July 27th, 2008

Rose-coloured Reviews the split-screen episode of *Coupling*

I haven’t had a functioning TV in years, and the last show I watched regularly was the first few seasons of The West Wing, but I still am devoted to the idea of the perfect situation comedy. This is a holdover from my youth, when I actually watched TV and TV actually specialized in sitcoms. Now from what I hear, the medium has largely moved on without me, towards shows that teach you how to build a house or make supper (I have always been averse to learning anything from television).

I can watch as much Much Music as I can do cardio at the gym (and I have pretty good lung capacity), but other than that, all my TV comes from someone else’s house or their DVDs and download. And the British situation comedy Coupling keeps coming up among all the smart people who share TV with me, even though it’s no longer being made (and there’s an American version that no one seems to watch). I’ve seen perhaps 10 episodes over the past couple years, and I do think it is a fine fine example of what may well be a dying breed.

Near as I can tell, there are six friends/acquaintances on the show, three men and three women: urban, neurotic, very funny and attractive, in varying degrees of romantic and sexual involvement with each other. If it sounds like Friends, it does have that flavour of banter, but a) it’s dirtier, because it’s the BBC, b) not all of the characters are actually friends. The men seem to be mainly friends with each other, and two of the girls likewise, the third girl being the ex of one of the guys, that guy now being the boyfriend of one of the other women. It’s confusing and I don’t fully get it, having watched only a smattering of non-consecutive episodes and never bothered to read an episode guide (there is so much wrong with my reviewing technique). But you can still get the jokes without the backstory.

The big diff between this show and a standard American sitcom is that it is more invested in being kooky and inventive than having to have to tie up neatly at the end. The plot of the episode Split is pretty standard and dull, but it takes place entirely in split-screen, which is very cool. It concerns, natch, the break-up of the central couple, Steve and Susan. They each retreat to their own gender teams/sides of the screen, and you get to see both sides offer truly pathetic advice and comfort. The semi-annoying thing about this show is that it’s *so* gendered–but often creepily accurate. The boys with their video games and the girls with their self-help books are lame but also very much like people you know, only funnier (Sally on women’s magazines: “A thousand articles on why men are crap, and then one on how you ought to wake him up with a blow job.” [that may not be a direct quote, since I am not in possession of the DVD, but close enough]).

To do an entire episode in split screen and not make it either boringly static or dizzyingly hard to follow is quite an accomplishment. Even better, they pull a lot of neat visual and aural tricks with the set-up. When the split couple wake up alone the morning after the breakup, each have of the screen shows a lonely arm wandering over the empty half of the bed. And best bit concerned a lot of accidental/on-purpose dialing of each other’s numbers and then hanging up, with ensuing agonies about 1471ing (the British equivalent of *69, I gather). The Greek chorus of friends jumps with each new development, and it’s neat the way the cause and effect ripples across the screen.

Who knows, sitcoms could have come so far since I watched them last that the few still being made are *all* this clever, but I don’t care. To me, with zero context, this is froth at it’s finest and I might even make a serious attempt to watch another episode, which is high praise coming from me.

No more fire / only desire

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