Jaci Stephen's Reviews

Putting teens on the spot; The Mail on Sunday; July 7, 2002; Jaci Stephen

Teen Species BBC1, Wednesday **

Lenny Blue ITV, Monday, Tuesday ***

Merseybeat BBC1, Monday *

A&E ITV, Thursday *****

Holby City BBC1, Tuesday ****

Paradise Heights BBC1, Tuesday ****

Maybe I was a backward teenager, but I didn't show an interest in clothes until I was 35. I wasn't much into makeup either and wore it only for ballroom dancing competitions, when it was applied by my mother who had the knack of transforming me into Barbara Cartland.

When I wasn't dancing, I was playing secret agents with my collection of corned-beef tin keys. My only concession to high fashion was a cowbell I wore round my neck in 1969. My first bra was so small it doubled as an eye mask.

So I didn't recognise myself in Teen Species, which featured five girls between the ages of ten and 16 whose emotional and physical progress was monitored over two years. There was 14-year-old Claudia, a dancer whose growing body is making it difficult for her to perform. Ten-year-old Alex reached puberty at seven and had to have medication to turn her back into a child. Charmaine was vile at 14 and claimed that her mother didn't understand her; 11-year-old twins Rebecca and Jessica were a delight and, even after reaching puberty, retained their childlike sense of fun.

The programme claimed to ask the question: What makes teenagers such an extraordinary species? The problem was that we never found out because there was nothing here that we didn't already know. Girls, surprise, surprise, like to chat and share secrets, whereas boys prefer to bond by playing competitive sports. Girls grow breasts (well, some of us don't), puberty occurs at a younger age these days, teenagers argue with their parents, they don't like to be different from their peers . . . and so on.

Kids today, though, don't know they're born. Claudia was allowed to go clubbing, albeit only to an under-18s disco, but in my day a comprehensive school's idea of entertainment was basketweaving, and damned grateful you had to be for it.

Charlie Redmayne, who runs a hugely successful teenage website, informed us that teenagers have a high disposable income. From where, for goodness sake?

The most I ever had was half-a-crown pocket money a week; I used to pull teeth to get an extra couple of sixpences from the fairies.

Much of the information was delivered as indisputable fact, such as the notion that teenagers have a 'single-minded devotion to image', but there must be thousands of teenagers who are far too busy to worry about it.

Apart from a few spots (the best part of the programme was a magnified whitehead being squeezed - delicious), I don't recall ever worrying about appearance, and my mother needed a lead to drag me into clothes shops.

Teenagers were causing a lot of problems in Lenny Blue, a two-part detective story in which DC Lenny Milton (Ray Winstone) tried to put away some drug barons.

Stories about drugs are never less than utterly boring; the only thing more boring than stories about drugs are people who take them. There are only two ways either story can ever go: people keep on taking drugs or they stop.

Here, Lenny's son's friend died from taking a dodgy substance (that's sure as hell one way to stop), and Lenny set about trying to catch Barry Hindes (Ralph Brown), a nasty piece of work in a nice suit and cloned from every other cliche drugs baron ever to have hit the screen.

Unlike every other copper, however, Lenny had a happy home life, despite his son's dodgy friends and his daughter's dodgy boyfriend. What the plot lacked in comprehension, Ray Winstone made up for in watchability. But even the greatest cast could not make up for what was, in the end, a very boring three hours.

Finally, Lenny shot a grass who had done him over. If I'd had a gun, I'd have joined him.

The best thing you can say about Lenny Blue is that it wasn't as boring as Merseybeat. This week we were treated to lots of shots of Susan (Haydn Gwynne) reliving her attack and taking it out on everyone around her. Once you'd played Spot the ex-Soap Actors (John McArdle, Michelle Holmes, Sue Jenkins) and that fat comic whose name you can never remember (Ted somebody or other), there was very little to keep you watching.

There was a rather uneventful story about a neglected dog, something about joyriders on a council estate, but ultimately nothing very Mersey and even less beat.

The surprise is that Merseybeat came from the pen of Joe Ainsworth, who also wrote this week's A&E, which returned for a fourth series. The latter is as good as the former is weak, and the combination of Michael Kitchen, Niamh Cusack and Martin Shaw makes for a drama of great sophistication, and certainly one that is streets ahead of other medical dramas.

Of course, there are the usual hospital antics - 'Let's incubate', 'She's arrested!' - but the nature of the professional relationships and the bearing they have on the characters' personal lives is the heart of the story. My only criticism is that Jack (Kitchen) returned with very little explanation as to how, after his professional misconduct last series, he had been allowed to do so. Not that I'm complaining.


Holby City, which isn't A&E but is still a good yarn, introduced new registrar Diane Lloyd, who is played by Patricia Potter, last seen having an affair with Dr Darren in Brookside, so she's bound to have picked up a few tips. Diane used to have a thing with Ric (Hugh Quarshie), who is due to marry Sam (Colette Brown), who used to have a thing with Alex (Jeremy Sheffield), whom Diane fancies. Phew!

It's all rather gripping because at the end of the episode, Ric gambled the entire pound sterling20,000 Sam had given him as a wedding present. We have to wait until next week to see if the roulette wheel spins in his favour. My guess would be not, shortly followed by: 'He's arrested!' A depressed kangaroo is one of the many quirky details in Ashley Pharoah's new series, Paradise Heights. It stars the magnificent Charles Dale (last seen dead in Coronation Street) as Clive Eustace, who runs a struggling discount warehouse business in Nottingham with brother Charlie (Neil Morrissey).

Naturally, there is a local tough guy in the form of Jack (David Troughton), and some terrific builders who are not unlike the rude mechanicals in A Midsummer Night's Dream. But it's a shame about the overuse of loud music, which is irritatingly obtrusive. But then I've never liked loud music, even as a teenager. Like I said. Backward.