Jaci Stephen's Reviews

The agony of loving in vein; The Mail on Sunday; July 1, 2001; Jaci Stephen

American Vampires C4, Tuesday ***

Can You Live Without Alcohol? C4, Tuesday ****

World Of Pub BBC2, Sunday *****

Child Of Our Time BBC1, Wednesday **

The Glass ITV, Sunday *****

A&E ITV, Thursday *****

Give blood. Funny how a sign that seems so innocuous one day can send you running for a bucket the next.

That simple invitation to save someone's life by donating a bit of your red stuff is a nice idea; it just doesn't seem quite such a noble thing to do when you hear about people who give blood whenever they get the opportunity - to their friends, lovers, or complete strangers they meet in nightclubs.

Seriously. I saw it on American Vampires, a well made but gruesome and ultimately pointless film which could just as easily (and certainly more accurately) have been called America's Most Barmy.

Just when you thought you had seen every madness that country has to offer, along comes another craze that makes you grateful for the Atlantic; American Vampires made you wish it was even wider.

Where do I start? Ghost, 21, who drinks blood because it enhances sex?

Sue, 34, a blood-drinking addict who gets sick if she doesn't have regular hits? Amanda, a donor at the Near Dark Pub who gets high on being cut and having the locals drink straight from her shoulder?

Now, there are not many drinks I would turn down, but a blood cocktail is definitely one of them. I'm sure my friends' blood is very tasty especially my vegetarian friends (you see, vegetarians' blood is sweeter, thinner, and it flows better, 'so you get more') - but even so, it doesn't compare to a pint of Stella.

Director and producer Mark Soldinger concluded that he was no closer to knowing why people drink blood. It was hard not to disagree.

Maybe they do it because there's nothing on the telly; maybe they forgot to get some cans in from the supermarket; maybe they are just stark raving mad. To be honest, I don't care. If life is too short to stuff a mushroom, it's certainly too short to suck a neck.

A bloodletting night on the town looks considerably less entertaining than a night on the town with alcohol, although not if you happen to be in the boorish company of Andrew Godfrey and Adam Hemming.

Their idea of fun is getting hammered after work, going into work (late) with a hangover, and going out and getting hammered again.

Andrew and Adam confronted their lifestyles when they were asked Can You Live Without Alcohol?

For two weeks, they went on the wagon but attended all their normal social activities, including a weekend in Spain. Though not preachy in tone, there was a disturbing note of warning to us all about alcohol addiction posing as entertainment. The night before the experiment began, the lads drank as much as they could; despite discovering that they had more luck with women when sober, they downed as much as they could when the experiment finished, too. With 20 hours to go, Andrew nearly weakened and he's back to drinking as much as he used to.

'There's nothing you can do about it,' he said. Looking and sounding like he did at the end of this film should be enough incentive to help him cut back. No woman wants to go to bed with a man whose features she has to rearrange first.

There were no drunks in World Of Pub, but then that's because the King's Head is London's least successful pub. Run by Garry (Peter Serafinowicz) and Barry (Phil Corn-well), it boasts characters such as Ominous Dave, Inconspicuous Ian (bright orange hair) and Dodgy Phil, whom they rely upon for ideas to attract more custom.

The first episode of any sitcom is difficult but Tony Roche's World Of Pub hit the ground running and never stopped. It's a riot (but kill the dreadful laughter track). With the Queen coming to visit to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the East End, there was great potential for everything to go wrong - and it did. One visual gag followed another - police shooting a window cleaner on a ladder because his squeegee looked like a gun; the Mexican Simon and Garfunkel 'lookalikes'; the Queen (another lookalike) on fire. You had to see it really.

Child Of Our Time was as banal as World Of Pub was brilliant. In what is billed as 'the BBC's biggest ever experiment' (what? Even bigger than Badger?), Professor Robert Winston follows 25 babies over 20 years (nice scam if you're trying to create a job for life).

Here's what we learnt: 'Character differences, like looks, are apparent from an early age.' There! Bet that came as a shock. Here's another gem: 'A newborn baby's brain is still under construction' - for those of you who thought Einstein emerged from the womb with a degree.

This is medicine for beginners, and when you have to resort to skiing down a mountain to illustrate the difficulty of passing through the birth canal, there's something wrong. It's simplistic and patronising. The journey through the birth canal may affect us, but the only thing of real importance I remember about it was that there was no bar there. Back to alcohol, then.

There was more of it about in The Glass, when Jim Proctor (John Thaw) returned to Aubrey's and started up after-work drinks for staff. Until the end, he was oblivious to the relationship between Carol (Sarah Lancashire) and Paul (Joe McFadden), who turned out to be his son.

We could see that one coming from several tequilas away, but the central performances are so strong, everything seems gripping. After a slow start, it's turned into a hugely enjoyable series about love, loyalty and human beings' capacity for change.

We still don't know whether Paul really loves Carol or is just using her; I'd guess the latter, but then the day I trust a man is the day I drink blood.

Jack Turner (Michael Kitchen) is starting to show an evil side in A&E, but, despite Robert's warnings, Christine (Niamh Cusack) doesn't see it. This week's episode (written by Joe Ainsworth) was another stunner, with Jack illegally driving his car, setting in motion a whole sequence of terrible events that was Shakespearean in its scope.

Cusack, Kitchen and Martin Shaw (who plays Robert Kingsford) are a powerful trio whose versatility as actors has made A&E into the country's best medical series. There's not too much blood in it either: the concentration being on psychology rather than physiognomy. And I know I keep banging on about Kitchen, but oh, Kitchen.

Maybe I'll relent on the bloodletting.

Any time you have a couple of pints to spare, Michael . . .