Blightyvision: “Coupling”

Like “Friends,” but British and funny.

Created by Steven Moffat
Starring Jack Davenport, Gina Bellman, Sarah Alexander, Kate Isitt, Ben Miles, and Richard Coyle

A while back, I was complaining to a male friend that I couldn’t wrap my head around how guys think.  His answer wasn’t a man-ish attempt at brotherly solidarity, a “men are pigs” confession, or any such thing.  Rather, he pulled a DVD down from his shelf and showed me a scene from “Coupling” in which Jack Davenport (Lloyd Simcoe of “FlashForward” and Commodore Norrington of Pirates of the Caribbean) spent five minutes explaining why men like looking at naked women.

The thing, the truly dangerous thing, about a show like “Coupling” is how close one can come to being called sexist for liking it — or perhaps even writing it in the first place.  In the world of the show, men spend half their time trying to explain the world around them in all sorts of bizarre ways, and the other half trying not to blurt out the names of rude body parts in front of women.  And in this same world, women overthink and overanalyze everything around them, including why men can’t just be sensible and think exactly as they do.  But at the same time, where stand-up comedians and American sitcoms might use this as a way to create a definite butt for their jokes, “Coupling” addresses these not as faults, but as simple facts of life — in a way that makes one look less at the depiction of their own sex, and more at the (oddly enlightening) representation of the opposite.

The show has a definite beginning, rather than expecting us to dive right in.  Steve (Davenport) is consulting his best friend Jeff (Coyle, most recently Moist von Lipwig in “Going Postal”) about the best way to “flush” his clingy girlfriend Jane (Bellman, of “Jekyll” and “Leverage”).  Meanwhile, Susan (Alexander, recently one of the witches of Stardust) and her beautician Sally (Isitt) have confronted Susan’s friend-with-benefits Patrick (Miles, most recently of … Speed Racer??) about keeping their relationship from getting too serious.  Steve meets Susan in the middle of his once again attempting to break up with Jane, a simple dinner date turns into a six-person party, and the two groups find themselves in a close-knit set around the new couple.  And that’s all in the first half-hour episode.

There is something of a running plot, the core of it being Steve and Susan deciding how far their relationship will progress while digging up information on each other’s pasts (and presents).  Sally and Patrick develop heavy levels of unresolved sexual tension, Jane experiments with everything from bisexuality to bivegetarianism (it makes sense to her, at any rate), and Jeff … well, Jeff is lucky if he can strike up a conversation with a girl without it ending with him telling her he’s an amputee or that he collects women’s ears in a bucket.  In the final season, Jeff departs and is replaced by Oliver (Richard Mylan), a well-meaning geek with a hobby shop and something of a crush on Jane.

Of the six characters, and despite the writing, Patrick and Sally seem to fall into the most negative ends of the stereotype — or, at least, as negative as the show ever allows itself to get.  They come across as painfully shallow, and their maturity as characters takes a great deal of time to develop, and if any characters come close to being the straight-up jokes of the series, it’s these two.  Even Jane, despite being utterly dense and mad (and sometimes incredibly disturbing), manages to keep a level of understandability about her that Sally lacks.  We can all say we know a Jane … but if anyone knows a Sally, or is a Sally, they are far less likely to admit it.  Though I’ve noticed my guy-friends have no trouble admitting that they are prone to being as dense and sexually-obsessed as Patrick on occasion; they’re just not terribly proud.

There’s no denying that even the strongest ensemble cast — and these six have amazing shared chemistry — has one character everyone really watches for.  That is, hands down, Jeff Murdock.  He’s almost reminiscent of Pinky from “Pinky and the Brain,” with his complete lack of brain-to-mouth filter, causing him to share such philosophical gems as the Giggle Loop, the Sock Gap, and the Nudity Buffer.  (All things that must be heard firsthand to be truly understood.)  Davenport as Steve plays a brilliant straight-man to Coyle during Jeff’s semi-regular rants, putting aside his rather put-upon attitude around the females of the species in favor of being the main bearer of logic among his male friends.

The lack of said character in the final season makes people a little iffy on giving it a chance, but I implore you to do so.  Mylan suffers from the Matt Smith Factor — he is already at a disadvantage in the audience’s eyes simply by virtue of not being the guy before him, and thus has to double up to prove himself.  Making Oliver as unlike Jeff as possible was a good move from a writing standpoint; he’s not meant to replace his predecessor, but rather to offer a new angle to the show as it ends (and, let’s not lie, partly to hold up the male-to-female ratio).  And Oliver is a fine character in his own right.  We don’t have nearly as long to get to know him as we do the rest of the cast, but he’s able to make something of himself within his short time.  And he never falls into the trap of being your typical socially-inept and self-righteous TV geek.  Many of us have been where he is: fine with his hobby until he overthinks its effect on his social life, and then putting himself into a muddle more than he’d ever do to anyone else.  It would have been lovely to see Oliver as a regular character, not at the loss of other equally good ones.

Despite all this positive press, I will admit that this show is not for everyone.  It is very forthcoming with its statements and opinions on sex, and makes direct reference to things that may well make people personally uncomfortable.  Here’s how to gauge it: how would you feel knowing a girl in your life had emptied out the batteries from every remote in the house for use “elsewhere”?  If that makes you blush, you likely won’t make it through “Coupling” alive.  But if you find that funny (or catch yourself nodding and smirking — admit it), you’ve found something exceedingly rewatchable.

“Coupling” seasons 1-4 are available in a box set on DVD.  Rated PG-13 for Meltyman and Shadayim.

Posted on July 1, 2010 at 01:39 by Kara Dennison · Permalink
In: Columns, Television: British and Canadian · Tagged with: , , ,

8 Responses

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kara Dennison. Kara Dennison said: RT @geekingoutabout: Blightyvision: “Coupling” […]

  2. Written by Arkonbey
    on 2010-07-01 at 13:00

    I've only caught a few episodes, but each was a joy. The Rashomon-esque way of the episodes is a credit to the writers and directors.

    My favorite was the one where one of the guys was hitting on the Israeli girl who spoke no English.

  3. Written by PauricTheLodger
    on 2010-07-01 at 13:29

    Aye, that was Jeff ;)

    Coupling is savage!

  4. Written by Kara Dennison
    on 2010-07-01 at 14:07

    One of my absolute fave episodes. Also apparently Coyle's 'foreign language' wasn't Esperanto like people seemed to think, but something of his own doing off the cuff.

  5. Written by Jillers
    on 2010-07-02 at 01:04

    I think a good part of the comedy between Jeff and Steve is the relationship between them, of being old friends, so that when Jeff says somethng like “Giggle Loop” or “Unflushable”, Steve is completely nonchalant when Jeff explains them, which makes the times when Steve visably reacts to something Jeff says (usually about something his mother used to do/say) even funnier.

    Also, it should be mentioned that the reason that Steve and Susan seem like such real characters is because Steven Moffat based the series, and those two characters specifically, on him meeting his wife, Sue Vertue, and on the issues that arise in new relationships.

    As for the Sally, Jane, Patrick, and Jeff, they're meant to portray the extremes of self confidence (Jane, Patrick) and paranoia (Sally, Jeff).
    The More You Know! TING!

    Also… it can be awkard to watch this around your parents… just because it's weird to watch things with adult themes aroud your parents.

  6. Written by Kara Dennison
    on 2010-07-02 at 12:04

    I actually watch this with me mum. :3

  7. Written by The Grand Vizier
    on 2010-07-02 at 14:28

    This is definitely one of the funniest series I have ever watched. It's not afraid to strike out at any and all relationship topics, and maintains a high level of comedy throughout.

    Patrick also appeared in the action-insane “Ninja Assassin”, and Jeff is very difficult to recognize in “Prince of Persia”.

  8. Written by Kara Dennison
    on 2010-07-02 at 20:55

    I've noticed that “Coupling” alums tend to be really killer-awesome in dramatic roles.

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