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A scene from "Meerkat Manor." (JOHN BROWN/AP)
A scene from "Meerkat Manor." (JOHN BROWN/AP)

John Doyle: Television

Where's the spirit of sweetness on TV today? Add to ...

Feast of St. Valentine. An obscure saint, I think, even to those who follow the ups and downs of the saint leagues. Time was, there were loads of people who knew their saints. My grandmother, long departed, was devoted to St. Martin de Porres, a man from Peru. Patron saint of mixed-race people and those seeking interracial harmony. How this happened is beyond me, as my grandmother was anchored down in North Tipperary in Ireland. Where "interracial harmony" meant being polite to the Protestants. She knew her saints, though.

But I digress. According to our invaluable friend the Internet, there were more than a dozen St. Valentines. The confusion and vagueness has possibly made it easier to create a racket from St. Valentine. The day has become a kind of cultural torture. In recent years, I gather, a "Screw Valentine's Day" movement has erupted. Fair enough. The day is only useful in that small children are encouraged to be sweet to others at school. Or so I'm told, anyway. That's nice, and it's nice for the ladies' undergarment industry and the skilled people it employs.

Television doesn't do Valentine's Day very well. Many shows are brimming with cute couples but watching most of them do the Valentine's Day thing is only a reminder of the shallowness of the day - are you tickled about the kids getting cuddly on 90210 or Gossip Girl tonight? Thought so. Still, in the spirit of sweetness that has become obscured in the wanton crassness, let's try to find the amiable and the lovable on TV.

18 to Life (CBC 8:30 p.m.) is always witty and has never got its due as a comedy. (It's not on CBC's list of returning shows for next season, so watch it now, or never.) Tonight's episode, written by Sherry White, is particularly goofy and full of charm. Two things are going on. Young couple Jessie and Tom (Stacey Farber and Michael Seater) have sleep troubles, which drives them both insane and temporarily apart. This is a rather sweet illumination of their niceness and naiveté, it being a reality that couples who are much older have to learn to deal with snoring and all manner of sleep issues.

The main comedy plotline has Phil's old pal Serena (Leah Pinsent) turn up for a surprise visit, on her motorbike. She is, in fact, a lesbian biker chick but wants to have a child and has a slightly insane plan to achieve this. Deft comedy does ensue, of the verbal and physical varieties. Peter Keleghan is in especially fine fettle, as his character Ben turns into a complete dork at the sight of Serena. The fact that it is Keleghan's real partner playing Serena only adds to the general drollery.

Animal Planet. Yes, the entire channel. You need cheering up and a dose of fondness? Watch pretty much any show on Animal Planet and you're transformed. The channel's signature show is Meerkat Manor (Thursdays, 7 p.m.) which chronicles, with wit and dexterity, the life and times of the Whiskers, who are families of meerkats in the Kalahari Desert. But Animal Planet always offers an alternative to the harshness of the world and what's offered by the rest of the TV racket. On Super Bowl Sunday, Animal Planet offered The Puppy Bowl, which was just dogs running around on a small, indoor football field. They scored touchdowns if they crossed a goal line with a chew toy. That's it. Don't you wish you'd seen it instead of the big noisy Super Bowl? Me too.

Glee (Tuesdays, Fox, Global, 8 p.m.) now transcends critical judgment. The darn thing has become one long, fevered celebration of singing and dancing and it makes almost all other network shows look preposterously conventional. The sheer invention of it and the unpredictability of the wobbly absurd plot lines will cheer up anybody.

Parks and Recreation (Thursdays NBC, CITY-TV, 8:30 pm) has remained very low-key, very likeable and very good. If it's off your radar, it's a mockumentary, the conceit being that cameras are following members of the Parks & Recreation Department in the fictional town of Pawnee, Ind. Amy Poehler is the star, playing Leslie Knope, deputy head of the department. But this is now an ensemble comedy, often a very smart satire of government and bureaucracy in any form.

That's a remarkably short list, isn't it? We shall have to return to the topic of seeking out mere amiability and sweetness on TV. Not the phony kind of sweetness - that's everywhere on TV, just as crassness is everywhere on Valentine's Day. Maybe my grandma had it right - never mind St. Valentine, find another saint to celebrate, no matter what your religion or general beliefs. One that encourages us to be good-natured and cordial.



Check local listings.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

 

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