Tom Sutcliffe's column

When the pulse rate flutters on a soap there are a number of stimulants that past experience has shown to be highly effective. Plugging in a life- support machine is the equivalent of two Aspirin and bed rest: a readily available remedy which is also inexpensive. But if things are more serious and you want to handcuff the audience to your programme, a swiftly organised siege has also proved useful. Like a coma, this has the advantage of being open-ended, committing the troubled editor to no particular course of action. Unfortunately Brookside (Channel 4) has already had recourse to both of these story-line pick-me-ups in the past, and it is known that their potency begins to wane if the repeat dose is too heavy.

One solution is simply to disguise the coma and the siege as something else altogether - a gas explosion, for example. Last Friday's Brookside ended with Ron Dixon inadvisedly turning on a light switch in a room filled with gas (don't try this at home). Last night began with a swift recapitulation of the events leading up to that explosive moment and then settled us in for this week's five-night figure-tweaking exercise. Max Farnham and Jacqui Dixon are now being held hostage by several tons of ominously creaking rubble, while Sinbad and little Kylie (in Brookside, "little" is an official prefix to any character under the age of 10) are presumed to be underneath a large hill of breeze blocks and reconditioned cookers. All this was only achieved by a secondary explosion, the first having proved remarkably gentle in its operations; it didn't even appear to have singed Ron, who can now hang around agonising over his own guilt in the matter (it was his botched gas connection that led to the disaster). Max and Jacqui, meanwhile, have finally found somewhere where Susannah can't get at them, in order to have a long heart-to-heart about surrogate motherhood. If you reward their shameless attention-seeking behaviour by tuning in this week, then you have only yourself to blame for what will follow - not a truly vigorous soap that depends on subtleties of acting and writing, but one that ends up addicted to the instant high of regular catastrophe.

The World Cup is still some way off, but the first tremors are beginning to make themselves felt. Gary Lineker's Golden Boots (BBC1), which is as engagingly awkward as its title, tripped the seismograph needles in my own early-warning institute, with its reminder of just how numbingly tedious soccer infatuation can be. Gary began in the Stade de France, recalling the Mexico World Cup in which he scored six goals: "They may have all been tap-ins," he said coyly, "but they won me this." He then pulled from behind his back something that looked like the result of an unholy alliance between the Franklin Mint and Manchester United's merchandising department - apparently an award for World Cup top scorers.

Only 21 of these trophies have ever been awarded, but, even so, the early winners were now fairly fragile - and their past perfect memories of hallowed goals could only be supported by black-and-white footage so blurry it could serve as a spot-the-ball competition. This programme is clearly not for me - I can just about work up some enthusiasm for the game if it is unwinding as I watch, but the result of a 40-year-old fixture between Uruguay and Argentina is a lost cause. Still, Golden Boots has its entertainments, not least the air of cheerful amateurism that prevails throughout. Running short of ancient internationals at one point, Gary filled in by going for a game of golf with President Menem, a man who pops up in so many programmes filmed in Argentina that I'm beginning to wonder whether an interview with him is a condition of press accreditation. Then again, Gary was probably grateful for what he could get; his promised exclusive with Maradona ended up as a comprehensive survey of Argentinian football journalists' backs.

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