Brit Fix: Coupling
This folks, is what we call British Television for beginners:
But just because it’s entry-level fare, doesn’t mean it ain’t damn fine. In fact, I can heretofore promise you that I’ll never foist a program upon you simply because it is British. My rigorous standards include at least two combinations of the following: British, Good Looking Guy, Funny – intentional or otherwise, historical drama, Good Looking Guy, can connect to Russell T. Davies in no more than three moves.
This show, written by the genius of getting something three-quarters of the right (THAT’S RIGHT. I WENT THERE, MOFFAT.) Steven Moffat and produced by his wife Sue Vertue, is based on their courtship. To that end, the story centers around two characters, Steve and Susan, who are in the process of falling madly in love whilst being surrounded by a stellar ensemble of friends and erst-while ex boyfriends and girlfriends. It’s a formula that works, a cunning mixture of Friends, Seinfeld, and Lysistrata – a perfect sex farce for the early aughts!
When it aired in the UK, the tagline “The Comedy About Nothing But Sex!” was sort of beside the point. Because yes, while virtually every character on the show had been involved with every other character on the show, it wasn’t in a prurient way, it was in the utterly realistic, comically everyday way of our tightest social circles. They make it clear that this won’t be a romped up soap opera – all of the relationships have been established by the end of the pilot – in fact, the sex is sort of secondary to – SURPRISE – the well-written (for a situation comedy) oddball characters.
The writing is soothing and formulaic – in a smart way, it’s clever humor. But you’ll be won over by the actors – who all read as whip smart, even when they are being basically the biggest idiots on the planet. You will come to root for Susan and Steve – (Jack Davenport at his best, ranting about how ladies just don’t get it and managing to remain endearing. It makes me sad that he is a creep in Smash. That is all.) You will mock and secretly fear becoming Sally, the neurotic, vain, sarcastic friend who drinks too much wine and compares her best friend Susan’s pert bum to two puppies in a sack, and you will gleefully cackle every time Jeff does something inane (He will be replaced by Oliver midway through and it will not be the same but it will still be pretty okay.) And every crew has it’s Patrick – the dim but hot player ripe for reforming. It’s a great story, and not without drama – the whole Sally – Patrick and Susan-Steve stories demonstrate real growth, and you’ll root for them in a major way.
Does it pander, does it play up male female stereotypes? Sure. Of course it does. But I have to say – and this is as a person very easily irked – I was never bothered by the whole “why do women buy decorative pillows?” type rants the dudes went on, it’s all so innocuous, and so clearly actually coming from a place of love and reverence at the temple of woman – I know, but it is, you guys.
I think its success also resides in its fundamental Britishness. They tried to do an American version of the show but it tanked! Gloriously! It was like the Titanic! And the show was like that guy claiming to be the heir of Downton Abby! We all recoiled and went “Imposter!” Except for Edith. Who in this scenario…would be NBC? I’ll totally admit that this comparison has gotten away from me. Anyway, American sitcoms – before the glut of documentary-style one camera successes hit the market – are by and large dry, dour, soulless, affairs with equally dry, dour, and soulless actors uttering, dry, dour and soulless dialogue – and that, sadly, is what happened to the states’ version of the show. They bit into the idea of “OMG SEEEX!” but forgot to develop you know, meaningful relationships between the characters, and in an era when Friends reigned supreme – they didn’t stand a chance. In this instance, I am exceptionally glad for its failure – it serves to better underline that occasionally, there ain’t nothing like the real thing.
So Sally Forth! Get to buying, or Netflixing, or borrowing them from me! This smart, sexy, cute show is dipping your big toe into all that the Mother Country has to offer.