Comedy drama: What's less believable than Dr Who?

Shifting their Autumn schedules up a gear, ITV and Channel 4 have invested in an expensive, contemporary, six-part comedy drama each. ITV's is Cold Feet, which piloted last year. This film won the Golden Rose at the Montreux Television Festival - appropriate, as the hero ended up standing in the street with a rose lodged in his naked behind - but ITV took their time about commissioning a series. I can see they had cold feet.

Last Sunday's episode was the most depressing TV programme I've ever seen, Ricki Lake excepted. Three pairs of smug marrieds in Manchester represented three relationship stages - moving in together, having a baby, juggling a family with a career - and the message, as far as I could tell, was that men and women just don't get on. The series should have been called Cold Hearts.

Top of the cast list is Helen Baxendale, who first beguiled the British public with her head-girlish smile and her fluttery, naturalistic acting when she was the saucy bit of labcoat in Cardiac Arrest. The fact remains, however, that she wouldn't know a punch line if it punched her. She has yet to reveal any hint of comedic ability, which makes it all the more mystifying that she is also currently appearing in Friends as Emily, Rachel's rival to Ross's affections.

In Cold Feet she's called Rachel herself, and she's going out with Adam (James Nesbitt), an idiotic man-child who is supposed to be charming because he's got an Irish accent. His best friend is Pete (John "Jazz Club" Thomson), who is actually quite nice, and is therefore treated with contempt by his wife (Fay Ripley). The final gruesome twosome comprises a caddish businessman and a spouse who despises him because he prefers to read financial reports than bedtime stories. Considering that she employs a nanny, she's hardly one to talk.

Are we supposed to care about these people? The theory, I think, is that we should relate to them, because their lives are as prosaic as our own, and because Cold Feet is a portrait of urban life as it really is in the Nineties. This is another way of saying the writer hasn't bothered with research or imagination. In the arthritically slow first episode, the characters go to DIY stores, go to antenatal classes and go to the pub. And yet, for all the self-absorbed triviality of the drama, it still contrives to be less believable than Dr Who. Take last week's climax. A dad-to-be is so obsessed with being able to drive his wife to hospital that he buys them a mobile phone each. She can call him as soon as her contractions start: it will be their own emergency hotline. But the same man then lends his cellphone to his man-child pal, and forgets to take it back before going golfing the next morning. He also neglects to tell anyone where he's going to be, even though this is his first time on a golf course, so it might have been the sort of thing he'd mention to his wife.

Naturally, he's soon on his way to the hospital, anyway. He heads the wrong way down a one-way street, and immediately - that very second - two motorcycle cops materialise. At this point, the viewer could relax. Anyone who has ever seen a film about a man racing to a maternity ward knew what was going to happen next. In comedyland, the police's main duty is to taxi expectant fathers to hospital.

Having got all that off my chest, I must say that it's possible this episode was designed to make the later ones look better. The preview tapes I've seen indicate that the makers eventually hit on the idea of including some plot and some jokes, and the characters edge towards humanity. Fay Ripley has a range of quirky mannerisms that are more reminiscent of Elaine in Seinfeld than of any other Brit-com woman. Poor old Ross should have gone out with her.

Cold Feet's publicity bumf is especially proud of its split screens and flashbacks, but these effects are nothing compared to the storytelling malarkey that goes into The Young Person's Guide To Becoming a Rock Star. Within any given five minutes you'll get captions, self-deluding narration, camera angles which make the larger-than-life characters appear even larger, and expressionist sets: an Orwellian, tombstone grey DSS office, for instance. OK, so the Guide pilfers brazenly from Trainspotting's box of tricks, but any comedy about a rock band that doesn't copy This Is Spinal Tap, The Commitments or Tutti Frutti is allowed any other source it fancies.

On occasion, the Guide resorts to soap popera cliches. In the next episode, a record exec offers to sign up the band if they sack their rhythm section. This doesn't happen in real life: if it did, Oasis's bassist would be on the dole. But maybe I shouldn't expect realism in the story of a band called Jocks Wa-Hey. The Guide is sexy, stylish and sharp, a Best Of compilation of jokes, twists, colour and gleeful comic characterisations. Two particular greatest hits are Forbes Masson as "Scotland's Mr Music" and Keith Allen's feral A&R man. A video of the series should be on a loop in every tour bus, but don't be put off if you don't know your Ash from your Elastica. The Guide is galvanised at least as much by its love of television as by its love of pop.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'