TELEVISION / Domestic troubles

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PHIL REDMOND likes to argue that Brookside (C4) is serial drama rather than soap. In the cul-de-sac inhabited by those who make popular television drama this makes him the equivalent of a character like Max Farnham, a neighbour who is perfectly polite but can't really suppress the notion that he is a cut above those around him, the sort of man who is given to insist that his living room is called a lounge. In most weeks Brookside justifies this faintly condescending affectation - presenting domestic narratives with a depth that sets it a touch above most of its competitors.

But it is a precarious pedestal that it sits on, one that calls for considerable concentration if the programme is not to fall off. Just lately there have been some disturbing wobbles. They are, inevitably, tiny details because, in the end, it is a director's nit- picking that makes the difference between soap and drama - between a story that wants you to come back for more and a story that wants to tell the truth.

Last week, for instance, a showdown between Max and his ex-wife's thespian boyfriend was marred by the fact that both men sat down next to each other in an otherwise empty row of seats. Their conversation was amicable but fraught with tensions - of sexual jealousy and parental possessiveness - but their posture suggested that they had a friendship going back many years and a couple of drinks inside them. It may be that this was an accommodation to a tight shooting schedule or a difficult angle, but the false note had a distinctly soapy flavour.

Similarly, the direction is doing nothing to damp down the genre overtones of the two main current storylines: Ron's extra- marital affair and the return of the psychopathic Trevor to terrorise his family (essentially variations on Fatal Attraction and Sleeping With The Enemy). Trevor is a gruesomely compelling creation who combines syrupy charm with a taste for incest and battery, but in case we miss the point, his scenes have been decorated with an array of maniacal reaction shots - such that you half expect him to come through the door wearing a shiny topper and a waxed moustache.

This is what Brookside does best - a gripping narrative with a helpline attached (a number is given afterwards for anyone who needs to talk about domestic violence), but the air of responsible education is slightly mitigated by the way in which a can of weed-killer keeps being hoisted ominously into medium close- up. Does that go on to the fact sheet too?