Vegas steals every scene his rotund frame appears in and he gives Happiness a warmth found lacking in the other characters. The first episode sees Danny mismatched with the similarly befuddled Neela (Amita Dhiri aka This Life's Milly). while his friends struggle to find meaning in their dysfunctional tliirtysomething lives. Kathy Burke cameos as a cranky bitch from hell. absorbing more of the Whitehouse limelight.

At times cliched. but always entertaining. Happiness has classic potential. It's just a pity The Fast Show star often struggles to find his voice. (Maureen Ellisl



Channel 4, Mon 6 Jan, 10pm COO.

The natural law of sitcoms states that by the fourth series the laughs are well and truly gone. Frasier is the exception that proves the rule. whatever that's supposed to mean. because now in its tenth series. the standard of writing and performance remains exemplary. The years may have seen the ramping up of the slapstick guotient at the eXpense of subtler comedy. but Frasier still provides plenty of gentle. knowing laughs either way.

lhe new series opens With the long awaited wedding of Niles and Daphne. but thankfully steers well clear of any schmalt/y sentimentality. while the dialogue is as snappy as ever. and the gags come thick and fast. lne show is unlikely to ever reach the peaks of a couple of series ago. .‘ilien Niles' repressed neuroses reached almost unbearable proportions. but Frasier is still a worthy and .‘.’f:l(;()lll(: addition to the bleak '.‘/llll(}l schedules. ’Doug .Johnstonej

Al If N MINI sr HllS KEN

BBC1, Sat 11 Jan, 9pm 0..

Ooh, saucer

Even if you weren’t to know that Taken is a Steven Spielberg production, you’d probably guess it within the first three minutes. As a small child narrates her tenderly naive introduction, US fighter planes fly over Germany in 1944. The operation is interrupted by flashing, swirling, flying objects of the unidentified variety. War, aliens and innocent kids: the triple towers of the DreamWorks guru’s

obsessive mind.

From there, we jump to the post-war future as the age of Roswell begins to haunt the American psyche and our hero on the air raid slowly pieces together memories of a possible alien abduction.

They’re calling it a mini-series, though ten parts of 90 minutes each sounds to me like a large scale, small screen epic. And having seen a montage of the later episodes, I’m fully prepared to give the juvenile one some benefit of several doubts. For instance, the schmaltz is laid on even thicker than normal and the first hour and a half could have Dark Skies buffs getting their conspiratorial knickers in a twist. Taken has even irritatingly nabbed the squeaky clean Dark Skies lead Eric Close, who here plays a Grey in human disguise.

But the aliens are splendidly realised (in a Communion kind of way), there are sinister, violent undertows which could be dragged up later and there’s enough quirky stuff going on to make it palatable for now. It’s initially underwhelming, but Taken still has a chance to be V good. (Brian Donaldson)


Channel 4, Tue 7 Jan, 9pm 0000

Eefore you get ()VOFOXCllOd at the prospect of keys in ashtrays and suburban Wife Swap is a sexrfree zone. Wives are indeed swapped. but it's their skills in the kitchen. rather than the bedroom, that count.

Here s the deal: two families. switch wives mothers for a fortnight, during which time the women run then' new household as their predeces;or intended for the first Week. then

implement some rules of their own for the second. 'As long as they're not black.‘ says Dee on her way to replace Lance's Wife. Sonia. ‘I hope she's not fat.‘ says Lance of Dec. Needless to say. they're both out of luck.

Meanwhile. Sonia is persuading Dee's teenage daughters not to swear and empowering her husband with a new- found assertiveness. It's fascinating stuff, but the real surprise comes when the women swap back. because sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to see what's under your nose. (Kelly Apler)


Five, Sun 5 Jan, 8pm .0

Doing magic on dark stages wearing silly hats might have seemed jolly

exciting in the 19608. but it‘s increasingly seemed less like gold dust and more like old- fashioned tripe. That changed with the arrival of street-strutting David Blaine and his jerky cameraman. although his recent antics (jetting off to the Amazon to bemuse assorted

villagers with his sleight of hand and standing on a pillar for. like. agesl suggest that fatigue may be starting to set in. Ever astute bandwagon-jumpers Five have decided to get onside With this new series featuring four yOung pretenders ‘performing ama/ing

tricks with the strangest stuff in the weirdest places'. Papa. Colonel. Monkey Boy and Tufty are an entertaining enough bunch. but this showcase is positively anaemic.

We get some diverting but hardly gi‘ountlbreaking tricks and a flabby interlude in which the boys see who can hold a pint of water upside down for the longest. Yawn. lJames Smartl

(ZRIML lllllll l l H MESSIAH 2 BBC1, Sat 11 & Sun 12 Jan, 9pm 0000

The creators of i'l/fessiah must have studied at the David Fincher school of atmosphere. Because much like Se?en, this two—part psychological thriller is dark. scary and full of 'oh God. no' moments.

In Vengeance is Mine. Ken Stott is back as DCl Red Metcalfe. a detective refreshingly bereft of drink drug gambling problems and a man who harbours few personal demons. Instead. the focus of fly/USSR”) is on the case. a serial killer hell bent on uncovering miscarriages of justice and making the real murderer pay l. ach slaying is as mehculously thought out and tjCllllllth, gruesome as the last. WIlfl cheese wire. suffocation and electrocution all plainria their part.

Numerous red herrings and half baked clues are dropped into our laps leaving us too scared to ‘."l33lf the toilet until the real killer is caught. Intelligent. gripping and ilelicioiisi. far fetched. i‘.*/e:.s'a': it; almost a \‘.’()flfl\, successor to l’riiiie Suspect. though Metcalfe is far too human to wear lcnnison's lllOlll‘, crown. iKellx Apteil

t-i .1.:" .‘ _- THE LIST 87