Monday, November 13, 2000 by

Still deeply suspicious, I find it impossible to wholly recommend that you all seek out Brookside in case (as with may of its plotlines) it all goes “bang!” Yet, the revitalisation (promised by the makers for so long that OTT was actually talking about it almost a year ago) does now appear to be here. Brookside is transmogrifying at last, yet – mid change it is difficult to predict what it will become . Still burdened with a swathe of sensationalist stories to unpick and conclude, there is a compromise required as the new management is forced to honour previous commitments.

Those of you who remember Springhill might feel at home with Brookside. Luxuriant panning shots begin scenes, and soft fades conclude them and there is an eeriness to tonight’s episode that spookily resembles Sky’s supernatural soap. The tediously ridiculous ongoing deterioration of Jimmy Corkhill is dutifully advanced, yet his tale of woe serves merely as a verbalisation of the internal torment of Max Farnham (from the evidence of this episode, it looks as if it was Max who did for Susannah). Max’s shell-shocked behaviour is jarring for a soap that has in the past treated mortality as little more then a trump card. Jimmy’s narration is clumsy and contrived, yet allows us into the head of Max in a manner seldom attempted on British soaps. The dramatic devices employed seek to evoke other resonances too. As a bewildered Max Farnham stares at the trees at the top of the Close, we are reminded of the evocative opening shot of the “Sheila Grant Rape Aftermath” episode. Inviting comparison to one of the soap’s most lauded and respected periods may be a bullishly confident tactic on the part of the production team, yet it is clear that there is an intention to return the programme to something resembling these glory days.

Aftermath is the theme tonight (a soap opera having a theme?) Whilst Peggy Mitchell might be dealing with the adultery of departed Frank with typical soap stoicism, it is refreshing to see jilted Mick Johnson going at his ex-fiancĂ©e’s lover with understandable physical aggression. There is no exchange of soapy morals here, just an enraged man beating the hell out of his enemy. There is an aggression and willingness to portray the unpleasant emotional responses that situations can create that has not been seen in a British soap (outside Hollyoaks) for some years. Mick and Max are definitely part of the new Brookie.

So, the rehabilitation continues. My advice for its continuance? Well number one: ditch the Corkhills. Their family history is littered with so many ridiculous escapades (did anybody see “The Lost Weekend”?) that the characters are now hopelessly lost at sea. The best recourse would be to tie their emotional baggage around their necks and capsize the boat. Stop trying to copy or pre-empt Coronation Street and EastEnders would be suggestion number two. Hollyoaks has found a niche because it has found self-confidence and consequently refuses to follow the recipe of the big two. Brookside needs to push this envelope further and actually subvert modern soap conventions, both dramatically and stylistically. It must seek to entertain an audience disenfranchised from the prevailing soap morality. This would appear to be the plan for now and – for me – it will suffice. Brookside‘s rehabilitation is its most intriguing story in years. If Mersey TV can pull off the trick of producing two creditable soaps, then they will deserve our applause indeed. Tune in and see for yourself how this plot unfolds.


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