Two things I forgot to mention in my last TV post. Firstly, another great strength of Skins is its unpredictable choice of music: Laura Cantrell has been used to great effect, while cuts from Pavement and Mogwai recorded in the late 1990s, when the characters in the series would have been about eight, have cropped up in series two and one respectively.
Secondly, BBC Three’s excellent drama pilot Being Human, shown as part of the same strand that brought us the more-hyped, reasonably likeable but ultimately not nearly as good Phoo Action. Phoo Action has been commissioned for a series, and if Being Human is not picked up as a consequence, it will be a grave injustice. The programme showcased the excellence of Toby Whithouse’s writing: after this, his creation of No Angels and his contribution to Doctor Who (School Reunion) I’m starting to think he would be the best choice to take over from Rusell T Davies when he quits Who. It was funny, warm, touching and at times genuinely exciting, and thoroughly deserves a series.
But the main thing I want to write about is the second series of Love Soup, which is now three episodes into its run. It has undergone two major changes since its first series, broadcast at the end of 2005: it has changed from six hours to twelve half-hours, adding to the list of dramas that have recently returned to this once-unfashionable format (Sugar Rush, Bleak House, Secret Diary of a Call Girl and no doubt others); this was caused by the other big change, which is that Michael Landes was unavailable to reprise his role of Gil.
Now, this latter is a very big deal: the whole point of the first series was that there may well be a perfect partner for everyone out there somewhere, but what if you don’t meet them, or don’t do so until later in life? Gil and Tamsin Greig’s character Alice have both hit their mid-thirties, and the first series followed their unlucky romantic escapades while clearly implying that they were perfectly suited. At the end of the last episode, we see them sat a few rows apart in a theatre, the only two people not convulsed with laughter at a supposedly hilarious play: but they don’t meet.
So when Landes was unavailable, with preparations for the second series well-advanced, this presented writer David Renwick with something of a problem: should they abandon the series, re-cast Gil, or re-write it? Renwick went for the latter: as far as I can tell, a lot of the situations Gil would have got himself into have now been re-worked and inflicted an Alice instead, with increased prominence given to her over-sexed co-workers from series one, Cleo and Milly (played beautifully by Sheridan Smith and Montserrat Lombard respectively).
I was willing to give this approach the benefit of the doubt, but after a few episodes I’m not convinced it has been successful. Because we no longer alternate between Gil’s story and Alice’s, the storytelling feels rather more slight, as we have only 30 minutes of it at a time. The prominence given to Cleo and Milly manifests itself as a lot of discussions between them and Alice, and a lot of cut-aways and flash-backs to embarrassing scenarios. While these are often very funny and acutely realised, at times they seem to go nowhere: in episode three, Cleo’s date that culminates in her locking someone inside a chest at his request does not tie into anything else in the episode (bar possible an allusion in a later dream sequence, but that’s tenuous). The overall effect is to make the programme seem disjointed and aimless.
The end of episode three contained a particularly shocking final few minutes, as we see Alice turn up at a restaurant only to be stood up. As she arrives home she takes a phone call from a character I recognised after a few moments as Gil’s colleague Lloyd from the first series: we don’t get the details, but it’s made clear that the date was to have been with Gil (although he is never named, just shown in a photograph), and he failed to turn up owing to his death earlier that day. It makes for an incredibly downbeat ending to the episode, particularly for those who recognised Gil from the last series, but I have bigger problems with it than that.
For one thing, the date was totally unconnected to anything else in the episode: it evidently arose from Alice answering an ad in a lonely hearts column, but this is implied in the scene immediately beforehand (OK, Cleo and Milly were looking through lonely hearts ads earlier in the episode, but it hardly counts as a tie-in – there’s no direct causal relationship). But more seriously, if Gil was “the one” for Alice, it means she is destined to remain alone, or end up with the wrong person: not only is this bleak and tragic, but it makes the next nine episodes seem rather pointless. All told, they would have been better to take the material for the series and fashion it around a completely new set of characters.
That’s not to say it’s not enjoyable: Renwick’s writing remains pointed and at time devastatingly funny, and the performances from Greig, Smith and Lombard are top-drawer. It is, however, disconcerting and sad to see Verity Lambert’s name on the credits some months after her death. All told, Love Soup remains high-quality television, but it’s one of those instances where, however unfair it might have seemed not to give it a second series, with hindsight it might have been the right decision. I’d still heartily recommend you track down series one on DVD, though.