More treasure from the bargain bin this week, with series 2 and 3 of the BBC sitcom Coupling. Since it aired in the mid-90s, I’ve developed a bit of a grudge against this show… partly because it featured annoyingly attractive yuppies discussing things I had no experience of, and partly because it always seemed a tad overwritten. By which I mean there were a lot of episodes with non-linear narratives, that doubled back on themselves or had to be viewed from multiple perspectives to be understood, and there were a lot of gimmicks (for example the episode following Steve and Susan after they split up uses a split-screen effect, requiring the male half of the cast to tread water while the female half speak, and vice versa). Of course, this sort of time-tinkering has become quite popular in the States of late, with How I Met Your Mother and Arrested Development, so clearly that’s just me being a luddite. I’m also not a big fan of “farces” generally, where characters get themselves into sticky situations which could be defused quite easily and quickly, if they’d just admit what had happened and apologise, rather than keep running around spinning their tangled webs. The gender stereotypes grated a little too… especially in comparison to a show like Spaced, which had a much broader palette in terms of male and female behaviour.
But watching the show again, I remembered why it was so popular in the first place: It’s incredibly funny! True, the farcical elements make me clench a little, but they’re always followed by a bit of banter, or a ridiculous punchline, to take the curse off. An interesting technical issue, from a writer’s perspective, is how occasionally jokes about a secondary character’s appearance don’t actually make sense, because the actor/actress doesn’t share the physical characteristics which are being described/mocked. For instance, there’s an episode where ‘Sally’ is overcompensating by complimenting a woman she doesn’t like, and keeps babbling about how thin the woman is, making a comment to the effect that if she turned sideways she’d disappear… which would have been fine if they’d put a stick-thin waif in the role, but instead they went for Emma Pierson, who is clearly very voluptuous… no matter which way you turn her! Don’t get me wrong, I’m always glad to see the lovely Miss Pierson getting work, but the joke just didn’t ring true, given her body type.
Needless to say my favourite characters are ‘Jeff’ and ‘Jane’ (Gina Bellman), because they’re the crazy ones and consequently get all the best lines and business. It’s also reassuring to know that I’m actually better at talking to women than someone, even if he is just a fictional character played by a handsome actor pretending to be a loser. ‘Steve’ and ‘Susan’ are the dullest characters, since they’re left to play straight man/woman so often, and given all the serious relationship stuff to wade through… nevertheless, Sarah Alexander has a comedic CV that puts her head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. Aside from minor roles in Drop the Dead Donkey, Red Dwarf, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Dr. Terrible’s House of Horrible, Look Around You, Teachers and Stardust, she was a major cast member of the original (better) Armstrong and Miller show, and the unofficial fourth “pony” in Smack the Pony, for which she also wrote some sketches. But she’ll probably burn brightest in my memory as ‘Dr. Angela Hunter’, the deceptively perky frenemy of Tamsin Greig’s character in Green Wing. She’s also starred in a couple of other, very popular comedies, which I didn’t like and won’t mention here…. but fair play to her anyway.
Meanwhile, the show’s creator, Steven Moffat, is big news at the moment, having just taken over as “show runner” on the revived Doctor Who. To me, he’ll always be the creator of Press Gang (1989-1993), the children’s series that introduced Julia Sawalha to the world (and my fluttering schoolboy heart), while also giving Dexter Fletcher a chance to try out his American accent. I haven’t seen that show since it first aired, but I’m happy to assume that the writing and acting stands up, because true quality never ages. His Who episodes were very popular, and picked up a lot of awards, so it’s nice to think that he’s now being discovered by a whole new generation of young fans. I look forward to the episode where Who has to face “The Melty Man”, with eager anticipation. Apparently Moffat is one of the writers on the upcoming Tintin movie, alongside Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish… a movie which I already resent, simply because it prevented Simon Pegg from appearing in Inglourious Basterds as the undercover English agent… which could have made an already rather awesome film even awesomer. But never mind.
I hate to end this post on such a downer, but during my “research” I was saddened to discover that Lou Gish, who played Jeff’s girlfriend/boss across several episodes of Coupling, died a few years ago. She seemed a good sport when it came to the kinkier stuff they came up with for her character, and I thought she made a great addition to the cast. RIP.