Television review

LAST NIGHT
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Tiger Bay (BBC1), a wanna-be soap, currently mas-querading as an eight-part drama in the hope that it will bypass the viewer's defences, began last week with one of those busy episodes in which everyone introduces themselves. Some loose ends were still being tied up this week; Bernie, for example, fresh out of Wandsworth and provoking very mixed reactions in his old manor, still has to explain why Maria looked as if she'd swallowed a frog when he pitched up in her shop. The writers settled for the fairy-tale gambit, one of those scenes in which characters archly convert their past history into a fable and then play storytime with the one person who knows it all already. "So I fell in love with the girl next door and the girl next door fell in love with me," says Bernie. "Trouble was this girl next door was already married to someone else. But that wasn't such a problem, cos she said she was gonna leave him." "Stop it," says Maria, clearly embarrassed by this somewhat ramshackle narrative device. She says she doesn't regret staying with her husband, but we know she isn't telling the truth because we've just been shown him, tipsily belching up the last of his gambling winnings in a gust of beery breath.

The setting is a promising one - Cardiff's dock area, which is currently undergoing the sort of property makeover which converts dereliction straight into desirability. Warehouses are turned into stacks of pied a-terres and disused canals into "waterside frontage", thus resulting in a healthy mix, for a soap anyway, of the aspirant and idle, the doing-well and the dispossessed. There are gangsters on the make, mixed marriages, business rivalries and family problems. But there isn't really much to say about it, yet - except that it presents a surprisingly benign version of inner-city social strife; when Salim smashes the ghetto-blaster of the two youths who have just taken his BMW for an unwanted spin, for example, their only response is to cast looks of affronted surprise in his direction. This practised hauteur - not conventional, I would have thought, from those who have just been "dissed" by their social enemy - adds another variant to the large repertoire of punctuating expressions which the drama employs. What I have in mind here is the two-second, silent close-up of an actor's face with which soaps like to round off a scene. Tiger Bay has already given us Furious, Stricken, Moody, Alarmed, Menacing and Pensively Anxious (the latter having been provoked by the pregnancy tester which fell out of Beth's handbag in last week's episode - thus alerting the more sensitive viewer that there might be a fertility storyline in the offing).

Changing Rooms (BBC2) is back for another series, one designed to provoke "decor domestics" all over the country - the police jargon for the violent affray that breaks out when you discover that your neighbour has painted your living room black and cemented red reflector discs onto the ceiling in the shape of a pentagram. In my dreams, I know - because the very selection process for this interior-design game-show is designed to rule out truly inflammatory collisions of taste. At the very least, you must share with your next door neighbour a common sense of what counts as "fun", and even if that doesn't guarantee that you'll love the curtains, you're not likely to throw a screaming fit on screen.

My hopes were higher this week, though, because the programme came from the Isle of Dogs (diplomatically described as "the U-bend" by Carol Smillie), a location where council house and yuppie starter home can often be found side by side. Things looked even more promising when Colin and Deborah's bedroom was painted khaki with added copper leaf, a style note that didn't quite match her description of the couple as "Hyacinth Bouquet people". "It's gross, innit?" said Handy Andy, the programme's resident odd-job man. Deborah herself could not speak for a full minute after the unveiling, but then let us all down badly with what sounded like a long and placatory euphemism for "the redecoration starts tomorrow".

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