Too Much Too Young: Andrew Billen on ITV's New Drama Set in the World of Footie Glamour. (Television)

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Over Christmas, I was berated by an ITV executive for what I bad written about the network in my end-of-year column. It was, if I may paraphrase him, fine for me to praise Bob and Rose and Cold Feet, but he had to face the dismal Barb figures on Tuesday mornings. I found an echo of his criticism in an interview that Brian Park recently gave to the Radio Times. Park is the co-producer of Footballers' Wives, which has just been launched on ITV1 (Tuesdays, 9pm), and was previously responsible for the bizarre ITV prison drama Bad Girls, a kind of Within These Walls rewritten with the instinctive tastefulness of Steve Coogan's Dr Terrible's House of Horrible. "You do need your Ken Loaches," Park conceded, "but we are not trying to make television that has been informed by Oxbridge bias. We are unashamedly populist."

Well, this column is as unashamedly Oxbridge-biased as you'll get, but Iam not going to declare war on Footballers' Wives -- even though the pedant in me wishes that the screen titles didn't leave off the apostrophe, and winces at the graphic designer's decision to turn the final "s" into a dollar sign. (Anyway, given the current state of the transfer market, shouldn't it be Footballers' Wiv s?) There is, for a start, no denying that this flash trash catches a zeitgeist that worships almost equally soccer, celebrity, money and sex. The trajectory of the plot is predictable, but comforting, too. Can one, in fact, tire of watching working-class youngsters being rewarded with too much too soon?

The footballers and their wives have it all on this show -- but does that make them happy? Well, what do you think? "We're lucky bastards. We have everything you want," says Kyle, Earls Park FC's equivalent of David Beckham. This statement of the obvious is directed at his fiancee, Chardonnay Lane, a page-three model, a woman scarcely brighter or more emotionally coherent than Posh Spice herself. But their happiness does not go unpunished for long. At her hen night, a drunken salesman sets fire to Chardonnay's floral necklace, resulting in burn damage to her highly prized breasts. Not since Charlotte Bronte had Rochester blinded in the fire at Thornfield Hall has such cruel damage been inflicted on a symbol of sexual potency.

The other couples are no less troubled. The team captain, Jason, is a violent, adulterous madman married to a Lady Macbeth called Tanya (superbly played by Zoe Lucker). His idea of a quiet evening at home is to smash up the wall hangings. Her idea of a practical joke is to pretend she has taken an overdose. …