TELEVISION / All that glisters is not gold: Giles Smith on the BBC's new sex, sun and soap opera, Eldorado

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The Independent Culture
WOULD you swap two episodes of sad old Coronation Street for one episode of the BBC's new and shiny Eldorado? That was the consumer conundrum devised by last night's schedules, as BBC 1 pushed a new soap on to the shelves and ITV worked itself into a lather. The BBC wanted to welcome us to Spain, introduce us to the Lockheads, Trish Valentine, Joy Slater and all the other ex-pats now living in holiday-land. And ITV wanted to wreck the party. Their spoiler operation included the Coronation Street double pack and a screening of Three Men and a Baby. They were practically offering us money not to watch.

But who could have taken them up? The unbeatable and much trumpeted Eldorado formula was basically sex, sun, and then a bit more sex. True to expectations, Tracy's underwear hit the ground less than a minute into episode one. Admittedly it was flung down into the street along with the rest of her luggage by Marcus Tandy, the town's shark and heartbreaker, but it established the pattern for underwear throughout the episode, and, presumably, throughout the series.

Underwear manoeuvres by and large replaced narrative development. Everyone was getting excited about the imminent return of Bunny Charlson, a local character with (on the evidence of the videos they were planning to screen at his welcoming party) a figure like a Bouncy Castle. Then Charlson phoned ahead to say he had just got married. And - what do you know? - the lucky lady turned out to be a 17-year-old sizzler. Cue much dropping of jaws; and in later episodes, presumably, much dropping of boxer shorts.

In EastEnders, only Den was due the accolade 'Dirty'. In Eldorado, you can pin it on virtually anyone who walks into the frame. The costumes were by Christopher Marlowe, but the script wasn't. 'I'd like to give her one, the Swedish bird,' said Dirty Drew. That sort of comment inspired Dirty Trish to say (with Dirty Joy joining her for the last line, to indicate it's a bit of a catch-phrase between them), 'All men are a waste of time; you've just got to find one with a nice bum.'

British soaps these days have the air of public information films about them, so it's a radical departure to show people wantonly putting it about. Not that Eldorado was altogether without an issue; Tracy, given that brisk overhaul by Dirty Marcus, was six weeks pregnant. But it appeared almost quaint of Eldorado to remind us about pregnancy, much under-rated these days as a potential side-effect of sex.

Apparently shorn of the cares of the world, Eldorado may just have been revelling in its newness. Doubtless, some sort of sun- tan / cancer scare awaits us. In the meantime, the programme offers the same reassurances as a package holiday. There's a branch of Texas homecare and the bar serves bitter in pints. There is no culture clash, because there is no culture for anyone to clash with. Eldorado only cuts loose from the opposition in one respect: other soaps are class-bound according to their locations, but this one, essentially rootless, has access to a fuller social mix. 'OK?' is pronounced with full vowels and 'All right?' without them.

Still, the central figures may be drawn from a broad spectrum, but they don't resemble real people anywhere near as closely as they resemble characters from soap operas - in fact, they looked like characters from soap operas on holiday. They held up over half an hour, but how will they look in half a year? How long can you maintain an interest in someone else's holiday snaps?

(Photograph omitted)