Frances Grant: Spells of fear and loathing

Witches are suddenly swarming all over the telly, and I don't mean that trio of sisters from Charmed. The undead and other foes of Paige, Piper and co are innocuous compared to the sinners the new crop of warrior princesses have in their sights.

Forget demons and warlocks: the enemies of tele's new generation of kickass females are overweight people with bad diets or those well-known criminal types, people who look older than they should.

The Buffys and Dark Angels have sensibly put up their kick-boxing feet. These saviours of the world now appear quaint compared to what the diet and self-transformation witches get up to. Not to mention your everyday, family-swapping housewife.

But before we get to the fat-fighters, the most outrageous women of the week have to be that cache of inmates in Larkhall prison. The Bad Girls may be incarcerated but, in a move which has rightly incensed many viewers, they succeeded in booting Waking the Dead off the schedules in the middle of a two-part story. How's that for TV One treating the humble viewer with contempt?

Where's a witch to cast a really nasty curse or spell when you need one?

Well, they're busy, it appears, fighting the West's obesity problem.

We are told that local show Eat Yourself Whole, on TV2, isn't modelled on the British show You Are What You Eat, screening on Prime. We agree. "Modelled" indicates far too tenuous a link. "Clone" would be a much more accurate description, down to their respective nutritionists' long blonde hair, the cupboard searches, diagnostic tests, ritualistic laying out of how much bad food the sinners ingest, etc.

No wait, there are a few differences - New Zealand diet witch Nicky is slightly more shrill than her counterpart Gillian McKeith, who exhibits more of a Scottish, granite-faced sternness. The British show, however, with its colonic irrigations, is more unpleasantly faecal.

But the food harpies aren't a patch on the virago presiding over Ten Years Younger in Ten Days, style Nazi, Nicky Hambleton/Jones (a slash, instead of a hyphen, makes a double-barrelled surname look younger, presumably).

Last week's victim Bernie Sharp was a single mother and maximum-security prison warden, jobs which would put a few wrinkles on anyone's face, you would think.

But on this show no excuses are made for the badges of life experience. Sharp had to undergo the ritual public humiliation of standing in the main street and having passers-by guess her age.

After she had been done over by a Harley St High priest of Botox, and chastised by a bevy of hair and makeup people for her "falling over face and werewolf" eyebrows, Sharp was ready to confess: "I need help," she wailed. 1984's Room 101 is a tranquil oasis compared with this show.

No mercy shown, Sharp was marched off and a new wardrobe, hairdo, mouthful of crowns, 60 injections in the face, 470 eyebrow hair-pluckings later, she was pronounced presentable.

Meanwhile, over on Trading Spouses, women are back in the kitchen - correction, someone else's kitchen, where someone else's offspring kindly tells them why they're having trouble adjusting.

"You're upper middle class. We're lower middle class." No wonder the swapped wives have faces like thunder.

It all has you longing for the good old days, when the bossy, stroppy females devoted their attentions to simple hazards such as neck-sucking vampires, terrorists or evil, gene-manipulating global corporations. Innocent children and prison warders with wrinkles need saving. Come back Buffy, all is forgiven.

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