TV Review: Call the Midwife

A painfully slow delivery of a naive and patronising moral superiority – pass the gas and air

Here we go again then, bicycling purposefully through the poverty of east London. Upright – physically and morally – and determined. Call the Midwife (BBC1, Sunday), series two. Bloody hell, there are hundreds of them, wobbling over the cobbles ... But hang on, they're all men (boo), in dark cloth caps, on their way to work at the docks. Later they'll spend all their wages in the pubs and brothels, before staggering home, empty-handed, to beat their wives and children.

Wait, though, because here in the middle of the peloton is a splash of colour and hope, a crimson beret. Jenny's on her way to work too, on her way to selflessly serve women, on her way to becoming a woman herself. It's a bumpy ride; there are lessons to be learned along the way, metaphorical cobbles. But it's not all pain. There's the camaraderie and friendship from the other midwives and sisters. Plus there's cake – a birthday cake for Jenny, malt loaf, steamed sponge pudding.

We've reached 1958. Gas and air is the big news in midwifery. I experimented with quite a lot of that during the birth of my own baby last year and found it very disappointing. It hardly did a thing. Maybe the nitrous oxide was purer back in the day, because Chummy here is having a lovely time on it.

Not so much fun is the domestic abuse, the other theme of this series opener. Jenny attends to a woman who refuses to see the nasty beast she's married to for what he really is, while Trixie and Sister Evangelina are rowed out to a Swedish ship on the Thames where a woman is in labour. Turns out she's the captain's daughter; he brings her along for the crew to enjoy, have their wicked way with; it keeps them from fighting. Really? Her father? The entire crew? Maybe if this was 958, and these were Vikings ... but 1958! Well, they are Swedish, I suppose. And men. Boo.

Oh, I don't really mind that my gender doesn't come out of Call the Midwife very well, that the men in it are all animals. Not quite all – Chummy's copper hubby, he's OK; maybe a bit of a lapdog, but at least he's not rotten to the core like the rest of them. Plus they were – are – the cause of all this pain, after all. Anyway, the captain gets a jolly good talking to from Trixie – bad man, prostituting your daughter to your workforce, don't do it again. That'll teach him.

What I mind much more is how crashingly tedious it all is. It's all very nicely shot, but there's both a dreary worthiness and a quaintness to Call the Midwife, wrapped in a kind of sentimental greetings card morality: "Love cannot ease every anguish in the world, but, tenderly applied it, can transfigure fortunes, light up faces, turn the tide ..." Pass the gas and air will you? In fact, make that a double pethidine.

Nor does the comedy provide much relief, because it's not very funny. Chummy's jolly hockey sticks chumminess, the ongoing cake thing, language mix-ups, speaking German to the Swedes, the problems of climbing a rope ladder to a ship in a skirt. God, the rope ladder scene dragged. Once Sister Evangelina finally made it to the top, it was Trixie's turn, Rope Ladder Ascent II. They should have lowered a couple of ventouses and pulled them up by the tops of their heads. That would have been funnier, and quicker. A very long three and half minutes in all for the ladder climbing, by my watch. And a very long hour of television. Yet it's the BBC's massive hit. Millions – 10 million – watch it! Either they're all wrong, or I am. So the former, obviously.

It's true that I'm not always right about everything. I was only lukewarm about the first of these new PG Wodehouse adaptations, Blandings (BBC1, Sunday). It was a fairly thin tale, about a fat pig. This one, The Go-Getter, has much more going on. David Walliams for one, as a sinister secretary, with perhaps a hint of the Third Reich and a nice line in retorts ("Don't get gay with me, Beach"). Plus dogs that like sporrans, two tons of Donaldson's Dog Joy dog food, the same amount of horse manure, a bag of rats, syrup of figs, and a lady called Veronica with the trots.

Wodehouse nuts will probably moan that it's not faithful to the letter. Oh shush. It's splendid, a riot of silliness. My worries about Timothy Spall as a toff have been allayed; he's a hotsy-totsy Clarence. And Jack Farthing as his idiot son Freddy steals the show. Ha, he's the bee's patellas.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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