The Weekend's TV: Pulling, Sun, BBC3
Gavin & Stacey, Sun, BBC3
Doctor Who, Sat, BBC1
More satisfying than a one-night stand
Monday 21 April 2008
You may feel it's a little late to mention it but Pulling isn't half bad. And if that sounds a little grudging as a recommendation it's probably because I'm still getting over the reflexive flinch I gave when I first saw it. The episode in question began with Donna (the lovely Sharon Horgan) administering desultory hand-relief to her gormless boyfriend, Karl, and watching this scene I marked the series down as adolescently keen to shock and scratched it from my watch list. Now that I've checked back I find that the snap-judgement wasn't exactly wrong, but that in among the self-conscious lairiness there's a lot of funny stuff too. And to be honest even some of the self-conscious lairiness turns out to be funny, such as a scene in which Donna's flatmate, Louise, pitched her business plan for penis-shaped ice lollies to a potential backer, in impeccable Dragons' Den style.
What's really winning about it though is not its appetite for the baser appetites but the beady eye it casts on self-deception, mostly expressed through Donna, who dumped Karl on the brink of marriage and moved in with two friends, but then found herself unable to move on. Donna is the sort of woman who sits down for a quiet evening in to watch An Inconvenient Truth, but gets bored within five minutes and puts The Day After Tomorrow on instead, more successfully provoked into ecological probity by a Hollywood fantasy than Al Gore's PowerPoint lecture. Donna doesn't want to marry Karl, but she doesn't want anyone else to either, and she's very keen that he should mind about their separation more than she does. Horgan (who also co-wrote the script) plays the character with a whisper more dim-wittedness than I would like (clever people can kid themselves too) but she has a real eye for the way that self-interest can kink like a telephone cord, until you haven't a clue about how to get it untangled again.
This week, Donna discovered that Karl had put his house on the market and stood to make a sizeable profit, a revelation that provoked a spasm of resentment in her. "Who practically bought this house for you?" she asked, confident that having identified the estate agent in which he found the details and had a couple of conversations about knocking through the dining room entitles her to a share of the equity. And her outrage isn't funny because it's entirely unjustified (although it is) but because we recognise the bind she's in – in her head the house was a shared property and the fact that she only has herself to blame for the fact that it isn't is too unsatisfactory to face squarely. Most of us would have kept this unworthy fact to ourselves, rather than blurt it out publicly but then that's often the difference between comedy and real life.
Gavin & Stacey covers much of the same material as Pulling – what men and women want, and why they never quite align – but does it in much less scabrous style. Like Pulling, it also finds room for quite sizeable stretches of melancholy, where the comedy disappears altogether and you find yourself watching a domestic drama instead. In last night's episode, Stacey appeared to be on the point of breaking off her relationship with Gavin forever – on the rather slender basis of the insurmountable cultural differences between a native of Barry Island and an Essex boy. Fortunately, this glum plot line was interrupted by Nessa's contractions, arriving a month early and prompting a frantic search for Smithy. I wasn't entirely convinced that Bryn would have put on a rubber glove and checked on Nessa's cervical dilation – a gag that seemed to cut against the grain of the character – but his deep satisfaction at the purchase of a 60G iPod was absolutely on the button. "After I've put all mine on I've still got room for 49,853 songs... which I see as positive."
This week's Doctor Who began with a 42nd-century marketing man discussing falling sales figures for Oods, aliens bred and sold as personal servants. Call me superficial but I think there might be some market resistance to live-in help that has a face like an octopus with a prolapsed rectum. Perhaps they could get design to sort that out before they start dropping the price. We later learn that in their natural state the Oods have a secondary brain that dangles from their snout on an umbilical cord and has to be carried around by hand. "They're born with their brains in their hands... that makes them peaceful," exclaimed Donna. It would also give them the survival odds of a soap bubble I would have thought, not to mention making it tricky for them to do the washing-up. I think we were supposed to find this episode a moving indictment of corporate ruthlessness, but all I could think was that the series really needs the services of a decent evolutionary biologist.
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