Jaci Stephen's Reviews

Unhappy hunting; The Mail on Sunday; August 11, 2002; Jaci Stephen

Any Time Now BBC1, Thursday ****

Sex, Guys And Videotape BBC2, Tuesday *

Teenage Kicks C4, Tuesday *

The Jamie Kennedy Experiment C4, Friday*****

Holby City BBC1, Tuesday*****

A&E ITV1, Thursday*****

Sometimes you wonder if anyone is happy out there. People in relationships bemoan their loss of freedom and complain about their partners; those without relationships spend half their lives wondering if and when they will ever meet someone.

Then there are those of us who think that we've been there, done that, and have concluded that true happiness can always be found in a bottle of Rioja, a chicken vindaloo and non-stop Diagnosis Murder on the telly.

The pursuit of love is the new DIY on television. You can find a partner in Perfect Match or Would Like To Meet, moan about your dysfunctional other half on Trisha, or watch people messing up in drama (Ally McBeal, Being April, every soap) and comedy (Sex And The City, Friends).

The most popular formula has been born out of the Bridget Jones phenomenon: the thirtysomething generation of career women with ticking biological clocks and no decent man in their lives. The genre has provided more roles for women in drama than ever before, even though you'd be hard pushed to be cast if you're a size 14 - and Pauline Quirke has all those parts in the bag.

The Dublin-based drama Any Time Now is the latest offering and takes that well worn formula of three old friends thrown together to contemplate their lives. There's Nora (Angeline Ball), a flighty young missie back from New York following her father's death; oneparent family Stevie (Susan Lynch), who lives with her nagging mother; and Kate (Zara Turner), who has a partner but has taken to having drug-fuelled sex in hot tubs with Stevie's ex, Johnny (Ciaran McMenamin).

This was one of the few happy moments in another black picture for women.

'Kate, why is nobody in love with me?' moaned Stevie. Nora had her own problems: she had lied to her friends about her successful acting career in New York. The reality? 'I was a Pilgrim Father in the Thanksgiving Parade. I had a beard.' Then a woman claiming to be her father's wife turned up to threaten her inheritance.

Despite the cliches, Any Time Now works, not least because it covers the big subjects of our time - sex, property (Kate is in property development) and DIY (Kate's partner is busy hammering down walls while she frolics in the hot tub). It is also helped by the soothing Dublin accents and a great cast - in particular Turner, who is one of our most watchable actors. It resists that irritating quirkiness of which Irish drama is so fond, too (the muppet in the corner of the pub with a pint of Guinness) and feels real.

Sex, Guys And Videotape also featured women who were 'still single and struggling to understand why'. It followed best friends Kerrie and Luciana (26 and 30, respectively) in their search for a good man, and was as tedious as Any Time Now was enjoyable.

The women could have been 13 for all the drivel they spouted. I wouldn't waste my breath talking about which men were 'serious snoggers', and as for the loud music, dreadful clubs and down-in-one drinking lifestyle they enjoyed, it was simply boring. Read a book, join a pottery class, learn a language! I don't know why they were 'struggling' to understand their single status; I had trouble spending an hour in their company; I'd need to be sedated till death us do part.

There were equally boring characters in Teenage Kicks, the first of a five-part series that this week looked at The Joy Of Teen Sex. Now, call me old-fashioned, but my idea of a good day out with the youth club is not a visit to an STD clinic.

What's wrong with going to see David Essex in Godspell, which is what my club did when I was 15?

Teenagers are having sex much younger these days and know a lot more about it. Rachel talked in detail about masturbation and vibrators, and laughed heartily about having to tell boys what to do sexually (you've got several decades of that ahead of you, love).

My conversation used to be about which Bay City Roller was the bestlooking.

Despite increased knowledge, however, sexual experience does not make people more interesting, as we witnessed here. This was yet another boring programme in which we learned nothing that we did not already know. The sight of a young teenager taking us on a tour through the different condoms her friends had given her, for example, was less illuminating than pitiful.

Whatever happened to collecting football cards?

Thank goodness in all this for The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, in which the actor and comic dons various disguises to pull stunts on members of the public. In one, a young woman told her mother and sister she had met the man of her dreams, and their horror-struck faces when they met the rapping dork were hilarious. When the woman said she was giving up school for a year to support him, the mother nearly had a coronary.

It's not a million miles from Beadle's About, but the jokes are more elaborate and do not have that ubiquitous Bearded Man From The Council that marred so many of Beadle's stunts.

It looks like the beginning of the end for Anton Meyer (George Irving) in Holby City, after Sam (Colette Brown) threatened to go to the Press about his megalomaniacal behaviour. He had sacked her for undermining his authority, which resulted in a young boy's death.

Holby City will not be the same without the brilliant Irving, although his performance has surely guaranteed him leads in other dramas for many years to come. Women everywhere love him - especially those in their 30s - and he is walking proof that it's not niceness that we like in men but power.

It's what they are attracted to in A & E's Jack Turner (the equally brilliant Michael Kitchen), too, another surgeon with a heart of steel. My only worry about the surgeons, however, is why they are always so late arriving for operations, leaving less qualified people to start the job for them. This week, James (Ben Taylor) started an operation because the consultant surgeon was late.

Maybe they're all too busy elsewhere. Judy (Katie McEwen) came out to gay Ruth (Jaye Griffiths), Robert (Martin Shaw) shared a kiss with Sunita (Parminder Nagra), and Jack proposed to Christine (Niamh Cusack). Unlike other women in their 30s, Christine gets all of the men, all of the time. And does it bring her happiness? Does it heck.