Grace Dent: True Love, BBC1
These tales celebrated the dreamlike insanity and idiotic risk of opening up your heart
Ever since up-tempo boogie-woogsters Chas & Dave wrote the song "Margate", I've been aware of the town's heady cosmic pull. "
You can keep yer Costa Brava and all that palaver," the pair sang through patchy beards, "'cos I'm telling you mate I'd rather have a day down Margate with all my family." But Chas & Dave lied about the feel-good, family aspect of Margate. This coastal town is a hotbed of unbridled, adulterous, anti-family sin. On BBC1's True Love this week, we saw David Tennant and Lol from This is England going at it hammer and tongs in a Premier Inn, committing deeds so morally awry they made the complimentary UHT cartons curdle. Worse still, along the bay, floppy-elbowed English teacher (Billie Piper) was making sensuous love with a 16-year old female GCSE pupil. It was a stellar attempt on Piper's part at livening up Lord of the Flies, but she was setting the bar high for Henry IV Part One.
True Love covered five individual love stories in five separate 30 minute dramas. Some characters overlapped into other evening's dramas, although not for any good reason as it added nothing to the plots. Along the bay in Margate Jane Horrocks was having it off with a male toilet-attendant she'd met in a gift shop. We couldn't blame her. She was bored with her life, she was neglected by her husband and was powerfully aroused by the smell of Harpic Power Plus. OK, I'm freestyling the Harpic bit. The truth is True Love was improvised and its plot and dialogue as sparsely distributed as Cheryl Cole's body fat. We'd no idea why David Tennant and his ex-girlfriend split up so badly years ago other than one wanted to go travelling and the other didn't. Time Travelling perhaps? IN A TARDIS!? Oi, down a gear, Grace. Come on, it's not that type of show. Yet, in an absence of hard facts, filling the blanks in myself was the only option. The plot of episode two – "man gets itchy feet once baby arrives" – could have been sketched on the back of an Argos order form with room left for an excellent doodle of a spaniel with a perm.
Oh and the "improv"? The improv! I've seen Greg Proops freestyle a wacky song about an elephant in a post office enough times to know this "let's make it up on the hoof" lark isn't for me. Be gone with improv. Give me a script.
"This isn't working" muttered Paul (Ashley Walters) to Michelle (Lacey Turner). "What'choo mean this ain't working?" More silence. Some staring. Oh, how I longed for a lovely chunk of meaty dialogue dripping with vocab, subtext and hasty words which might rattle round a scene and then come back to haunt. Alas, no, in Margate silence was golden. In fact, Walters's character fell in love with Jaime Winstone on the strength of her waving at him from a bus-stop, fixed grin, one hand flapping, like a bronze cat in Chinatown.
On the bright side, it was a good thing everyone in Margate was dim, depressed or mute as that's the only way you could have a full-blown affair on the beachfront and in the nightclubs which went un-texted or Facebooked about for more than seven minutes.
The oddest thing about True Love was, despite its many faults, its success in burrowing under my skin. These were stories about love, celebrating the dream-like insanity and idiotic risk of opening your heart at all. As characters sleepwalked into highly stupid, life-demolishing scenarios, fuelled by hormones, boredom and previous heartbreaks, there was more veracity in this image of love than in a thousand Hollywood movies.
As Billie Piper stormed out of school, quitting her job, hand in hand with her 16-year-old girlfriend, it was indisputable that this pair – broad smiles, bound by trust, united against the world – were experiencing love. But love, to be frank, is an arsehole. As the credits rolled and the pair wandered grinning into the sunset, we all knew that soon they'd be questioned by the police, persecuted by the press and Piper left unemployable and skint. Not that this troubled them, basking in love's moronic opiate-like buffer-zone.
Same for Jane Horrocks's character, fleeing from two decades of marriage and her enormous house full of middle-class frippery, sat on a commuter train in the closing scenes, off to live with Captain Bog Brush. Or was she? We weren't sure. I'm filling in details again. She was certainly on a train at the end but she may have been off to Staples or Longleat. In the final episode Adrian (David Morrissey) found love on the internet with a hot Hong Kong twentysomething girl. "I love you so much", his lover purred, on arrival in Britain, kissing his face, as the warm Margate waves lapped at their wellies. Adrian's lover transpired in real life to be an even hotter Hong Kong twentysomething, not, as I'd hoped, a big delusional bloke with hairy shoulders called Derek, from Nuneaton. I liked my "improv" storyline much better.
Grace's marmalade dropper
Mark Wright's Hollywood Nights. Episode 2 saw Mark and his friends have scrambled eggs for breakfast (ooh) then play some basketball (ahh). For viewers who find MTV's Geordie Shore cerebrally arduous.
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