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john doyle: television

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate."

Indeed. We're talking comparisons here and we're talking Brit TV here. Whatever happened to good British TV? Recently, after watching yet another Jane Austen adaptation - a rather dozy, multipart version of Emma - and a way too-cute sequel to Cranford, I had to ask myself a question: "Is British TV dead, dying or just snoozing?" I was, by the way, in the house at the time. Talking to yourself outside is a fraught matter. It happens, though. "Oh that Jack Bauer, he's a caution," I said to myself while walking the street recently. Anyway, back to British TV and the slow decline into tedium therein.

Turns out I'm not the only one thinking about it. The other day, the TV critic for the Daily Mirror told his readers that British TV is rubbish.

Now, the Mirror is not the sort of paper that tends to be read much here or in the United States. The Guardian, it ain't. On Monday, the lead story in the Mirror was about the crisis striking England's national soccer team following the revelation that captain John Terry had an affair with the ex-girlfriend of a teammate. Also featured was a photograph of singer Lily Allen lying on the ground after a concert performance in Australia. The Mirror's story was this: "Next time you step over a tramp in the street, lift up their hat and check there's not a famous popstar under there. Because if there is one, you can totally take a picture and then make a lot of money out of it. Oh, and maybe help them up if you can be arsed." Seriously, that's an extract transcript.

Jim Shelly, the Mirror's TV guy ("The Mirror's TV man Jim Shelly gives 110 per cent," it says in big, block capitals), asserts that U.S. viewers have superior taste to British viewers. He begins with, "It's hard to believe now, but in years gone by there was nothing we Brits loved more than telling ourselves that American people had less taste than we did - especially over TV."

Then he lists the great American series newly arrived over there or going into new seasons: 24, Desperate Housewives, Heroes, Nip/Tuck, The Simpsons, Glee, The Good Wife, Modern Families, Breaking Bad, Nurse Jackie, Dexter, Weeds and Californication.That's 13 shows. In the case of Nurse Jackie, he says: "It's so good it's hard to tell if you're watching a drama that's funny or a comedy that's raw and edgy."

Ultimately, he asserts that Mad Men is "the best, most polished, program on TV." He compares it with a British series about the advertising racket called The Persuasionists and says, " The Persuasionists treats its audience as morons. Its utter mundanity makes you ashamed." Eventually he asserts that most popular British TV shows are "are painfully dull and so dated."

Tough words. But true. Two popular British shows air tonight. There's Doc Martin (Vision, 9 p.m.), a series about Dr. Martin Ellingham (Martin Clunes), still harrumphing his way through life as the local doctor in a Cornwall village. The gist is this: Dr. Martin was a successful surgeon in London, but developed a phobia: Couldn't stand the sight of blood. So he relocated and is now the GP in the yokel-filled Cornish village of Portwenn. At this stage in the series, which has run for five seasons, he is thinking about going back to London. But, you know, there's a local lass he has had a relationship with, and the yokels are charming, for all their coarseness. The show and the village both suffer from a major dose of cutes, something that our hero cannot escape or cure.

New Tricks (TVO, 9 p.m.) is immensely popular with some people. It's about the Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad (UCOS), composed of retired police officers. They are required to reinvestigate unsolved crimes. Like Doc Martin, it is highly formatted. It's rigorously predictable, always the same. That's what some viewers find cozy. But "cozy" has run rampant in British TV. It has been the death of it. British TV stopped developing and moving forward years ago. "Lovely and more temperate" is what it is. Interesting, it isn't.

Check local listings.

Also airing:

Republic of Doyle (CBC, 9 p.m.) benefits from some great guest-star turns tonight. The comely Terri (Inga Cadranel, who fits the part perfectly) hires the Doyle boys because she believes her business partner, Ned (Mark Critch from This Hour Has 22 Minutes, very good in a dramatic role, with bits of sly comedy thrown in), is cheating on her. One thing leads to another and it turns out Ned is involved in a rum-smuggling racket. This leads Jake and Mal Doyle to the French Island of St-Pierre to meet Mr. Big in the rum racket: Maurice Becker (Gordon Pinsent). Pinsent is in fine fettle here, thoroughly enjoying himself as the vicious old sea dog of a rum runner. Also, of course, various attractive women are offered the chance to enjoy the charms of Jake Doyle.

Super Bowl Greatest Commercials (CBS, 8 p.m.) is for those who complain, irrationally, that on the Canadian broadcast of the Super Bowl, they don't get to see the commercials that are talked about in the U.S. media. The special will count down the 10 best Super Bowl commercials from the past 10 years, and offer a sneak peak of some of this year's allegedly hot items. An hour of American commercials, if you want it.