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Last night's TV review: Dawn Porter: Free Lover, Channel 4 - Coming Of Age, BBC3

THERE may have been a lot of love in the room, and there was certainly a lot of sex going on, but mostly there was just an awful lot of talking at the German free love commune.

My goodness, did they like to talk, and not just in answer to Dawn Porter's questions as the presenter of Dawn Porter: Free Lover set about probing the motivations of people who live together under the principles of, well, shagging each other whenever they feel like it.

The experimental Zegg community, outside Berlin, held constant, deeply unsexy meetings in which they all solemnly talked over their thoughts and feelings. A lot of olive oil was also used in a strange ritual which Porter and her crew filmed for the first time. After a warning that "body openings are taboo – don't enter", these terribly intense polygamists all stripped off in a small room and kneeled down while oil was dribbled on them and somebody read out a hoky creation myth to the strains of cheesy jazz.

What probably convinced the commune to let Porter film was her own willingness to take part, for there she was amongst them, soon squirming around in a big heap of oiled naked bodies, like snakes slithering over each other. She seemed to quite enjoy it, but concluded that the costs of a free love lifestyle were too high: all those meetings were aimed at "managing" the jealousies and hurt which the commune had not been able to eradicate. One woman in particular was clearly still heartbroken over a break-up, even as she and all concerned had other ongoing lovers.

Porter is, mostly, a very likeable presenter, apparently genuinely engaged with her subjects. She doesn't mock the participants (when she quite probably should), even admitting to being turned on or off by certain people she meets, and her willingness to plunge in is preferable to those presenters who exploit wacky people without endangering their own personas.

But her flirty, dollybird style – she is always well groomed in contrast to the free lovers she meets, who are all just slightly off-kilter looking – can seem incongruously lightweight. I didn't believe she was doing this as a personal quest, despite her claims that, having been single for four years, she wanted to find out what kind of relationship she was really looking for. Why not just admit she wanted to make an interesting TV programme?

Just before the oily snake experience, she did quail: "Why do I put myself in these situations? Why can't I just find a proper job?" Oddly enough, I ask the same questions every time a new BBC3 sitcom appears. Coming Of Age may be the worst yet, or perhaps the steady drip-torture of them is just breaking me.

It is, like most of the channel's output, supposedly aimed at teenagers, even written by one (19-year-old Tim Dawson), but I refuse to believe that even the easiest-to-please teenager is happy to accept something so horribly written, horribly acted and horribly vulgar in lieu of actual humour.

The set-up, such as it is, is about a gang of sixth-years more obsessed with shagging one another than studying (as is their teacher). One cries: "If I fail my A-levels, I'm gonna have to go to drama school!" All I can say is the cast must clearly have been highly academically gifted.

Coming Of Age, believe it or not, makes Two Pints Of Lager look like the height of wit. Actually, the makers doubtless look up to Two Pints as vintage comic genius, the Porridge or Fawlty Towers of their generation. Oh, god.

IT PAYS TO WATCH

Five, 7:30pm

The payment protection insurance scam has been with us for many years now, but do you know anyone who has benefited from it? Well, Martin Lewis finds a woman who did – by claiming back 3,000 in unnecessary premiums.

PRIDE OF BRITAIN AWARDS 2008

STV, 8pm

Carol Vorderman presents this year's schmaltz-fest recognising the unsung heroes of Britain – and a few "sung" ones, such as the returning Team GB Olympians (and hopefully they won't repeat that nonsense about 50,000 people turning out to see the parade down Edinburgh's Royal Mile).

HEROES

BBC2, 9pm

So, after the distinctly dull second half-season, they're back. Is this a big improvement? In some ways, yes, with Sylar back on form as a slavering sicko (and there's a scene involving Claire's head that many people really will not want to see, if they even broadcast it), Hiro screwing up, again, and a new cocky bad girl thrown into the mix. However, we still have the ponderous Mohinder who, even with powers, is a drag on the whole show (reciting Yeats's Second Coming in full? Oh, please, have you never heard of allusion?) and I just don't care about the Petrellis. Any of them. Part two is on BBC3 straight afterwards.

GIRLS BEHIND BARS

BBC1, 10:45pm

First of a two-part documentary looking at life in Scotland's only women's prison.

DEATH RACE 2000

ITV4, 10pm

A wonderfully stupid and quite sick "satire" by Roger Corman in which intentional killing of pedestrians while racing across the country has become a national sport. David Carradine is the cyborg Frankenstein, one of the many cartoonish racers, including Sylvester Stallone's Machine Gun Joe Viterbo, who make this one of the classic pieces of schlock cinema that pretends to be a political commentary. Also a thousand times better than the new version could possibly be.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Film4, 4:40pm

Victorian novels are, at heart, all about money. Marrying it, stealing it or, as in one of Dickens' finest, inheriting it. In this 1946 masterpiece from David Lean, John Mills and Anthony Wagner portray poor orphan Pip, who comes into money from a mysterious benefactor. His world view, though, coloured by his love for the cruel Estella, blind him to what is really going on. If you don't "get" Dickens, this is a good place to start.

Craig Naples

ARENA: THE WAUGH TRILOGY

BBC4, 11pm

With the buzz around the release of Brideshead Revisited in cinemas, this is a good time to get acquainted with the author in this first of three shows on his life and works.

 
 
 

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