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TV UK, 30 August

Bedtime was not a bad little piece. But it's ironic that Miss Pierson's good part was based on the perilousness of her own position.

Dolan Cummings

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People often mistake my enthusiasm for Buffy the Vampire Slayer for an overzealous appreciation of Sarah Michelle Gellar.

This is embarrassing, because there is nothing worse than men who flaunt their infatuations with celebrities in the hope that people will find it endearing. It isn’t. It’s sad – in the old-fashioned sense of the word at best.

While in exile at the Edinburgh festival I was much impressed by St Nicholas, a play by Conor McPherson about a jaded Dublin theatre critic who falls in love with an actress. After making a fool of himself in Dublin, he follows the actress to London to explain himself. He fails miserably. Then he falls in with a group of sexually alluring vampires who magically bless him with charisma. It has to be the defining fantasy of every sad bastard in the world.

I was reminded of all this by Bedtime, a comedy drama shown on BBC1 from Tuesday 28 to Thursday 30 August. Bedtime took us on three consecutive nights to three adjoining bedrooms, where three stories unfolded. One of the stories concerned an aspiring actress having an affair with a TV gardener and trying to decide whether to sell her story to a tabloid to further her career. The actress was a somewhat dopey New Zealander called Sapphire, who was easily manipulated by a reporter played by the comedian Meera Syal.

Sapphire was played by Emma Pierson, an actress whose own career I have followed (but not in a sad way) since she appeared in Grange Hill a few years ago. Since then I’ve spotted her in a couple of execrable sitcoms, including the aptly named Beast. Bedtime was not a bad little piece as it goes. Restricting the action to the bedroom is an interesting reminder of how partial our view of the world outside fiction usually is. But it’s ironic that Miss Pierson’s good part was based on the perilousness of her own position.

I can’t help but feel sorry for actors – and yes, especially beautiful young actresses. The old complaint that there are too few good roles for women (and especially young women) is still true, with one or two notable exceptions. Often their only function is to brighten up dire programmes that would be unwatchable without them. No wonder so many are tempted into celebrity affairs and artistic centre-spreads in GQ, for the delectation of the sad bastards.

Friday 31 August brings the first in a new series of Absolutely Fabulous (BBC1, 9pm), the much admired BBC sitcom. Ab Fab could be cited as a programme with great roles for women. It stars Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Saunders, June Whitfield, Julia Sawalha and Jane Horrocks, who all get to pull faces and do fabulous character, dahling. Unfortunately the programme just isn’t very good. Indeed, the sense that the actors are enjoying themselves too much is part of the problem.

Ab Fab’s more basic problem is that it is a satire on a world that is beyond satire. The world of show business is so hostile to seriousness that it can take the joke only too easily. It is this lack of seriousness rather than any positive cult of celebrity that excuses rubbish and reduces actresses to eye candy. The conceit is that all you have to do to captivate an audience is to stick charismatic people in front of a camera and let star quality work its magic.

At the end of St Nicholas, the critic gets sick of the vampires and their parasitic charm, and returns to Dublin with a new passion for his work. Which has got me thinking: could there be a nice challenging part for Miss Pierson in this BBC Buffy spinoff we’ve been promised?

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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