Life Begins, ITV1

by | Sep 4, 2006 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

We used to like it. The first series was fresh and fun. The second series waned in our affections. Now it’s just stupid and sterile.

What’s good about it?

• The cast is excellent, doing their best to carry off all the unconvincing situations.

• New characters Mia (Alexandra Gilbraith) and Nick (Matthew Cottle) – the swinging neighbours – should breathe some life into a jaded set-up.

• The most convincing characters are Maggie’s elderly parents, nagging Brenda and carefree Eric, thanks to excellent performances by Anne Reid and Frank Finlay.

• Pulling off the role of stroppy teenager is always hard, but Elliot Henderson-Boyle does it superbly as moody hoodie-wearing James

What’s bad about it?

• Plots involving on-off relationships are a turn-off. The sooner Maggie and Phil (Caroline Quentin and Alexander Armstrong) murder each other, the better.

• Plots involving bad backs, misunderstandings with the neighbours, mobile phones and silly costumes are passé.

• Maggie and Phil’s brush with their swinging neighbours and their attempt to resurrect their lovemaking were played out like a lousy 70s sex comedy, reaching a nadir when the new neighbours found Phil bound to the bed, naked and smothered in condensed milk.

• We cannot stand Phil’s philandering boss Brian and he’s going to be an irritating presence now he’s moved in with Maggie and Phil.

• The highlight of previous series came when Maggie was at work in the travel agency, but even that descended into farce this week when they held an ill-fated Spanish-themed promotion.

Life Begins, ITV1, Wednesday

What to say if you liked it

A welcome return for Mike “Cold Feet” Bullen’s brilliant drama that exhibits just the right amounts of humour, pathos and realism.

What to say if you didn’t like it

The only thing worse than an ITV drama or comedy is a recommissioned ITV drama or comedy.

What was good about it?

• Caroline Quentin’s character is so beautifully realised it is almost like watching a documentary of one’s own mother. For example, when she noticed her neighbour doing some gardening she commented, “Ooh! You can do mine next if you want!” This is a comment all mothers are taught just moments after childbirth by any dedicated midwife (the line must also be used when seeing a neighbour washing a car or cleaning the windows of the house.)

• Maggie’s two suitors, the husband who has left, Phil (Alexander Armstrong) and her boyfriend Paul (Danny Webb), contrast sharply in character yet both performances remained nicely understated without ever drifting into caricature. Best was the moment when they struggled manfully to keep their dignity intact while squabbling carefully over who was better qualified to fix Maggie’s broken down car. Phil won by swallowing his pride (as if swallowing broken glass) and taking the kids to school in his car.

• Some of the bitchy barbs directed at irritating new jobsworth character Genevieve (catchphrase “Personal call!”) who is working with Maggie at the travel agents. When they have an office drink to get to know each other, Genevieve complains about her water, “I didn’t ask for sparkling,” eliciting the response: “Ah well it’ll go flat if you leave it long enough.”

• Phil slowly recognising that his life is falling apart and becoming more endearing to us in the process. He arrives late to work on the day some Suits from London are in demanding job cuts: “I like your style,” says Kieran, “It’s M&S” replies an oblivious Phil. Later, he’s made redundant while Kieran, who is laughing like a crazed hyena outside in the main office, keeps his job.

• Eric, Maggie’s father, giving a talk at James’s school about his time in the Korean War. His slides bored the class stupid, but his two stories afterwards about being shot and then about killing a fatally injured Korean soldier managed to be emotional without being mawkish.

• Some lovely one-liners delivered by Caroline Quentin. When her mother hears Phil is round for dinner, Maggie snaps: “Don’t get your hopes up, it’s only pasta.”

What was bad about it?

• In a drama that possesses such strong characterisations, it’s a little disappointing that Bullen has created a personality in Maggie’s mother Brenda who appears to be little more than a sub-Hyacinth Bucket knock-off.

• A similar criticism could be levelled at the almost Gervaisian Genevieve, although it will be interesting to see how she develops in the series.

• A minor quibble, but there were just a couple too many convenient coincidences involving the kids that jarred a little, for example when Becca walked down the corridor just in time to hear Paul say “sex” to Maggie (even though he must have seen or heard her coming), eliciting the typical teenage groan.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

04/09/2006

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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