Better sign off

24th October 1997 at 01:00
Aleks Sierz previews a new series for deaf children

When boy meets girl, what do they do? Compare star signs of course. So when Matthew tells Donna that his girlfriend of two days is a Libra and he's an Aries, it's down to her to tell him that the two signs just don't mix. "What sign should I look for?" asks a crestfallen Matthew. "Try Leo," suggests Donna.

Billed as "accessible and entertaining", The Vibe is Channel 4's new series for deaf children and is based in an underground den where six teenagers meet to mull over their problems and share their jokes - and just in case hearing children should feel left out, there's a voiceover with translations of their sign language.

The gang includes two 14-year-olds: Deborah - who's hooked on fashion and who picks up strange objects to decorate their den - and Amy, whose passion seems to be pets, such as lizards and spiders and snakes. As she says, the weirder the better. After all, Amy is a Taurus.

Then there's 12-year-old Richard, who's deaf and who never has any time to consider advice. Full of enthusiasm, he's always ready to rush from one mini-disaster to another. His star sign? "Arsenal football club," he says. Ha, ha. Led by the calm and competent Donna, who's the organiser of the group, the kids spend most of the time on mini-adventures.

After a funkadelic opening credit sequence, with its slogan of "No parents" and upbeat disco music, The Vibe begins promisingly, but soon settles into the familiar groove of a typical magazine programme - a typical mix of entertainment, information and comedy, and with about six different situations in each half-hour episode.

In the first episode, timed to coincide with Hallowe'en, the gang goes to explore a spooky castle in County Monaghan, Northern Ireland. Filmed as a spoof ghost story, the whole sequence looks like one of those very silly takeoffs of a silent movie - the target age range seems to have dropped to five to eight.

Each programme mixes rather naff material - the teenage boys who prefer playing pinball to girls are acting a bit young for their age - with some much more affirmative images. The sequence when all the children take on an assault course at an activity centre looked like much more fun and their abseiling conveyed a rare and much needed charge of excitement.

While the review of the film Sunny's Ears about a deaf girl - Sunny - and her dog - Ears - looked disappointingly groanworthy, the interview with the film's star, Pascal, was a bit more revealing. After all, at least she'd managed to learn some sign-language in order to make the film.

Every episode of The Vibe has its own celebrity interview and first off the mark is teen heartthrob Sean Maguire (Ex-EastEnders) who turns out to be good-looking enough, but a terrible bore. He admits to liking reading and playing golf - and that's about all. Still, we do find out that he's an Aries.

Given its target audience, the signing is fluid and clearly filmed despite the programmes' casual style and chaotic look. Some moments, however, almost defy even the best signers: when two of the children discuss the function of the pooper-scooper, for a moment it feels as if we're up against the limits of sign language. But no, after a heartily signed "Yeuk!", we're off on new adventures.

Here come the SBI. Dressed in raincoats and hats, these are a couple of School Bag Inspectors, trained to swoop on luckless children whose bags are not tidy enough.

Once again, this kind of spoof seems irritatingly old-fashioned, juvenile and more likely to appeal to an under-ten than a teenager.

Despite the visual gags and restless zanyness, The Vibe tries too hard to be funny and not hard enough to treat its audience as modern, meaning mature enough to appreciate a mixture of the serious and the comic. The unvarying jocular tone and studied light-heartedness, while a relief from the worthiness that once dominated programmes for the deaf, seems oppressively one-dimensional.

While the kids' music video that ends the programme is no more objectionable than hundreds of adult ones, the easy, cheap and cheerful nature of the programme lacks style and imagination and, above all, variety of tone and content. You can't help feeling that deaf children really do deserve better.

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