TELEVISION / Breaking the rules of engagement: Tristan Davies on the first episode of Linda La Plante's controversial new drama serial, Civvies

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Soldiers have now joined the massed ranks of professionals - doctors, bankers, psychiatrists and ad-men (but curiously no dentists) - who are now regularly paraded on primetime drama. Soldier Soldier began a second series this week with the cheeky chaps (and chapesses) of the King's Fusiliers about to be posted from Germany to Hong Kong. And last night, Lynda La Plante's Civvies began a tour of duty with ex-members of the Parachute Regiment as they took their first clumsy footsteps into civilian life.

It's hard to know which would make the more depressing viewing for the thousands of soldiers currently waiting for their marching orders as the army reduces in size: Soldier Soldier as a reminder of what they will be missing - travel, companionship and windsurfing only occasionally interrupted by the unwelcome attentions of girls or guerrillas - or Civvies, where Civvy Street is a one-way road to a life of crime. The Parachute Regiment has already attacked Civvies for its likely 'demoralising' effect on regular troops, which is to say nothing of the effect that its opening scene may have on the morale of regular customers of Irish drinking clubs.

Frank Dillon (Jason Isaacs) and his mates celebrated his voluntary discharge from the Paras with a few pints in the pub followed by a 'bit of Paddy-bashing'. Frank, as the innocent Irishmen he left groaning in the gutter will confirm, is tough. But he's tender too. Splattered in blood, he dragged a wounded comrade from the kerbside battlefield to the safety of his home, where his wife was waiting for him. OK, so he's not much of a husband, but he is a family man. Before losing consciousness he found time to creep into his sons' bedroom, pick up an Action Man (to which he bears an uncanny resemblance) and slip it gently between their sleeping bodies.

Subtle and sophisticated Civvies ain't, but then neither is Frank. Determined to stick to the straight and narrow in Civvy Street, he nevertheless accepted an invitation from a fellow ex-Para to join a 'firm' (if you get my drift) of 'insurers'. It began, very slowly, to dawn on him that, what with having to tape several inches of pounds 10 notes to his thigh, he was not going to be dealing with Commercial Union. When later he shouted, 'Don't try to tell me this is legit. It's got nothing to do with insurance,' you felt perhaps he should have mentioned his misgivings before the undercover policeman was beaten to death.

You also wondered what Frank had to complain about. Civilian life may not be all it's cracked up to be, but already he was on to a nice little earner in a job that seemed uniquely suited to his talents and intellect, with more action in a week than the average soldier sees in a year. He has a loyal wife, a devoted friend prepared to jump to his every command without a murmur of complaint (well, maybe a murmur, as he's had his voice-box blown away). Frank seemed well shot of the army, which he thinks is full of softies anyhow ('They want to change it all. To clean the image up. Yes-men, that's what they want now, not soldiers . . .').

The director, Karl Francis, kept the action yomping along at such a pace that there was barely time to take stock of its deficiencies. But they were legion. Civvies has the grainy, down-earth look of La Plante's Widows and Prime Suspect, but little substance. Corny lines ('It was my life . . . my lads,' moaned Frank), toe-scenes of bonded masculinity (Frank snuggling up on the sofa with an old comrade to relive military memories with the aid of a photo album and Dire Straits' 'Brothers in Arms') and faulty logic (you couldn't help thinking that if he really wanted the quiet life Frank should get himself down to the nearest recruiting office and re-enlist) suggest that La Plante's skills as a story-teller have gone temporarily AWOL.

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