TELEVISION / A Proplus a day keeps cleanliness at bay

Friday 05 August 1994 23:02

AS THE headline-grabbing bits in the new Desmond Morris series show, there is now nowhere that documentary cameras won't go. Even Mr Morris, however, might think twice before entering the house inhabited by the six students on The Living Soap (BBC 2). Blood from an unexplained source covered the floor of the fridge (causing a medical student to flee in horror), goldfish were chucked down the lavatory, and the washing-up was adorned with gob.

The Young Ones casts a shadow over this fly-on-the-grimy-wall documentary, which began its final series last night; the front of the house in The Living Soap even looked like that in the student sitcom. 'Student Grant' from the comic Viz also appeared to have been brought to life - in the form of Colin, all dreadlocks and dreadful attitude. But the documentary demonstrated that real students can be far more obnoxious than their fictional counterparts.

Colin spent his time moaning about the other residents nicking his milk and whingeing about being caught driving without insurance. 'If they were going to be lovely,' he said of the police, 'then they should let people like me off.' His letter of mitigation spun the story that he was dashing to meet some elderly people in Calais; he considered adding that they had Alzheimer's. Later, he made a very laboured attempt to put up a washing-line, because 'I do need underwear actually - the rest has got skidmarks.'

Mark the medic was not much better. In the opening titles, he was shown playing rugby and downing a pint of Guinness in one - on this evidence, a fair summary of his student life. His flourishing of a 'bag of wank' at a post-match function made you slightly concerned about his bedside manner.

Battling with revision, meanwhile, Nadia thought the answer lay in Proplus. 'You've got to be really, really - what's the word again? - really, really knowledgeable.' I'd pop those pills now if I were you.

The students' antics may have caused you to reach for the Alka Seltzer as often as they appeared to, but they certainly made for compelling television. Stephen Dodd's neat direction contrasted with the messiness of the students' lives. The struggling Spider tearfully contemplated her future in front of a poster which read 'Do Something about It.' Colin's comment that Jason 'body-builds too much' segued into footage of Jason, muscles bulging out of his T-shirt, failing miserably to remove the cork from a bottle of wine. The only duff note was struck by Brian Cant's jaunty voiceover, which sounded as if he was still on Playaway.

The picture painted by The Living Soap is inevitably selective, and those featured may (like Noeline from Sylvania Waters) feel they have been stitched up - they are, after all, young and inexperienced. Even so, you still couldn't help thinking that Paul Calf - Steve Coogan's comic creation, whose hobby is punching students - is an eminently reasonable man.

Wendy, the subject of another fly-on-the-waller, Paramedics (BBC 1), inspired much more admiration. Her training to become a paramedic was injected with phrases familiar to any keen viewer of Casualty; the air pulsed with 'cardio-pulmonary resuscitations,' and 'intubations'. Like Casualty, the programme imparted the warm feeling that our lives are safe in their hands - an impression enhanced by the narration of Kevin Whately, better known as that nice doctor from Peak Practice.

It was all very thorough, but just the tiniest bit slow. Which, after The Living Soap, left you with the sneaking suspicion that in documentary - as in drama - the bad guys have all the best lines.

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