Waiting for God (Series 1) Review
The image of the pensioner as a nice but very confused member of society dressed in a cardigan and drifting towards death without a thought for it is one that passed with Waiting For God. These are, after all, people who were conscripted into battle and who fought, sometimes in two world wars, who we imagined to be feeling satisfied at being wheeled into a dining room to be fed a meal that would have Jamie Oliver marching on Downing St before watching their lives pass by accompanied by the sound of afternoon television. All this in a world that worships youth, finding new words to define ever younger markets with even the tweenies, being pre-teens, being the target of Pop Jr., Bratz Rock Angelz and the adding of an 'A' to what used to be a straight 12.
The joy of Waiting For God is that it's something of an antidote to that, starring Stephanie Cole and Graham Crowden as no one's idea of dotty elder relatives. Indeed, they bear a clear grudge for those younger than them who think that sixty is the age when one's mental faculties follow one's physical well-being into decrepitude. Stephanie Cole, in her playing of Diana Trent, is almost eternally frustrated at people thinking that she's dim because her knees creak. Her character suggests that this has been going on for quite some time and that life hasn't been particularly easy for her since being forced out of a career as a photographer specialising in war zones and other areas of human conflict. The years spent being talked down to by those who she'd once have sat on her knee reading them stories, notably her niece, have given her a waspish, brittle, bloody-minded personality who, if she could rouse her fellow pensioners out of their afternoon sleep, would bring on a revolution.
Crowden's character, Tom Ballard, is very different but just as subversive, having long lost interest in those younger than him and, to be rid of them, he spends afternoons and evenings disappearing into a world of gentle make-believe. He may be climbing Everest, on a mission to assassinate Fidel Castro or racing in the Indianapolis 500 but he never strays far from his chair, leaving his a more difficult retirement. How, after all, can you argue with a man who, to all intents and purposes, believes that that very morning, he'd breakfasted with Sherpa Tensing.
Waiting For God - despite it being a BBC1 primetime sitcom, it came with one of the cleverest titles in years - features this pair as residents of the Bayview retirement village, home to a collection of pensioners whose younger relatives could think of nowhere better to put them. Barely managing the establishment is Harvey Bains (Daniel Hill), who has more concern for his shareholders than for those in his care and whose interest in them barely extends to knowing their names - for most of this first season he mistakenly calls Crowden's character Dan, which Crowden responds to by calling Bains by the name Harry. It isn't necessarily that Bains dislikes Bayview - the series suggests that he enjoys the prestige of managing an institute well-known within the community, which allows him to mix with local politicians - more that he has a misplaced sense of ambition, which has him treating Bayview as a first step towards greater things. Things that will, as he makes clear, allow him to make good use of all six weeks management training that he's so far enjoyed. Therefore, as much as Tom and Diana may dislike Bains - and, oh, how they do - they're much more keen on thwarting this ambition, which gives way to some wonderful comedy.
Together, Tom and Diane remain at the centre of the show and it's their skewed takes of life that make them the firmest of friends. They steal a Porsche and head to Brighton for the day, they get asked to leave a christening after kicking the hostess and suggesting, via Jonathan Swift, that children should be eaten whilst their adventures in a helicopter has them taking a photograph of a politician in a rather compromising position. They make for an unlikely success but they're all the more noticeable to being out of place in a sitcom that, otherwise, is safely suburban - Tom's son is dull, his daughter-in-law is sex-starved and Jane (Janine Duvitski), Bains's assistant, is unutterably dim. Most of these characters belong to another sitcom - Janine Duvitski would go on to play a very similar role in One Foot In The Grave - so it's left to the central pairing of Tom and Diana to carry the series, which they do with some style.
Within the laughs, though, there's plenty of pathos. There are moments of devotion between Tom and Diana, such as her waiting outside of his hospital bedroom when he falls sick, which sees her dismissed as a bag lady or, in Fraulein Mueller, he rallies the residents at Bayview to get her to stay even after her complaints about the piano in the dining room. Best of all, though, is The Psychiatrist, when Sarah Snow, Diana's niece, asks Diana if she can continue to visit. Expecting Diana to say yes, the series surprises by having her ask Sarah never to come back, hoping, instead, that she'll only remember those moments when her aunt was living by her wits, travelling the world and returning home with tales of adventures rather than watching her grumbling in a retirement home, where the only social occasions are funerals. It's a touching moment in a show that otherwise features much black comedy, where death may only be a sleep away, which Tom and Diana would rather laugh at than fear. Throughout, they show that they have real life left in them and the public agreed, making Waiting For God a deserved success. Whether or not that success follows through onto DVD is another matter but if there's any justice, it will be and not just bought by pensioners but by tweenies and their parents, if only to see what their grandparents get up to when left to their own devices.
Welcome to Bayview (29m29s): Having skinned a rabbit in Marion's sewing room, Tom Ballard is driven to Bayview by Marion and her husband, Tom's son Geoffrey. Bayview's manager, Harvey Bains, initially welcomes Tom - or Dan as Harvey calls him - but when Tom strikes up a friendship with Diana Trent, he's seen as a troublemaker, an impression that isn't helped by his beginning a hunger strike in protest at the terrible state of the food. When Bains calls on Tom's family for support, Tom realises that more drastic measures are called for and calls a meeting with Bains that lets him know who's really running Bayview.
A Trip to Brighton (26m30s): When Jane calls Diana a senior citizen, Diana tells here that at the age of sixty, she was covering the Vietnam war hanging out of an aeroplane over the Cambodian border covering the Vietnam war and having her arse shot at by various warlords. After barely entertaining his visiting son and daughter-in-law, Diana takes her niece's Porsche, which she is meant to be taking care of, and drives Tom to Brighton for a day out by the sea. But back at Bayview, all is not well with the idea of two senior citizens driving a sports car about the motorways or southern England.
Cheering Up Tom (27m36s): Having not turned up for breakfast, Diana and Jane suspect that Tom may have, in the words of the establishment, moved on. They enter his room to find that he thinks he may be dying and via a short trip to hospital, in which Tom discharges himself by having Diana drive him back to Bayview in the Porsche, the doctor diagnoses him as depressed. Bains asks Diana to try and cheer him up but having got used to her scathing commentary on life in a retirement home, is the sight of a smiling Diana what's needed to raise Tom's spirit.
The Christening (29m50s): When Tom receives an invitation to the christening of his great-nephew Sylvester, he requests Diana's company to accompany him. Diana is troubled, though, by a threat from Bains that she may be asked to leave Bayview on account of her polymyalgia, which she failed to mention on her application form. With a hearing in a couple of days, Diana nervously awaits the outcome, finally warming to the place now that she has, in Tom, a like-minded soul and a dear friend.
Fraulein Mueller (28m46s): God has clearly had enough of being waited on and pays a visit to Jane one night, calling her to a life as a bride of Christ. In her place, Bains brings in Greta Mueller who begins a new era of care at the retirement village, one that the residents are less than enamoured of. Firstly, she tells Diana's niece where Diana hid the Porsche and then she plots with Bains how best to get rid of both Jane and Diana but Tom has a plan to begin the fightback and it involves Bains, who doesn't quite realise that he's on the side of the residents.
The Psychiatrist (29m40s): Having agreed to the setting up of a residents committee, Bains is now aghast at the amount of money that Tom is spending on his arranging of trips into Brighton. Appealing to Sarah Snow, Diana's Porsche-owning niece, as well as Geoffrey and Marion, who are shareholders, Bains tries to get Tom and Diana declared mentally unfit, which would allow their relatives to take over their affairs. Sarah hints that she has a psychiatrist friend who would be glad to help but Bains, in his glee at ridding Bayview of the residents committee, doesn't quite see how the tables are turning.
The Helicopter (28m50s): Having decided to take up her old career as a photographer, Diana and Tom take to the skies in a helicopter to take aerial photographs of local properties to sell to the owners. But on close examination of one, they find a shot of two people out in their garden, dressed in very little and looking as though they're interested in a very different kind of shrubbery. Then a local politician from the Residents Party visits hoping to drum up some pre-election interest but something about him looks very familiar.
Waiting For God looks very much as it might have done on its original broadcast - reasonably clear with decent levels of brightness and colour, being the sort of thing that the BBC preserve very well in their archives. The soundtrack isn't bad either but is purely functional, sounding reasonable but never flashy just as it was originally broadcast. Finally, there are English subtitles.
There are no extras on this DVD release.
Despite it being a very decent sitcom, there's a good chance that Waiting For God has been overshadowed by One Foot In The Grave, which featured an equally belligerent pensioner, but it still deserves praise for being, for BBC1, a risk-taking show that actually delivered laughs. Without extras, this DVD is nothing terribly special but it's presented well making it a reasonable disc.