Television review

Candor in the face of hard times

Salon owner Deborah Boles (with Emma Nelson) gets her clients to open up about how the economy has affected them on PBS’s “Close to Home.’’ Salon owner Deborah Boles (with Emma Nelson) gets her clients to open up about how the economy has affected them on PBS’s “Close to Home.’’ (Claire Holt
By Sam Allis
Globe Staff / October 27, 2009

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“Close to Home,’’ which airs tonight on Channel 2, promises a look at how the recession has hit New York’s Upper East Side, the city’s epicenter of monied exclusivity. We first see symbols of affluence - quick teases of a Rolls Royce, a Porsche, and a couple of doormen idling in front of an apartment building - and lick our chops at the expectation of couples agonizing in their Park Avenue triplexes over how many fewer trips in their Gulfstreams to Cap d’Antibes they’ll be forced to make.

But that’s not what writer/director/producer Ofra Bikel delivers. We witness, instead, something more interesting: how the recession has devastated people who had been comfortably off, some who had made large money, still others who had struggled to build their own small businesses. They’re all underwater financially.

Bikel has come up with an inspired device to tell these stories - spending time at Deborah Hair Designs, the salon located on the Upper East Side she has frequented for years. The documentary focuses on other clients who have their hair cut by owner Deborah Boles, who agreed to let Bikel and her crew shoot in the salon for a week.

Boles started the business in 1985 and has since built up a loyal clientele of women, and some men. The place has the air of a coffee klatch, where old friends speak honestly to Boles about their new burdens and fears as they sit in the chair. Bikel occasionally asks questions off-camera, but Boles is the primary interviewer.

We hear one woman talk about how she finds herself relying on her mother to get by. “I’m almost 40 . . . This is just embarrassing,’’ she says. “I feel like a child.’’ There is “the Porsche lady’’ who had to sell her car to pay for health insurance. “Honestly,’’ she says, “I can tell you that losing the car was worse than getting divorced.’’

One highly paid executive who lost his job recalls his firing: A superior came into his office at the beginning of a day and told him he’s done, and, further, that she’d like to have him gone in 10 minutes. His ride home was brutal: “I sat in the car for about 20 minutes or so, and just sat there.’’

There is nothing remotely unique about these stories, and they may appear tired to some. But these people pierce you with their candor, and it is this candor that elevates the program to solid viewing.

One of the saddest stories is about a former carpenter in Florida who was fired as his wife was dying in a hospice. He ended up losing his house, his belongings strewn on the street - don’t you just love banks - and, along with three other men, rents rooms from Boles’s sister. She was forced to take in renters as she struggled to keep her house in Florida. It looks like she’ll lose it anyway.

Sam Allis can be reached at

CLOSE TO HOME “Frontline’’

On: WGBH (Channel 2)

Time: tonight, 9-10

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