Judge Kristin Munson wants to know why none of her builders have had backsides you could bounce a bottlecap off of.
Blood may be thicker than water, but can it survive paint and plaster?
If I had to pick a word to describe Grafters it would be earnest. This isn't exactly fair. It's not an especially dark or dour show, just more willing to show the underlying flaws in all its characters. They're certainly an antidote to all the middle-class eccentrics and mad country folk that usually make it across the pond. Over eight episodes of Grafters: The Complete First Season, though, their attitudes can wear thin. Along the way everyone gets plastered, nailed, screwed, and other humorous construction euphemisms as well.
Facts of the Case
The Purvis brothers are barely in the construction business and already they have a job renovating an entire house. What they haven't told lovebird employers Paul and Laura is that the only DIY experience they have between the two of them is crafting cabinets and painting kitchens.
Now Trevor and Joe are dealing with flood, firing, and family problems as well as interfering neighbors, surprise inspections, and a feuding husband and wife. When Trevor blows up the bosses' stove, their building career is nearly over before it begins, setting off a long-simmering sibling rivalry. It's a race to see if they can get the house finished before they finish off one another.
There's some confusion on what Grafters actually is. IMDb calls it a mini-series while Koch says it's a season. Either way, the plot arc loosely revolves around the renovation project with the deconstruction and reconstruction of various relationships working in direct opposition to the work being done on the house. Destroying brings the characters together while creating drives them apart. The theme that Geordies and yuppies share the same problems, only the social spheres are different is rather simplistic. Laura (Emily Joyce, My Hero) can rely on her millionaire dad when she and Paul (Neil Stuke Game On) are strapped for cash, even if her hubby hates it; Trevor has to hustle and fib to keep his son fed.
The show's realistic approach is both its main strength and its weakness. Like life, the mood can turn from madcap to maudlin in an instant and, while you may not like that everyone's out for themselves, even at the expense of family, it's hard not to identify with even the repugnant characters. Who hasn't taken a few shortcuts at work, or padded their resume at some point in their life? Or lied about their abilities, even to themselves?
Joe (Robson Green, Reckless) is a lazy cad who gets by on charm and chest hair, Trevor (Stephen Tompkinson , Ballykissangel) a devoted family man verging on the edge of doormathood. Because Joe's the oldest he feels he has to look after Trevor, mostly by leaving him the work and then assigning him the blame. In reality, Trevor is infinitely more mature, looking in on Joe's daughter more than Joe does, and eager to be a true grafter (Britspeak for laborer), not just a wheeler-dealer. The relationship between the two, bordering on toxic, rings uncomfortably true.
The story, however, sometimes feels like it's treading water, with Joe and Trevor breaking up and making up an untold number of times, often in the space of one episode. Each man's personal growth is hampered by their own stubbornness and the need to fill out eight hours. Just when it looks like the series is going to be one tedious squabble after another, loudmouth cousin Simon (Darren Morfitt, Dog Soldiers) comes on the scene in episode two to keep the boys in separate corners and provide some much-needed comic relief.
It's not all doom and gloom; the series has its lighter moments, and the humor is far more memorable, if only because all the bickering bleeds together. Joe is a little too handy a handyman and an angry husband from a previous job is making their current one a nightmare. There's also an escalating war with some local plumbers, complete with a Wild West showdown. The jaunty theme (sadly absent in the second season) ends every episode on an optimistic note and there's a refreshing abundance of naked male bottoms.
Tompkinson's Trevor may be the heart and soul of the show, but Neil Stuke is the cast's unexpected standout. It's not easy to play a sweet, optimistic character without making him a soppy mess but Stuke has the harder job of the two. Clearly, Paul's meant to be a workaholic jerk but Stuke gives him enough humanity to make him sympathetic, especially considering he's not a suspicious snob, he really is getting cheated left and right.
This ten-year-old program sports the same faded look as most '90s British dramas, but the transfer is solid. When you get bored of Joe and Trevor's constant bouts you can count the actor's pores. The Dolby Surround is a bit of overkill for a dialogue-driven drama, but the few times construction does get underway the noise fills the room.
I have issues with the rest of Koch's presentation. The first thing you see when you slide out the gatefold is a production photo that spoils a massive—and I mean massive—late-season plot twist. Call me crazy, but I don't like the packaging material ruining surprises for me; that's what my family is for. Four of the episodes on my set had play issues. All three discs froze at some point, never for longer than ten seconds, but enough to be annoying. These were not check discs, but the final product, something that could easily have wound up on a store shelf or in an online vendor's warehouse. Misleading chapter menus are the closest thing the set has to an extra.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
To counteract the boys' boorish behavior, virtually all Grafters female characters are written as short-tempered shrews. The few that aren't two-timing their men are accused of it, making them even more bad-tempered. They're always cutting the men off with nasty retorts, particularly when they're apologizing or trying to do the right thing, simply to buy the male leads some sympathy. It's especially hard to fathom Laura's appeal, since she's the most brittle, bullying person you'd never want to meet. Whenever she doesn't get her way, she picks a fight, has a tantrum, or runs off crying, sometimes full-tilt through a busy office.
When I originally saw this in '99, I don't remember finding it so bleak, the characters so casually mean. I think the problem lies with the way I watched. Spread out over multiple viewings, the insults and in-fighting fade into the background; condensed into one or two, it can be nearly insufferable.
Complicated characters and realistic relationships, coupled with the satisfaction of characters getting called on their hypocrisy and the avoidance of tidy endings makes Grafters an entertaining view. Just don't try to watch it all at once. Unfortunately, the no-frills release and technical problems make it a "try before you buy."
Koch Vision is guilty of shoddy workmanship.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
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