Did we like it?
A well-written, well-acted drama that takes a mundane topic and drapes it in the fineries of TV theatrics.
What was good about it?
• A brilliant cast that sees Sarah Smart in her slightly dizzy Virginia from the Braithwaites mode as the hapless Jane who leaves home under pressure from her harridan, scornful mother to make a new life in London. But Smart also plays Jane’s ultra-confident alter ego who articulates what the timid Jane really wants to say and do whether it’s in a job interview for a life of tepid decay in the Department of Trade and Industry or when she is ambivalent over Robert’s apparent attraction to her.
• And Smart is bolstered by a superb supporting cast that principally features Geraldine James as Jane’s disapproving mother, whose disgust at her daughter’s unwillingness to pursue a life that she deems fitting impels Jane to flee to London. But even there she is only a haughty telephone call away from her miserable mother.
• Stephen Mangan also provides a fine turn as Robert, Jane’s new housemate. Despite being gay Robert can’t help but compliment Jane on her beauty, which Jane confuses for a sexual attraction. And he’s the cynical voice of reason when Jane must decide between following her instinct to become a bus driver or her duty to her parents and take a spiritually destructive job at the DTi.
• Also, Ian Reddington makes a decent villain, even if he was rather crudely sketched as a nasty piece of work in the opener to the point that when he enters stage right next week you half expect him to be wearing a black cape and baring fangs.
• Timorous Jane expressing her anger at her mother’s overbearing nature by shutting the back door ever-so-slightly harder than usual when she embarks for London.
• Dougie, the bus driving instructor, who takes bus driving a little bit too seriously and compares driving a bus to “being in control of a lethal weapon”.
What was bad about it?
• The number of calamities Jane experienced within the course of one episode was perhaps overdone: she walked out on her parents, was sent sprawling in the canteen by the dastardly Barry’s outstretched foot, almost “snogged” Robert until she learnt he was gay, got lost on her first day as a bus driver, fell into a puddle, disgusted her mother by giving The Joy of Sex as a wedding present to her cousin), got trapped in a room while two bus drivers shagged and got love of her life Richard to dump his air-headed air hostess girlfriend. It might have been better to have been more sparing as six weeks of such melodrama could get a little tiresome.
• Jane Hall was made two years ago and it’s unlikely that a second series will be made no matter how successful this one is. And this is a shame, because it’s far better than the worthless, cheap effluence ITV1 mindlessly pumps out such as Holidays From Hell, Weddings From Hell and Celebrity Something that mostly features ITV1’s epileptic attempts to secure six or seven million viewers with the most desperate programmes devised by mankind. And it also makes Jane Hall to be vulnerable to being taken off our screens.