Television Review

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The Independent Culture
THE BUILDERS (BBC1) looks like a building site. A fortnight into the job, it's a complete mess: storylines strewn all over the place, heaven knows how they'll ever get the work finished, and to be honest, you're looking forward to the moment they get out of your home for good. Welcome to another docu-soap with a sibling in the drama department. After Holiday Reps came Sunburn, a drama about holiday reps. And after Grafters, a drama about builders, meet The Builders. Television's well of ideas has run so dry that you can shortly expect a docusoap called The Continuity Announcers. With a matching four-part drama to follow, called And Now for Something Completely Derivative.

The construction industry and the docu-soap were made for each other, much as Sodom was made for Gomorrah. Each brings out the worst in the other. Builders are mostly readymade "characters" for whom a camera is just another ear to gabble into - perfect for the docu-soap that can't be bothered to work for results. One of the builders the programme follows is a tree trunk called Swanny in Suffolk.

Beryl Bainbridge, the new scourge of regional diversity, wouldn't approve of him, with his accent as wide as a barn-yard door. And he's not abashed to admit that he fancies the arse - which he occasionally fondles - off the farmer's wife he's working for.

This form of TV show is also a sucker for the specious deadlines that are, ahem, built into any construction schedule. Will this job be done before it rains? Will that job be done before the brickie goes to the football match? In one of the storylines there was even a house that had to be completely decorated in 12 days. You were never actually told why - the programme was far too excited by the idea of a slow, tense countdown to zero hour. To make it even more perfect, the house was owned by a gravel-voiced, ramrod actor, who stalked the premises barking orders as if auditioning for the part of a Latin American despot. I smelt an almighty rat. Viewers may recall a carbon-copy race against the clock in the last episode of Grafters. You never trust builders, and I don't much trust The Builders, either.

Incidentally, this thirst for deadlines has thrown up an annoying syntactical oddity. It doesn't matter who's doing the voiceover - in this case, Arthur Smith, first on the list to voice all programmes about bluecollar workers - but the construction is always the same. "Six o'clock, and the cement lorry still hasn't arrived"; "Seven o'clock, and the team have been working all night." Half past eight, and isn't there something better on Channel 5?

Of course the heightening of tension is entirely bogus. Building work is painfully slow and undramatic. There's not much The Builders, held together by endless rivers of cement and vast oceans of tea, can do to mask that. The one genuinely funny moment was when one of the workmen reported that his other half had just had a baby. Apparently, she was in labour for only 35 minutes. Even builders' wives can meet a deadline when they want to.

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