Television: Feeling queer? Meet the quacks who don’t want you in the pink
‘Undercover Doctor: Cure Me, I’m Gay’, with Christian Jessen, misses its chance to challenge homophobia, but the cop drama ‘Line of Duty’, starring Adrian Dunbar and Keeley Hawes, doesn’t miss a trick
Subterranean homophobia blues: Dr Christian Jessen
Dr Christian Jessen is as gay as a pair of tan leather shoes or a CD of classical music – which everyone knows is so gay. Well, maybe not everyone. Just the American therapist Jessen met who made a career out of giving “gay-to-straight” therapies. Going through Jessen’s suitcase in Undercover Doctor: Cure me, I’m Gay (Channel 4, Tuesday) the therapist – now retired – finds many signs of homosexuality. The Mozart CD isn’t just gay, he says; it’s not Christian. Religious attitudes to homosexuality fuel many of the “gay cure” therapies Jessen encounters in the southern states of the US and in the UK.
For the one-off documentary Jessen, the out-and-proud TV doctor, offers himself up as a guinea pig for various “gay cure” treatments. (Well, not really. It was more of a stunt than a scientific experiment.) First he goes to Cornell University for a test to define his sexual orientation. It measures his pupils’ response (“the eyes don’t lie”) and his “penile arousal gauge” (that doesn’t lie either) and finds that he is more aroused by pictures of clouds than by images of naked women.
Jessen looks at various pray-away-the-gay church services and $100-an-hour psychotherapies. But the most brutal treatment is also the most disturbing, not least because it was available on the NHS in the UK as late as the 1980s. Called aversion therapy, it gives medicine to induce violent vomiting while the patient watches male pornography. I suspect this documentary, with its jaunty title, started out to expose a modern brand of snake-oil salesman, but Jessen’s anger and frustration gave it some substance.
We have, in any case, been here before. Exposing the burgeoning industry of gay-to-straight “cures” in Out There, his recent BBC documentary, Stephen Fry challenged the so-called therapists every cracked step of the way, questioning their medical thinking, their results and methodology. It made for a more rigorous exposition of the “cure” proposition. Fry’s documentary started from the position that homophobia is dangerous and that the “cure” business is part of that. Jessen assumes viewers share his opinion of the ridiculousness of the gay-cure business, which isn’t a safe assumption. Rather than accepting the claims made by the “curers” in the phony undercover disguise, challenging them to explain their thinking might have been more effective.
The moment the superb crime series Line of Duty (BBC One, Wednesday) had me hooked was the shocker at the end of the first episode. In hot pursuit of the killer, young DC Trotman was thrown out of the window of a tall building – and there wasn’t a single hint, in the run-up to her grisly end, that it was about to happen. Indeed, you’d have bet otherwise, because in the hour-long episode young Trotman had been given a fully drawn, quite intriguing character – a bit racy after hours, full-on chilly professional at work – with potential to last until the end of this week’s gripping final episode. Also, Trotman was played by Jessica Raine, one of the stars of the BBC’s ratings juggernaut Call the Midwife , so, aside from anything else, she was viewer bait.
But Trotman is just one of many superb, brilliantly played characters in Line of Duty, each always referencing back – and so keeping the plotting tight – to one unassuming key role, that of Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), the boss of the police internal-investigations unit. Line of Duty ’s writer and creator, Jed Mercurio, is a fan of old-fashioned keep-’em-coming cliffhangers, with each episode serving up the unexpected.