Did we like it?
A deceptively caustic drama that savages the lobotomising influence of feral competition, and any subsequent fame, revealing its absurdity through a quaint choir contest in Derbyshire. However, we cannot fathom why one of the worst songs of the 21st century was chosen as its defiant musical spine, while we’re also sceptical that it can hobble on for a further five episodes without devolving into a petty vignette of provincial one-upmanship.
What was good about it?
• While it’s not absolutely clear, our interpretation of this drama is that the casual inhumanity and cruelty of talent show contests – X-Factor, Last Choir Standing etc – in which the participants are just pieces of dumb meat gargling on a hook before being cut and butchered to suit the mendacious desires of the producers, has been cleverly transplanted to a rural choir.
• The choir itself have no ambition to triumph in local contests against other parishes, much to the simmering chagrin of leader Michael Caddick (Neil Pearson), while the general apathy to fame is symbolised by his wife Esther (Sarah Lancashire).
• The catalyst for the inevitable schism is provided by newcomer Layla (Sarah Alexander), who is not as meek and modest as she initially seems, and soon has her claws into Michael.
• Michael, however, was just waiting for such an excuse to seek fame through his choir, but it’s with the arrival of Layla that the talent show contest mentality is ingrained. Even before she turned up, though, Michael was a walking cliché – after forgetting their 20th wedding anniversary he improvised in front of the choir, claiming to have booked a holiday in Venice – along with Miami, the ultimate destination for clichéd romance.
• And throughout the rest of the episode, the grotesque argot of the talent show infiltrated the script. Rousing the choir to win a contest he demanded that they “step up to the plate”, and it is a chance “for people to step out of their comfort zone”.
• During practice he urges the choir “to take a short comfort break” – an especially vulgar Americanism that expresses discomfort at mentioning the most mundane functions of the human body and simultaneously alludes to the sterility of talent shows. He also says, “We’re most proud that we’ve upped our game!”
• The hampered language Michael uses has become so integrated into the talent show vernacular, that it’s only when it’s heard out of its normal ‘comfort zone’ that its rancid banality is truly revealed. The skilful scripting extends Michael’s sanitised sermonising into his personal relationship with Esther, during which the fragile philosophy fractures into smithereens. It’s this central relationship that shows up the artifice of talent shows, and their incongruity and inhumanity to real-life situations.
• As a prelude to the inevitable break-up, he pleads with her to “step out of her comfort zone to learn a new skill”, while well-aware that it is he who refuses to accept his graduation into middle-aged obsolescence.
• And as he tells Esther he is leaving, Michael claims he took “a long hard look” at the rest of his life – but people who take ‘long hard looks’ say so to mask the fact that it was more of an impulsive glance.
• The wholesale shift from talent show to domestic drama would be implausible were it not for the excellent Neil Pearson and Sarah Lancashire, moulding a distinctive couple at war for the most ordinary of reasons. Despite his flaws and shallowness, Michael comes across as a three-dimensional character, an impression compounded when their daughter Georgia blames Esther for the split for not being interesting enough.
• The Manchester United references – Michael ‘Caddick’, while a new Serbian member of the choir is named Nemanja.
What was bad about it?
• Blink 182’s All The Small Things – why? One of the most ragged rumps of whining slaughterhouse pigs ever committed to CD, and it’s the one song that Caddicks’ autistic son Kyle idolises.
• At one point the singer in Kyle’s band changes one of the lyrics – ‘commiserating’ ‘obliterating’ – which sends Kyle into a quiet frenzy, demanding that it must be “(singer) Tom’s (DeLonge) words!”. This might be credible if much of the chorus wasn’t wreathed in the Milton-esque profundity of “Na-na-naa-na-na-naa”, which are also the most elegantly composed lyrics in the entire song.
• Making Out, one of writer Debbie Horsfield’s first dramas, had perhaps the greatest TV theme song of all time, so why must we endure this tripe? Even Blink 182’s ugliest runt offspring Fallout Boy would have been preferable.
• As a one-hour single drama, All The Small Things would have been a satisfying programme with a definite conclusion. However, there’s another five episodes to go and we fear that after being defeated in the contest by Kyle’s band (aided and abetted by Esther) that it will be a succession of tedious adversarial skirmishes of the type that Cutting It regressed to.