Tuesday, July 10, 2001 by

The telephone always rings in the foyer of the Crossroads Motel, er, Hotel, but as usual there are never any guests to be seen. “I took a phone message about your conference facilities!” barks a crumpled senior manager, eyes like daggers at a winsome junior trainee. There’s a moment’s pause to let the full impact of this horrific revelation sink in. With a blink the action moves on, to possibly the same mud-coloured horribly over-lit upholstered staff room as before, but it’s impossible to tell. Confessions, accusations and lamentations tumble out all over the screen, thwarting anyone daring to re-assemble this patchwork plot into a comprehensible narrative … but what is officially episode 4597 still manages to pack in as much bitching, consummations and remarkable lip-trembling as 23 minutes will allow.

This reviewer has chanced upon Crossroads a number of times since its much-trailed revival four months ago, but rarely on purpose and never for a whole episode. Recently there’d been talk of one of the principal characters having already been killed off, a staple soap opera nerve-jangler which in this instance seemed to have spectacularly failed to generate even a vague stir of press interest. A few minutes into this episode it became clear it had indeed been Mrs Crossroads herself, Jill Richardson/Chance/Harvey, who’d been nailed. The woman famous for opening and closing Crossroads Motel/King’s Oak first time round had been axed and nobody seemed to care. However a quick check of the Crossroads website – “open 24 hours!” – suggested that Mrs Harvey was still very much alive and well. Was it all a cruel joke, or had she just come back to life yesterday afternoon?

Never mind, her daughter Sarah Jane had donned a specially moulded one-piece dress to parade around the identikit sets in, a creation so tight that she couldn’t do any scene sitting down. “I never took the time to tell her I loved her,” she blubbed of her mum. With a 30% stake in the Hotel, Sarah Jane shimmied from scene to scene stirring up the old guard but stumbling repeatedly over her lines. “I can look after myself,” she mouthed, emphasising the wrong words with relish. She’s already shagging the son of the rival family, the Russells. And she’s got a cardboard box in her wardrobe which makes her cry every time she touches it.

The new-model Crossroads is kind to its semi-regular viewers. It’s ridiculously easy to pick up the gist of its storylines because as there are so many you can simply choose the one most suited to your state of mind: after a bit of family feuding, perhaps, or young lust, or maybe pensioner rage of an afternoon? The storylines then blow up, blow over and blow out so damn quickly there’s simply no time to ponder the deeper significance of another potential staff revolt, or the contents of that mystery cardboard box in the wardrobe.

Plot turnover is so fast the show doesn’t need to justify initiating a fire drill inspection that only seems to happen in one room, or depicting two teenagers desperately scheming to raise some cash and five minutes later have them eagerly setting up their twin-turntable PA system. The characters forget about it, or don’t seem concerned, and by extension neither should we.

Nonetheless to sit through an entire episode of this soap requires either enough poise to keep on top of all the mint-on-the-pillow mania or a degree of steadied cool to just let everything wash harmlessly over you. The dialogue comes on like a fine drizzle that you don’t notice landing on you but within half an hour has left you saturated and thoroughly discomfited. Annoying pellets of conversation get lobbed down your neck and up your nose: “Heaven help us!” “Mark’s only loyalty is to … himself!” “Sometimes my family drive me … crazy!” If a scene was allowed to play out beyond 60 seconds there might be room for a complete sentence, or even a paragraph; but that would throw the whole programme out and mean there wouldn’t be time for a bit of jaw thrusting/nose jutting action before the end credits.

Today this was provided by the couple who own the Hotel and who’d spent the episode lurching between squabbles over who sanctioned a 50% subsidy of the upcoming staff outing. Kate Russell, who at the opening was hiding under a face pack trying to get “those endomorphine things going”, served up the episode’s cliff-hanger with a well-executed grab at her wardrobe door handle, a sudden two-second random ruffle of her clothes hangers, before announcing her departure to “anywhere but here!” As the theme music sounded its familiar opening motif, the camera stayed locked on Kate’s husband practicing a three-second display of non-verbal gurning.

The star of the whole episode was undoubtedly the great Roger Sloman. Utterly wasted in the supporting role of Rocky the head porter, Roger still found a bit of space to display some of his finely crafted tantrum throwing. First he was pissed off with the young ‘uns making a noise in the staff canteen. “Gordon Bennett!” he bawled as Des and Minty – “You and me – R’n'B!” – practiced on the decks. Flapping at the plug socket he cut off power and closed his eyes in bliss at the sound of his “favourite number – Silence Is Golden!”

But Roger topped that later on with a brave performance involving tragedy, bemusement and touching reconciliation. Something was needed to give a strong run-up to the commercial break. Mean-spirited Virginia suddenly needed to visit the dentist (just for a check-up, mind) – only she had to be taken by Bradley the handyman in a huge people carrier, who himself had to take a “scenic route” past where Roger was walking his dog, just at the very moment an old woman dropped a basket of oranges. Stooping to pick them up, Roger let go of his dog, Ebony, who ran into the path of Bradley’s car …

The impact of this strangely explicit turn of events was slightly ruined by the camera constantly cutting to an obviously different dog lying on a different road being stroked by someone definitely not Roger Sloman. Cue music. One area where the show could be improved 1000% is by ditching the horrible synthy/electric guitar arrangement by Tony Flynn of the title theme, and instead restoring a smartened up version of Tony Hatch’s original instrumentation. The ludicrous background “music” that turns up in so many scenes for no reason as if to desperately remind viewers “It’s a hotel! This is a hotel!” should also be dropped without delay.

At the moment Crossroads fails as both a well-executed, professionally made daily cheap soap opera – with enough gall to get away with dodgy acting and crap lines – and also as any sort of trashy, infamous so-bad-it’s-good affair. It’s hard to see it surviving in the long-term without settling for one or the other. To continue as it is, flouting an indifference to audience or quality that isn’t the slightest bit engaging, ironic or knowing, would for one thing be commercially unsustainable. With ITV trying to distract attention from its recent ratings flops and botched formats (Survivor, Slap Bang) by renaming itself ITV1, it’s possible that Carlton won’t want to jettison Crossroads just yet, even though it’d be a pretty painless process. For a start, it’d mean having to think up something to put in its place.

Anyway, the dog was all right in the end of course, but you’re supposed to have forgotten about that by now, right?


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