I think one big problem for the couples in Love Life, ITV's new romantic drama, is that they're absolutely lousy at buying Christmas presents for each other. We got not just one but two flashback unwrapping scenes in last night's opening episode, neatly employed by the writer Bill Gallagher to fill out the relationship dynamics but unfortunately only at the cost of making the characters look like complete idiots. Here's Joe, for example, unwrapping his gift from long-term girlfriend, Lucy. What has he got? Oh, that's so thoughtful. A memory foam pillow and a book of pudding recipes. Is it possible that Lucy is trying to send a message about domestication and nest-building? Never mind, perhaps Joe will do a bit better with his present for Lucy. No, seems not. She's got a pair of high-altitude climbing gloves, which is very clearly what adventurer Joe wants her to want, rather than what she actually does. Then again, Joe is a paragon of selfless generosity when compared to Dominic, whose wife tugs aside the decorative wrapping paper to find a brochure on adoption. Nice one, Dominic. There was an outside chance that she might forget her traumatic childlessness for at least one day of the year, but you've blown that.
The story began with Joe's return from Everest, some time after he'd split from Lucy because she wanted a baby and he didn't. When he spots her in a bar he realises he still has feelings for her, but in the intervening 11 months something has come between them – a pregnancy bulge big enough to be housing octuplets. The impregnator, it eventually turns out, is her boss Dominic, lured by his employee's sympathy into a brief infidelity. So, Dominic, who longs for a baby, has one that he can't claim and Joe, who really doesn't, is wondering whether he might end up with one anyway, if that's what it takes to get Lucy back. Meanwhile, Penny, Dominic's wife, is fingering baby-grows in maternity shops and looking at passing toddlers in a way that makes their mothers think about calling the police. And as a whole it is pure emotional bubble bath – frothy with contrived encounters and convenient outbursts, fragrant with incompatible yearnings and regret. That was just this week as well, because the Coming Up Next Week montage – nearly three minutes long – suggests that things go even further over the top in part two. Fortunately, since the trailer appeared to give away every major plot twist, I won't have to watch.
Like most reality series now, Mary's Bottom Line began with a Coming Up montage, a kind of reassurance to the viewer that you're going to get the customary mixture of challenge, triumph and setback. You saw Mary Portas on the warpath, Mary weeping and Mary gobsmacked by the arsiness of one of her potential employees. The series is built around a plan by Channel 4's favourite crusader to revitalise the British rag trade. She wants to start an all-British lingerie chain and to that end is reopening a mothballed factory in Rochdale, recruiting from the local long-term unemployed, some of whom are very rough diamonds indeed. "What are your career aspirations?" the application form asked. "Get more better at things" one candidate had written.
Three hundred people turned up for the eight traineeships on offer, and the eventual selection looked to be a compromise between hard-nosed business sense and the dramatic requirements of television. "She could be a really strong player or an absolute nightmare," said Mary of a mouthy girl called Lauren, as she tried to persuade a sceptical colleague to take a risk. The producers will have been thrilled to discover, almost immediately, that it looks very much like "absolute nightmare". Making quality knickers at a marketable price requires the ability to sew a straight seam and turn up on time. Making watchable television programmes needs a very different set of skills.
- More about:
- Mary Portas