We start this time with ITV’s newest ‘comedy drama’ Love and Marriage. The programme centres on the sprawling Coventry-based Paradise family as they struggle with their various life dilemmas. We start by meeting matriarch Pauline (Alison Steadman) who is facing her last day as a lollipop lady before she finally retires. However, it seems as if her husband Ken (Duncan Preston) isn’t in the slightest bit bothered, as he would rather tinker about under the hood of a car than listen to his wife’s problems. Though Pauline is presented with several patronising farewell gifts, she is given a book of Dylan Thomas’ poetry by one of the teachers. However, Pauline still has work to do namely organising the buffet for the Christening of her newest grandchild, which she does without any help from her family members. The Christening in questioning is for the youngest child of Pauline and Ken’s elder son Kevin (Stewart Wright) who is keeping his money troubles a secret from wife Sarah (Ashley Jensen). It transpires that Kevin is about to be made redundant from his job as a fireman, which is a shame as the bills are starting to pile up. Kevin’s sister Heather (Nicky Wardley) is attempting to have a child with her younger husband Charlie (James McArdle) but is worried that he may be cheating on her. Finally the biggest problem plaguing youngest paradise sibling Martin (Graeme Hawley) is that he has a lot of kids. Pauline’s sister Rowan (Celia Imrie) is a complete contrast to her dowdy sister; she has been married multiple times and is now the long-term mistress of married Tommy (Larry Lamb). But Rowan also has her own sad past as her daughter Emma went missing some time ago, forcing Rowan to look after Emma’s daughter Scarlett (Jessica Sula). As the programme goes on it is clear that Pauline is under-appreciated by her family who abuse her good nature and eat all of her food. When Pauline and Rowan’s father Frank (David Ryall) passes away at the christening, Pauline turns to her husband for support but he shows her no compassion. So, at the end of the programme, Pauline decides to pack her bags and start a new life where she is neither a wife nor a mother.
I had my issues with Love and Marriage from almost the first scene as writer Stewart Harcourt decides to introduce the majority of the Paradise clan via a series of to-camera vignettes. I personally found these segments to be a lazy storytelling device and an easy way to introduce all of the family members in one fell swoop. There are also far too many characters with some, most notably Martin and his family, having very little to do in this first episode. I found that the majority of the younger characters weren’t particularly likeable and I really struggled to warm to both Kevin and Heather. My final gripe is that the a lot of the actors don’t seem to have a decent grasp of the Coventry accent some, Larry Lamb in particular, favour a broad Birmingham accent while others don’t even try. It’s a shame that Love and Marriage has so many problems with it because at its heart is a simple story about a woman reviewing her lot in life. It seemed to me as if Harcourt had invested a lot of time in making Pauline Paradise a believable and sympathetic protagonist and I felt that he succeeded in this quest. I enjoyed the scenes where Pauline compared her life to that of Rowan’s and when she discussed the meaning of one of the Dylan Thomas poems with the teacher who bought her the book. Obviously the casting of Alison Steadman helped to make Pauline such a likeable character and Steadman brilliantly builds up Pauline’s frustration throughout the episode. Equally as great is Duncan Preston who is given the harder job of playing a man who has never once had a meaningful conversation with his wife. But Preston plays it beautifully and I through his performance I got the impression that Ken had never truly appreciated his wife. In fact I feel that if Love and Marriage focused on just Pauline, Ken and Rowan then it would’ve been a much better series. But as it is I found it to be an over-crowded programme with far too many clichéd stories and not nearly enough of the real-life emotion that I feel it needed.
One drama that has been impressing me throughout its short run is BBC1′s Case Histories which came to an end this week. I have to say I was surprised to find out that the last two episodes weren’t actually based on any of Kate Atkinson’s stories but instead used brand new plots. This final episode saw private detective Jackson Brodie (Jason Isaacs) take on the case of a teenage boy who was desperate to find out how his mother was killed. But I found the episode to be more about Jackson’s relationship with the women in his life, apart from his daughter Marlee who was absent from this episode. Jackson’s budding relationship with museum worker Charlotte (Dawn Steele) continued in this episode but ended quite abruptly when Jackson came into some money. However, Jackson’s spending time with Charlotte impacted on his business causing his relationship with secretary Deborarh (Zawe Ashton) to sour and leading her to quit. Jackson was also surprised by the return of former actress girlfriend Julia (Natasha Little), who comes to Edinburgh to film a new cop drama. Jackson is even more surprised when he discovers Julia is pregnant and throughout the episode he believes the child to be his. But the relationship that is focused on throughout is of that between Jackson and DI Louise Munroe (Amanda Abbington) as the two finally went on a date. However, it seems that Jackson realised that he could never have the happy ending that he wanted and would never be able to be a stable boyfriend to Louise. Though I felt there was a little bit too much going on here, I found this finale to be a suitable end to this short run of Case Histories. Debbie O’Malley wrapped up the story well and left the door well and truly open for a third series. However, for me at least, Case Histories is all about Jason Isaacs who has been completely compelling throughout the series and is surely deserving of a BAFTA nomination. The scene in which Jackson informs Louise that they cannot have a relationship is truly heartbreaking and I feel it is a testament to both Isaacs and Abbington that they were able to pull this off. Judging by the steady audience figures I’d say this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Jackson and I’m hoping we’ll see Case Histories return within the next year or so.
Moving to something a bit more comedic now in the form of BBC3′s latest fly-on-the-wall series The Call Centre. It’s been hard not to notice The Call Centre as BBC3 have been promoting its hard, but for once this promotion is more than warranted. Set in Swansea’s third largest call centre, the programme focuses on the company’s CEO Nev Wilshire. Nev’s philosophy is that ‘Happy People Sell’ and that his employees must ‘Smile while you Dial’ in order to make a sale. Nev hammers this philosophy into his new recruits by getting them to sing ‘Mr Brightside’ by The Killers, a task which the majority of them seem to enjoy. However, Nev doesn’t suffer fools gladly and will happily chuck pasties at anybody who yawns in his presence. At the same time, Nev won’t give up on any of his employees and we see this through his relationship with nice-but-dim Hayley Pearce. Hayley doesn’t exactly have the most sweet of voices, which makes her job in a call centre all that more difficult. Instead of manning the phones, Nev puts her in charge of the tea and coffee trolley but even this job proves tough for her when her co-workers start stealing the tea bags. Meanwhile, Nev tries to cheer up admin assistant Kayleigh, who has recently had her broken by her cheating boyfriend. To help her find a new man, Nev sets up a speed-dating night before organising a date between her and fellow call centre employee Springer. Though Nev could be seen as a bully by some, it’s clear that he has his employees’ best interests at heart and most of them seem to enjoy working for him. Nev is definitely a classic docusoap character and puts me in mind of Mark from The Hotel. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that The Call Centre is one of the funniest programmes of the year and made me chuckle more than most sitcoms have. The only issue is that whenever Nev’s not on screen the programme really starts to drag, especially the sequence in which Hayley gets increasingly frustrated with her prank-playing colleagues. Overall though The Call Centre more than justifies the hype and, if you haven’t seen it already, I strongly recommend that you catch-up with it.
Finally this week we have a bit of an odd one in the form of Les Dawson: An Audience with That Never Was. The programme celebrates one of our best-loved entertainers who died at the age of just sixty leaving behind him a wife and an eight-month old daughter. However, just before his untimely death, Dawson was due to host an episode of An Audience with… but sadly this never happened. Thankfully, with the use of new technology, the Audience with… finally went ahead albeit with a 3D hologram version of Dawson hosting the show. Obviously the hologram cost ITV a lot of money, so the Dawson show itself was only about fifteen minutes long. The rest of the programme was filled by a lot of Dawson’s contemporaries, including Bruce Forsyth and Cannon and Ball, talking about him and how he became a national treasure. Even though I found the concept a little odd at first, I can’t say I didn’t laugh at the jokes, most of which I’ve heard before. There was just something about Dawson’s sense of humour that connected with a TV audience and I can’t think of anybody who has the same stage presence as he possessed. Meanwhile it was also good to see certain faces in the audience, such as Lionel Blair and Su Pollard, because it let you know which entertainers from years gone are still alive. With the news this week that the BBC are about to produce a Saturday night game show hosted by a puppet, I feel that ITV could beat them in the Saturday night stakes by resurrecting a few more of our best loved entertainers. As this Les Dawson show did awfully well in the ratings, it definitely seems like there is an audience for old school comedians and I would more than welcome a change from the endless cavalcade of talent shows that currently populate the Saturday night schedules.
Next Time: Dates, Happy Families and the Britain’s Got Talent Final