Picks and Pans Review: Eastenders

updated 01/11/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/11/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

PBS (Sat., Jan. 9, check local listings)

B

It's only fair. The rest of the world watches our soap operas, so we should be forced to watch theirs. Here is Britain's fave soap. In fact, it is the most popular series ever in the U.K. Better yet, Princess Diana is a fan. But it is from Britain and the BBC—so that means that this will be a serious sort of sudser. This one won't have the kind of characters who go around creating fragrances for each other. This one won't have cliff-hangers set in Moldavian castles. And that's good news. Just because this is a soap, that doesn't mean it has to be populated by filthy-rich bitches. And just because the EastEnders are Brits, that doesn't mean they have to be twits. No, this is a series about real people, regular blokes and women from an unlovely London neighborhood who struggle with gritty problems: unemployment, racism, crime and cheating mates. Those are the traumas tackled in the 2½-hour premiere (in which a subdued Tracey Ullman plays hostess, explaining who's who and translating some of the cockney slang). In the next year or two, every weekday night, EastEnders will take on more British social issues. And that poses a big question: Should we care about the trivial travails of a neighborhood an ocean away? Music is a universal language. So is sex. But is misery? Without sleaze to amuse and titillate us, I'm not sure we have cause to keep coming back to a soap opera every night. If you do keep coming back, EastEnders will reward you with lots of plots packed into every show and plenty of likable characters. I like what I see so far. But I doubt that it will become habit-forming.

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