Coupling series 2 Review
If there is one consistent accusation to be levelled at Coupling, it is that of inconsistency. This is a show that cannot, it seems, guarantee laughs. But when they come, they come fast, straight from the belly, and in generous quantities.
The sitcom, focusing on three male and three female companions, is often spoken of as a British Friends which revels in relaxed censorship. But realistically, it is more a hybrid of Only Fools and Horses’ plot intricacy, Men Behaving Badly’s battle-of-the-sexes humour, and Fawlty Towers’ sense of cringe-inducing farce. If only the show was as consistent as all three…
Its strengths are regularly its weaknesses. While the better episodes use the right characters in the right situations in regularly labyrinthine plots, a bad episode will focus on the less interesting, less recognizable players and will try to be too clever for its own good. Most of the comedy derives from traditional farce: a misinterpretation here, a little white lie there, a few “it’s not what it looks like, honest”s elsewhere. This is risky; such tried and tested methods can quickly become predictable and tiresome, but in the right hands the humour is irresistible.
To pick a standout episode, look no further than those that focus on Jeff (Richard Coyle), without whom Coupling would be firmly average. The ludicrous Welshman is a delight to watch; more insecure than Chandler, filthier than Gary and Tony, and about as lucky as Basil himself. Writer Steven Moffatt evidently has great insights into the world of neuroses: as he tells us in the accompanying interview, “Jeff has categorised every form of male paranoia that it is possible to encounter.” Jeff’s disturbed, obsessive little mind spawns forth bizarre concepts like The Nudity Buffer, The Sock Gap, The Melty Man and Captain Subtext. Episode one of this series, ‘The Man With Two Legs,’ is not only a standout episode, but a comedy classic in itself, and provides a perfectly reasonable explanation of how a man can have too many legs for his own good.
It is frustrating, then, that the same writer and cast can come up with some fairly uninspired episodes, and one gets the feeling that this second series should have kept to the six episode format of the first. Instead, there are nine episodes here which, while representing good value for a BBC sitcom, can result in a few disappointments. Moffatt admits to having no real plans or ideas for the series before he began writing, and often this is evident. On the other hand, even a bad episode will deliver at least a few quality gags, and this only applies to about three of the nine. The contrast between Coupling’s terrific episodes and its unspectacular ones is where the disappointment really lies.
That said, Coupling is one of the most unashamedly laugh-like-an-idiot sitcoms when firing on all cylinders, which it does regularly throughout this series.
Once again, its nice to see TV programmes being shot in the 16:9 ratio, and of course this is preserved here with a decent anamorphic transfer which stands up to broadcast quality. The show has never been particularly visually striking – save Jeff’s occasional paranoid trip – but the transfer is fine for a well-lit and in every sense colourful sitcom. No edge enhancements or artefacting, but there is the odd bit of grain. Who cares? It’s not exactly Lord of the Rings.
A serviceable, unspectacular DD stereo soundtrack. It won’t have your friends wide-eyed with amazement, neither will it wake your neighbours. It’s a sitcom. You can hear all the dialogue clearly, and the incidental music never imposes. No complaints.
Improving on the series one disc in terms of extras was never going to be difficult due to its complete lack of them. But the three minor bonus features presented here are lacklustre at best.
Interview with writer Steven Moffatt
The interviews suggest that these extras have been cobbled together just to fill a bit of writing space on the back cover; a camcorder is plonked on-set and pointed at its subject, as an off-screen work experience tea-boy weakly mumbles half-written questions over the cacophonous background noise of the crew at work. Often the din is too great to actually make out what is being said, particularly by the interviewer.
Nonetheless, Moffat’s interview is quite engaging, if not glitteringly funny. He covers the autobiographical- and character-based aspects of the writing process with insight and is humbly honest about the show’s shortcomings. He sums up the show succinctly: “A very, very slow progress through tiny, trivial details of a very ordinary relationship. With some jokes about breasts in.”
However, where there are breasts, there’s padding (or is that just me?). The interview runs for around ten minutes, but much of this is taken up with clips of Moffatt’s favourite scenes. Scenes that are already included on this DVD. Which we can access through selection menus at the touch of a button. Ridiculous.
Interview with actor Jack Davenport
Davenport is more fun, relaxed and humorous than Moffatt, understandably given his on-camera experience. He makes his own observation as to the nature of Coupling: “We are the home of the well-crafted nob-gag” – hopefully not a reference to some sort of genital restraint – and comes up with some quite amusing insights into his character. But the interview is beset by the same technical inadequacies as before, and is far too short. Did the student run out of questions?
Behind the scenes Awful. Insulting. An affront to those of us who look forward to receiving some sort of insight from a special feature. Barely-edited camcorder footage of the cast in a photoshoot – apparently for the front cover of this DVD, rendering it even more useless as we already have the final outcome emblazoned on the box. A bit of giggling. Some more giggling. “OK, loves, that’s great. Could we try one with Steve and Susan kissing now?” More giggling. And the Coupling theme tune on repeat play in the background. Dull and pointless.
Undoubtedly worth buying – the disc is good value for the majority of episodes that work. To expect a commentary would be churlish, as there would not really be enough to say about such a fundamentally simple comedy. But a proper documentary and more thorough interviews would have been worth doing.