Cutting It, BBC1

by | May 6, 2003 | All, Reviews

When Cutting It first appeared last year, the idea – a drama about ambitious hairdressers in Manchester – didn’t seem too promising. But it turned out to be great stuff, with Debbie Horsfield’s scripts cleverly stirring a heady mixture of glitz, money, sex and earthy Northern humour.

There were terrific performances from Sarah Parish and Jason Merrells as thrusting cutters Allie and Gavin, plus strong support from Angela Griffin and Sian Reeves as Allie’s sisters. Ben Daniels was super-smooth as Finn, Allie’s suave-but-feckless ex, while Amanda Holden stayed just the right side of silly as his so-spoilt wife Mia. Even the show’s portrayal of a glamorous, metropolitan Manchester was more distinctive and convincing than Cold Feet’s North London Up North.

Something as not-broke as that doesn’t need much fixing, and in this series two opener they’d fixed it just enough. Carrying on from the series one climax, in which Allie left Gavin for Finn’s oily charms, it saw the couple returning from a month in Naples to find that the world had, by and large, turned against them.

Allie was persona non grata at her old salon and with her family, while Gavin was making up for 15 years of monogamy with a 14-women-a-fortnight habit. Meanwhile dumped wife Mia returned to Manchester hell-bent on revenge, and quickly recruited big-gobbed Ruby (secretly Allie and Finn’s love child) as her co-conspirator. After flirting with a high-powered role in Finn’s health club empire, Allie returned to her roots and opened her own salon in Mia’s old premises, directly opposite Gavin’s. That took us right back to the start of the first series, only with a whole new network of rivalries, tensions and unfinished business.

All that could still be the plot of something from the makers of Footballers Wives. But Cutting It has a secret weapon, namely that it really is about hairdressing, with Allie and Gavin approaching their trade with the same deadly seriousness that the characters of earlier business-rivalry dramas approached ship-building or textile manufacturing. Ten years ago, that would have been laughable for all the wrong reasons, but in today’s Posh-and-Becks world, where a sense of self-worth begins with highlights and a waxing, it’s spot-on. By luck or design (almost certainly the latter), Cutting It has tapped straight into the heart of the glitzy metropolitan zeitgeist.

Cutting It, BBC1

Opinions vary on Cutting It’s second series, but for some at least it’s still the best and most original drama seen on TV for years. Writer Debbie Horsfield uses her characters like chess pieces, presenting them in endless permutations of love, lust, rivalry and power.

The supporting cast, including Sian Reeves (Sydney) and Annette Badland (mum-from-hell Brawdie) give performances you can’t take your eyes away from. Nearer to the centre there’s Cheri Lunghi as a scheming, love-crossed porn queen (worth the licence fee in her own right), and right in the middle enough chemistry to satisfy a US weapons inspection team between Allie (Sarah Parish) and her estranged husband Gavin (Jason Merrells). And it’s not set in the rarefied world of international finance or Premiership football, but in two hairdressing salons with real working clippers. That’s quality.

This week’s season finale stayed true to the show’s principles, with plenty of hairdressing (and yet another set of hairdressing awards, which seem to happen every week in Manchester), and some mind-boggling shuffling of the romance-power-rivalry pack, designed to leave everyone thoroughly devastated and up for more shuffling in series three.

The final, heartbreaking shuffle, in which Allie and Gavin’s rekindled romance was cruelly destroyed, was not only a Grade A credibility-stretcher, but based on two helpings of our most-hated-of-all soap cliché, the pregnant-after-it’s-over routine. But we forgive them, just this once, partly because there was a clever vasectomy-related twist at the end (even if it was a lot like Ian Beale’s in EastEnders) but mainly because we were too busy reaching for the Kleenex to care.

The BBC has promised that there will be a third series (next year), and we promise we’ll be there, hoping against hope that the lovely couple do eventually get back together, and that so-smooth Finn (Ben Daniels) and so-unhinged fire-starter Mia (Amanda Holden) get what they so richly deserve – each other. What’s the betting that they don’t though, and that we have to keep on hoping through to series four?

Cutting It, BBC1

If you like seeing women portrayed as devious thugs or wealth-obsessed fashion junkies, then ITV is ready to entertain you with Bad Girls and Footballer’s Wives. If, on the other hand, you’d prefer a drama in which women’s perspectives are given unashamed priority over men’s, then flip to BBC1 and catch the new series of Cutting It, Debbie Horsfield’s saga of passion and rivalry in the unlikely setting of trendy Manchester hairdressing salons.

Series two ended with Allie (hairdresser) shacked up with Finn (hairdressing-oriented businessman) after leaving Gavin (hairdresser) who promptly shacked up with Finn and Allie’s love-child Ruby (hairdressing junior), having made both women pregnant. You don’t need a degree in emotional trauma to see the possibilities in that lot, and this season’s opener milked it to the full, as Allie and Finn had a surprise wedding, only to be surprised by Ruby’s insistence on the same consideration from Gavin, who agreed, only to see the nuptials spoilt by the inconsiderate arrival of both of his offspring.

In among all this Allie declared her love for Gavin (despite being about to become his mother-in-law), but said that bearing Finn’s child meant she had to stay with him. Both of them were, however, unaware that the baby couldn’t be Finn’s because he’d had a vasectomy.

Something this contrived would, in lesser hands, seem plain ridiculous, but straight faces from the leading actors (including Sarah Parish in her element as Allie), plus diversionary attitude from a chorus of supporting characters (most of them Allie’s hairdressing relatives) just about held it together. The overall effect was like a high-intensity crash course in Relationships & Feelings, similar to those ones that promise to make you pass your driving test in seven days.

Plenty of passion then, but missing from this series (so far, at least) is the business rivalry. Without it, things did seem just a bit lopsided, too much emotion and not enough action. Also missing was Amanda Holden as Finn’s super-spoilt former wife Mia, although there was a fairly big hint about her impending appearance in a later episode. Hairdressing action was the authenticity-clinching trump card of earlier series, but there wasn’t much of that either. In its place, however, was a truly astonishing altar-side a cappella rendition of Ruby Tuesday from Allie’s family. Surprises like that separate the top shows from the Footballers’ Wives.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

06/05/2003

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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