Jam & Jerusalem: Series 1 Review
Sam Neill might have danced about the Event Horizon telling anyone who would listen about the nature of Hell but I don't think that his scabby self came up with anything unexpected. Of course, his experiment in faster-than-light travel did have the unwanted side-effect of leaving its space-and-time travellers being feasted upon by pan-dimensional beings but I would take all of that, even the maggots, big pointy stick from bum to mouth and holding my eyeballs aloft like medals over what my version of Hell would be like. And that would be living with Edie and Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous. Or just living with them but simply watching it again.
Nothing divided the genders like Absolutely Fabulous. While the women with whom I lived shrieked with laughter at Patsy falling out of a car flashing her knickers - "She's showing her knickers!" is what I would be told, somewhat helpfully - I sat stoney-faced as though Edie and Patsy had informed me that the next thirty minutes were to be my last on this earth. Which wasn't so far from the truth as with every episode of Absolutely Fabulous, a little part of me died. I didn't, therefore, have high hopes for Jam & Jerusalem, which was also written by Jennifer Saunders. In fact, just hearing that Saunders was responsible for Jam & Jerusalem is like being presented with a meal and being told that it tastes of turd.
However, Jam & Jerusalem is actually rather a nice surprise and a gentle one at that given how its current place in the Friday night schedules winds down the week like a glass of single malt. It concerns Sal (Sue Johnston), a nurse in a small practice in the town of Clatterford, who calls into the surgery on her way home from the pub to find her husband, the village doctor, dead of a heart attack. She sets about rebuilding her life by seeking friendship in the Women's Institute, something that she had little time for while Mike (Hwyel Bennet) was alive. "It's not all jam and Jerusalem!" Eileen tells her but, to Sal, that's exactly what it was. What she finds are people very much more in need of her help than she is of theirs.
Not letting the notion of drama stray too far from Jam & Jerusalem, Jennifer Saunders has written a continuing storyline into the series, that of Sal becoming both widowed and unemployed over the course of three days. After discovering the body of dead husband, her son James (David Mitchell) returns to the village and announces from the pulpit that not only will he be taking up his father's place as doctor but that his wife Yasmeen (Salima Saxton) will be the new nurse. Only Yasmeen isn't comfortable with nursing, doesn't like blood and can't say 'smear' to female patients. But they are but two things amongst many that seems to be spectacularly badly timed. Her irresponsible hippie daughter Tash (Sally Phillips) and son move in with Sal, she's visited by a hopeless bereavement counsellor (Rosie Cavaliero) and the guild are almost knocking down her door in order to accept her as a member. And Mike's ashes are still sitting in their urn.
Due to Sue Johnston's ability to hold the show together, much as she once did in Brookside, there is much to like in Jam & Jerusalem. Perhaps it couldn't be any more gentle - it has all the sharp edges of a quilt - but in spite of the continuing story, each episode also functions somewhat as a sketch show not unlike those of Harry Enfield's in which his regular characters mill around a common story. While Johnston's Sal remains at the centre of each story, always funny but sometimes correctly tipping the story over into melancholy, other characters come and go. Schizophrenic Rosie (Dawn French) picks cheese out of her pants to say thank you while Delilah Stagg (Joanna Lumley) is as likely to be found striking bum notes on the church organ as she is trapped in her own car. Caroline (Saunders) belittles and berates her own daughter Freya (Freya Edmondson) and talks rock bands with Susie (Suzy Aitchison) while Eileen (Maggie Steed) and the guild hold it all together.
While it's certainly funny, never more so than when Tippi (Pauline McLynn) arranges for James and Yasmeen to give James' old school teacher a smear test in a bid to get Sal her old job back, it works just as well as a heartwarming drama in which Sal, who's not quite ready for retirement, tries to best manage her life against those who are competing for her time. She's a game old dear but even her patience is tested when all she wants is to inspect a farmer's ulcers, take a urine sample and have a cup of tea and slice of fruit cake but much of the pleasure of the show comes from this conflict in her life. There are so many wonderful little moments in this one story that would make Jam & Jerusalem great but when Sue Johnston, as likeable here as she's ever been, is supported by lovely performances from Rosie Cavaliero and Pauline McLynn, it makes for a great show. And that's not mentioning Dawn French speaking to the vicar with the voice of God while hidden in the church or asking if the guild medals that Eileen wears, in her words, over her boobs are like armour. Never mind the memory of Absolutely Fabulous, one of the worst sitcoms produced by the BBC, this is among the best of their more recent comedies and deserves as long a service as do the ladies of the guild.
Series 2 of Jam & Jerusalem has been chosen by the BBC to be recorded in high definition and while this is plain old standard definition it still looks very good indeed, if not one of the very best 2 Entertain releases. The picture is clear, completely free of any blemishes and the colour and brightness of the image, although drab in the way that small villages so often are, are spot-on. While 2 Entertain could have squeezed all six episodes onto a single disc and not bothered with the Christmas special, they have done well not to give in to that temptation, offering three episodes on the first disc and four on the second. Over these seven episodes, there are no problems that stand out with the entire show being a treat to watch.
The DD2.0 soundtrack is nothing out of the ordinary but, when intended and not presenting the mumblings of a confused farmer, Jam & Jerusalem sounds fine. The dialogue is always clear, the ambient effects are always present but remain in the background and the occasional songs never really impose themselves over the comedy. Again, though, there are no problems with the presentation of the episodes on this DVD and while there is nothing to pick out as a highlight, neither is there anything to point to as being a problem. Finally, there are English subtitles throughout.
While one might expected a brief look at the making of Jam & Jerusalem or a commentary or two, this two-disc set only offers the Christmas Special (40m06s) from 2006, which is, being honest, much more welcome than any normal bonus feature. There is, though, very little that's Christmas about this episode other than it being that little bit longer than average and being set about the annual Clatterford pantomime. No snow, mind, but it may be that the tinsel and bauble that hangs from the bus stop is quite enough. This one episode nicely bridges the gap between the first and second series with Tash and Marcus finally kissing, of James finding some acceptance within Clatterford and Sal, with help from Spike, scattering Mike's ashes in a most unique way.