Lip Service, BBC3, Tuesday
Wonderland: Boy Cheerleaders, BBC2, Wednesday
I'm no expert on lesbians, but these characters weren't plausible humans. For real drama, a film on boy cheerleaders dazzled
Sunday 17 October 2010
The portrayal of gay people on the small screen might be a hot-button issue, but what of the portrayal of Glaswegians? In the light of Lip Service, someone needs to stick up for the inhabitants of Glasgow.
Were you to believe the opening episode, you'd imagine that fair city was exclusively populated by narcissistic twentysomethings with brains as tiny as their loft apartments are spacious.
I'm being facetious, of course, but really that's the only viable response to this lesbian drama. The very idea of a "gay drama" is fraught with difficulties: how to represent that ever more nebulous notion of a gay community without stereotyping? How to grapple with gay issues and not preach? In interviews, creator Harriet Braun has acknowledged these hazards while simply saying "I wanted it to feel very real." Which is all you can ask for, and yet "real" is exactly what this show was not. In the opening scene, a pruriently imagined encounter between photographer Frankie and a nubile model, the self-consciously moody music and stilted dialogue ("How long have you been into women?" "I didn't say I was", "You don't have to") conspired to evoke a low-rent perfume advert.
Things barely improved as the narrative creaked into action. We had rebel tomboy Frankie failing to get over her ex, uptight professional Cat. We had kooky, unlucky-in-love Tess caught up in some sub-American Pie bedroom farce. We had uniquely crass observations ("I do what most lesbians do, stare at women hungrily and pray somebody else will make the first move"); godawful single-entendres ("She'd be welcome to take down my particulars"); and not one, but two incidences of a wallet being dropped in order to further the plot. Most painful of all was the manner in which characters flagged up their use of social networking websites ("I've got to check who's following me on Twitter, NOT TO MENTION UPDATE MY STATUS," etc), in a last-ditch attempt at relevance. I can't speak with any authority of these characters' plausibility as lesbians, but I can speak of their flagrant implausibility as earthlings.
Notable was the presence of an ex-Hollyoaks actress among the cast; for all the pre-publicity invoking The L Word and This Life, this recalled nothing so much as that Sunday morning hangover-cure with added frottage. Which, you could argue, makes Lip Service more progressive than it might appear. Why should heterosexuals have the monopoly on television's soapy dregs? Now if the BBC could just get round to making that "real" lesbian drama as well, they'd be on to something.
From the ridiculous to the sublime, the BBC's slice-of-life strand Wonderland returned with as finely wrought a film as it has produced. I'm not the crying sort, but it wasn't long before Boy Cheerleaders had me welling up, just at the moment when nine-year-old pom-pom wielder Harvey handed his superficially strident but palpably bruised single mum a card with the inscription "You were born to do things you have achived, and with my love, you could go thurther on" [sic].
James Newton's film told the story of the Dazl Diamonds, Britain's first all-boy troupe, founded on a Leeds estate and caught in the run-up to the national championships. Dancing lads from working-class homes? Before you could say Billy Elliot, Harvey did. "I dance, he dances. His dad don't like him to dance, my dad don't like me to dance," he noted matter-of-factly. Indeed, following this narrative line, Harvey found himself at his own posh ballet school audition, jubilantly serving up a high-kicking routine to the accompaniment of pumping house music. And yet, whatever dad's thoughts on his son's fancy footwork, they went unexpressed, fathers being conspicuously absent. Rather, we saw the paternal vacuum being filled by coach Ian Rodley, a certain strain of indomitable camp gloriously incarnate. Whether giving his sluggish troops a dressing-down during an early-morning TV appearance or assuring a distraught mum about her parenting abilities, his combination of empathy, wit and steeliness was a joy to behold.
Indeed, as with the team, the director followed Rodley's lead masterfully, striking a balance between emotional gravitas and warm jocularity. I particularly liked the scene of the little tykes practising their best stage pouts. In the end, the Diamonds only came third in the competition. It was unquestionably a victory, however, and all the sweeter for its smallness.
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