Imagine Love Actually with BBC actors and no script! Imagine it! (But don’t watch it!)
This week on BBC1, a week-long daily miniseries called True Love, a string of half-hour standalones on the general theme of romance, starring such BBC all-stars as David Tennant, Billie Piper and Jane Horrocks
And not only that, scenes were apparently largely improvised by the cast. So, is this the BBC version of Love Actually? On a TV budget with cheaper actors and, um, no script? Can’t go wrong, surely?
To start on a positive note, I can imagine the meeting where True Love seemed like a good idea. Concept drama, single theme, high-profile cast, intriguing hook of “improvisation” – yeah, one could realistically imagine this show getting commissioned.
The actual product, unfortunately, doesn’t live up to the pitch. Although there’s a lot of leeway in the concept, they don’t do much with it. Is there really so little in the theme of “romance” that three out of five episodes needed to cover bored spouses seeking excitement elsewhere? Even Love Actually had more variety than that.
The improvisation hook also ends in some quite banal dialogue, or sequences where they forego dialogue entirely and stare endlessly out to sea. Obviously, we love David Tennant here on the TV/geek circuit, but improv scenes seem to be a weak point. He has a lot of energy, and manages the tricky task of making an adulterer likable, but still.
Oh, and if you were lured in by the prospect of a Piper/Tennant Doctor Who reunion, be warned: they share no scenes. Interestingly, perhaps due to her background in entertainment shows, Piper does make the improv work better than Tennant, but unfortunately her episode’s storyline (teacher falls in love with female student) is superficial, clichéd and skirts around any of the interesting issues involved.
The last two episodes are the best, so tune in tonight if you want to catch the good bits, thanks to Jane Horrocks, David Morrissey, and a few rare moments of unpredictability and restraint. All told, though, this has ended up a strange hybrid: simplistic daytime-TV love tales, masquerading as grown-up drama thanks to a high-profile cast and some cool camera angles. Oh, and most of it’s quite depressing too.
If you’re a die-hard fan of trashy romance novels or the actors involved, you may get something from it, but I can’t recommend True Love, I’m afraid. Hell, watch Love Actually instead, it really is better.
True Love continues tonight at 10:45PM on BBC One, you can catch past episodes on iPlayer or find more info on the BBC official site.
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