[5 September 2007]
At first glance, it’s difficult to believe a full TV show season can be built around the remodeling of one singular home. After all, ABC’s Extreme Makeover only takes on one house per episode. I can hardly imagine that reality program stretching a dream house creation over an entire year. The family would have left town in disgust long before completion. But with Grafters, the house in question is merely the series’ setting. All the drama, and there is plenty to go around, is provided by this program’s distinctive characters.
The show’s two central figures are Joe (played by Robson Green) and Trevor Purvis (portrayed by Stephen Thompkinson). At series start, these two siblings have launched their own home remodeling company, and dubbed themselves Purvis and Purvis Master Builders. There’s no stronger bond than that which exists between two brothers. But at the same time, there is sometimes no greater conflict than that which occurs between this same brotherly pair. It is obvious that Joe and Trevor love each other. But these two men have polar opposite temperaments. Trevor (the cool one) has a heart of gold, and the patience to go along with it. Joe (the hot one), on the other hand, is a restless spirit and unafraid to walk all over somebody if it gets him where he wants to go.
Furthermore, Joe and Trevor are at different ends of the spectrum when it comes to handyman talents. Joe is a visionary, with sharp tool skills, whereas Trevor is green in the ways of fixing up houses (or probably anything, for that matter). Joe nearly separates from his partnership with Trevor many times during the season, due to Trevor’s beginning builder’s bad luck, whereas Trevor is constantly at odds with Joe’s over his fast talking brother’s moral shortcomings.
In addition to keeping unity in the brotherhood, Joe and Trevor must also contend with their equally fractured employers, Paul (played by Neil Stuke) and Laura (played by Emily Joyce), the conflicted couple who own this cup-of-trembling house. Paul is an upwardly mobile salesman, whereas Laura is a good-hearted soul who works for a non-profit women’s shelter. In many ways, this married couple mirrors the Purvis brothers’ relationship. Paul is a lot like Joe, driven and sometimes unscrupulous, while Laura is empathetic like Trevor—sometimes to a fault. For instance, one young lady lies to Laura about being abused in order to get help obtaining housing, and Laura falls for her fib.
While everyday home improvement projects are usually major inconveniences for most families, few everyday Joes and Janes experience the sort of drama displayed on show after show of this British series. Along the way, these characters must deal with nosy neighbors, fistfights with rival plumbers, building code violations and money problems – just to name a few. It’s enough to make one wonder if the house in question is haunted or cursed, or worse.
In addition to the physical work at hand, each character has personal internal work to do, too. In Joe’s case, he has a pre-teen daughter who doesn’t really know him. Yet he struggles to make her warm up to him—even though he’s not the dedicated father he ought to be. Trevor also has a child, but in his case it’s a young son. At the beginning of the season, he is separated from his wife. But unlike Joe, Trevor makes great efforts to help with raising his new son. He’s not about to wait until his child is nearly an adult before he gets to know him. This bond he attempts to form, however, jeopardizes his job when he chooses to keep the boy on site with him.
Paul and Laura also have plenty of personal problems of their own. They constantly disagree on strategies for improving their house, and also come to serious odds when Laura goes around Paul’s back to obtain necessary funding from her rich father—work that cannot continue without this cash injection. When they separate from each other for a brief spell, Laura even has an affair with Joe. She believes Paul is gone for good. By season’s end they’re back together. But the viewer is left with the sinking feeling this marriage is doomed to failure. Joe is head-over-heels in love with Laura, although she feels too much loyalty to Paul to ever leave her husband for good. Eventually, it’s hard to believe her passion for Joe will not win out.
This fine series is nearly spoiled by its clumsy eighth and final episode. After the Purvis brothers finish their remodeling work, they set about going their separate ways. But not before Trevor challenges Joe to an impromptu soccer match. Trevor is convinced that he could have been a great soccer player, had he not first been seriously injured during his younger years. Joe still wins the match, even though Trevor is convinced he could have been a real contender. These soccer scenes are meant to suggest that Trevor, with a few good breaks, could have been as successful and confident as Joe. But such a notion just doesn’t ring true and feels tacked on for easy closure.
Nevertheless, one bad episode does not spoil the whole bunch. This small world of characters opens up many large cans of worms in the form of dramatic tension. Faulty foundations in real homes can be mighty dangerous. But when it comes to TV drama, such unsound bases are a godsend.