apart. (Eddie Gibb)