Last Night's Viewing: Love and Marriage, ITV
The Apprentice, BBC1
Kevin was a little tearful by the end of his baby's christening and determined to make a speech about the importance of family: "Thanks for making this a very special day for me," he said, before choking up a little and calling for a toast. He didn't thank Grandpa Frank specifically, if I remember right, but then again he would have had to be psychic to know that Frank, in particular, was going to make it one of those christenings you just don't forget.
Because a little later, Grandpa Frank fell out of a hammock on to a tree root and accidentally killed himself. If you had been laughing at Kevin's lachrymose sentimentality (I couldn't quite manage it myself), then this seemed to require something altogether different. And that seems to be a general principle in Love and Marriage, ITV's new family drama. At one moment they're playing things for cosy laughs; at the next, people are rending their faces and baring their souls.
Stewart Harcourt's series borrows a device that will already be familiar to people who watch Modern Family: documentary inserts in which the characters sit square on to the camera, sharing their experiences of family life as if they're taking part in a relationships documentary. It's ideally suited to comedy because it can exploit the gap between what you've just seen happening on screen and the idealised bromides that people tend to serve up when asked for the secret of a successful marriage, or how to make relationships work.
The documentary camera can even become a kind of complicit ally when lies are told – with characters shooting a sideways glance into the lens as if to say, "Don't say anything about what you saw the other day". But you do need some comedy for it to really work well, and Love and Marriage seems underpowered in that respect, noodling along with the occasional unconvincing set piece.
Alison Steadman plays the matriarch Pauline, endlessly expected to plug the gap when her grown-up children have a problem, whether it's doling out another loan from the bank of Mum and Dad (Kevin has just been made redundant and doesn't want to tell his wife) or doing all the cooking for some kind of celebratory get-together. But then the combination of Frank's sudden demise and the hammock that did him in – a retirement gift which seems to hint that her fate is to doze into death – stirs rebellion in her. She also has an admirer who gave her an anti-hammock leaving present – a copy of Dylan Thomas's poems with a Post-it note pointing to "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night"; and after ringing him in the middle of the night to ask for a gloss on its meaning, she delivers a seize-the-day aria about life and abdicates from all family responsibilities.
We're going to get a lot more of this baby boomer, late-life regrets drama before we're over the demographic hump, I fear. Like Last Tango in Halifax it seems almost calculatingly aimed at a wedge of the audience that sees no reason why it should be excluded from the excitements of youth. Actually, I'm heading for the thick end of that wedge myself, but one of the excitements of youth I cherish is drama with a bit of a sharp edge to it, and Love and Marriage doesn't always seem to be able to distinguish between pretend pain – which you can use to animate a narrative – and the real thing, which can't be fixed with a heartfelt speech and a few tears. It may get better, but it needs to.
If there's time for one last career-change, I may contemplate corporate away-days. That was the challenge in The Apprentice this week, and by the look of it, if you can shovel aspirational bullshit over your clients with enough confidence and make sure lunch is good, you can make a fortune.
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