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Wednesday, 10 October, 2001, 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK
Babyfather plays with stereotypes
Babyfather
Babyfather sends up all stereotypes
By the BBC's William Gallagher

Babyfather likes to tease you.

In an opening moment of this new drama serial about the lives of four black men in London, there is a scene where a white jeweller who is hunched over diamond cases, turns to the younger, smarter black man and calls him sir.

It is a fair cop: you expect the white man to be the boss and you are of course absolutely wrong.


We are not being criticised, we are being invited to acknowledge the prejudice and simultaneously to just enjoy the joke

But while it does its job of tapping us on the shoulder, it is also a consciously wry moment because the show pulls it off by stacking up every stereotype it can find.

Stereotype

The white man is much older than the black one, much less smartly dressed, looks like he's spent his life in the job while the black man acts as disinterested as a trainee and he's looking away while it is the white man who is bending down over the jewels.

Somehow that makes this less a fair racial dig and more the kind of funny reversal you get in any comedy drama.

We are not being criticised, we are being invited to acknowledge the prejudice and simultaneously to just enjoy the joke.

Harewood
Babyfather stars David Harewood and Angela Griffin collecting an Emma award
This works especially as this introduction of Gus (David Harewood) is followed by another main character Linvall (Fraser James) appearing to be the boss of a hairdressing salon but being immediately revealed to be an employee of a tacky photographic studio instead.

You have to admire how that is pulled off so deftly and quickly - screenwriter Avril E Russell has a very good light touch - and it's impossible not to smile at it.

Yet the show's best gag by far is one that has been revealed in every trail for the series, every description of it, every article: Johnny (Don Gilet) has two girlfriends, both pregnant.

The revelation of that is smart and funny but has been robbed of its jolt so the greatest benefit of it comes not in that moment but later at a clinic.

It ought to be impossible to like Johnny but watching him squirm in the clinic with one girlfriend is enough to make you cringe in fear for him, you're so certain that the other girlfriend is going to come in.

Neatly, she does not so we get all the benefit of anticipation and then the pay off is when Johnny later goes with the other woman to the same clinic, for the same check-up and meets the same doctor who keeps as near a straight face as she can.

Johnny is about to be a father, Gus is a suave man yet to settle down and Linville is a young man initially more focused on his work though soon to meet an old flame.

Predictable

Unfortunately, you can predict the next part: there must be a fourth man who has already got children.

And you're right, he's Beres (Wil Johnson), who is married, has a child but is truly no more mature than the rest of his friends.

This is a slice of life drama about the four black men as they begin to cling on to one another a little too much because their friendship appears to be the only steady thing in their rapidly changing lives.

It is a new type of drama for television but oddly it is not new at all: as well as this being based on a novel by Patrick Augustus, this year has already seen one broadly similar tale in cinemas and another to come: The Brothers opened last month and Baby Boy is waiting for a release date.

Both are about four black men, both are a slice of their lives rather than a single dramatic event and both are quite good but both also feel too small-scale for cinema.

Black or white, the theme is the universal one of friendship but the treatment is intimate and a little wry, which makes you feel that television is the right place for all of them, including Babyfather.

* Babyfather is on BBC Two at 2100.

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