Trailers can be terribly misleading. The ones for Between The Sheets made it seem like a raunchier version of Saturday’s slickly predictable Single, which was a good reason not to bother watching it. In fact, it turned out to be a less slapstick version of At Home With The Braithwaites, which is just about the best imaginable reason for tuning in.
The show is about sex, but not in the way the trailers hoped to get you thinking. Author Kay Mellor wrote the great Band Of Gold, a drama series which explored the lives of prostitutes without showing them on the job in every other scene (in fact hardly at all). She’s done the same with this look at a sex counsellor and her clients, and the effect is the same too, a chance to look at the way sex affects our lives without getting adolescently steamed up about it. It’s terrific stuff, and very entertaining.
Julie Graham (the Braithwates’ ravenous Megan) is excellent as the (almost ) straight-faced therapist Alona, leading her clients gently through questions about masturbation and when they last saw their genitals. Alun Armstrong and Brenda Blethyn are brilliant as Peter and Hazel, the middle-aged businessman and repressed former convent girl who come to Alona for help. And if they aren’t enough, there’s Liz Smith and Norman Wisdom as Peter’s 78-year-old mum and her boyfriend, consulting Alona about his feelings of inadequacy at only being able to get it up once a day.
The format is half-Braithwaite, half-Band Of Gold, with Granny Smith announcing (in close-up) to a shocked Hazel that her new beau has triggered a sexual awakening in her, and Alona struggling to deal with allegations of sexual impropriety against her probation officer boyfriend. Sex is everywhere, but it’s sex as a function of life, like eating and breathing, rather than as a commodity to be packaged up and sold (the irony being that Peter owns a lapdancing club that does exactly that).
Between The Sheets is simultaneously the most verbally explicit and least gratuitously smutty programme on TV at the moment, which is quite an achievement. It’s also one with the potential to make us think about sex in a grown-up way, which is even more of one. Never judge a show by its trailers.
Between The Sheets, ITV1
Between The Sheets is a ripoff of nothing, brilliantly cast, superbly executed, alternately funny and moving, and with loads to say about the most universal, and ultimately important, human subject of all – sex. That said, it’s not surprising that it lost a million viewers, because it had been trailered as a soft-porn bonkfest, which it decidedly is not. By promoting it this way, ITV managed to alienate its true audience of people who’d be interested in a thoughtful examination of male/female relationships (i.e. most of the country’s women and a fair number of its men) while pissing off those who tuned in hoping to see lots of shagging. Nice work, guys!
For the record, it got even better in episode two. Brenda Blethyn is simply astonishing as the sexually repressed Hazel, and her story unfolded this week in a way that made the sight of her, desperately trying to respond to her husband’s touch, quite heartbreaking. Alun Armstrong, as her husband Peter, is loyal, caring, exploitative, empathetically challenged and violently ruthless, and believable in every respect. Julie Graham’s Alona is the dramatic realisation of every open minded but simultaneously over-opinionated “caring professional” you’ve ever met, while her partner’s did-he-didn’t-he sexual abuse storyline would make a Bill scriptwriter green with envy. And this week there was even some bonking, for any porn fans who’d stayed faithful from last week.
Between The Sheets is, quite simply, the best British-produced drama currently on TV. Perhaps the trailers could be shunted off to the graveyard instead.