'Shoestring, Taggart, Spender, Bergerac, Morse. What does that say to you about regional detective series?" Alan Partridge once asked Tony Hayers (commissioning editor of BBC TV). "There's too many of them?" Hayers suggested. "That's one way of looking at it," stammered Alan. "Another way of looking at it is, people like them, let's make some more of them."
I felt a bit like (the fictional) Hayers as I watched Switch -- ITV2's Partridge-like attempt to gatecrash a "supernatural drama" party that's already jammed to overflowing. The fact that it's being produced by the team behind the much-admired Being Human hinted at some promise, but the raw ingredients didn't look particularly enchanting.
The press release spelled out the recipe. "Take four girls, add some flirting, stir in a quantity of heady rebelliousness... several spoonfuls of true friendship and Stella, Jude, Grace and Hannah are born." So far, so Sex and the City, but there's a twist. The gals are witches, with each member of the four-part coven representing an element (Captain Planet-style). I think you actually need 13 witches to form a coven, but the TV commandment stating that women can only ever assemble in groups of four is inviolable.
It's pretty whimsical stuff, with characters sketched out in broad strokes, but there are moments of charm. After career-minded Stella (Lacey Turner) accidentally microwaves her tyrannical boss's cat, the gang are forced to revive it. "The founding sisters would be so proud of us," sighed Grace (the excellent Phoebe Fox). "The founding sisters never worked in advertising!" countered Stella.
When these tensions between witchcraft's traditional roots and the realities of surviving in a big city were explored, Switch teased viewers with something more substantial. Caroline Quentin, as Grace's Wiccan mum, chastised the girls for missing solstice, neglecting the old ways and running a "part-time coven". "I needed a break," moaned hippyish Hannah. "A break?!" blared Quentin. "You're a witch, love, not an IT consultant!" A touch more thematic meatiness wouldn't go astray (to counteract all the fluffiness) but this was far more fun than expected.
From pleasant surprises to unwatchable car crashes. Friday's fist-chewingly unfunny second episode of Me and Mrs Jones confirmed the dismal impression left by episode one. Sarah Alexander plays Gemma Jones, a frazzled single mum who finds herself falling for the charms of her son's friend Billy (Robert Sheehan). She's also being wooed by the smarmy Tom, while trying to handle her hapless ex-husband Jason (the ever-terrible Neil Morrissey).
The comic observations on "yummy mummies" and the quirks of modern dating are drearily hackneyed. The performances (Sheehan excepted) are almost universally overblown, with much eye-rolling and gurning. The ludicrous Inca, Jason's Swedish partner, is a stock "comedy foreigner" character drawn straight from the most egregious seventies sitcom. A shrewish and manipulative "ice queen" who controls every aspect of her man's life. It's a depressingly misogynist caricature. One that was, somewhat astonishingly, written by two women (Oriane Messina and Fay Rusling).
The lives of "dysfunctional" families have long been grist to the mill of reality TV. You know the routine. Stick a camera in their faces. Watch them cry, fight, hug and cry some more. Involve a psychologist to pass the whole thing off as a legitimate intervention while simultaneously satisfying voyeuristic viewers who dig a bit of misery tourism.
Teen Trouble: Fix my Family didn't stray too far from the established template, packing three families off to the wilds of Ulster for a spot of conflict-resolution.
"I've been really stressed out and moody and angry," says 17-year-old Naomi. "Half the time I don't even know why."
The thought was left hanging, as if Naomi's moodiness and anger was an inexplicable conundrum that the clinical psychologists would eventually puzzle out. Here's the answer: She's a teenager (and a normal one at that).
Me and Mrs Jones hiiii
Teen Trouble: Fix my Family hiiii