One word kept coming to mind while watching this programme – “Why?” Billed as a one-off comedy drama (and decidedly so, with its unsustainable situation and plot), it had no potential for sequels or series. As an examination of gender role reversal, it had almost limitless potential to say things about the way the sexes interact, but said very little, and said that in clichés. Equipped with a strong cast and decent budget, it could at least have been two hours of stimulating fun, but it wasn’t that either.
Reversals told the tale of medical lecturer Charlotte (Sarah Parish, Cutting It) and her gynaecologist partner Chris (Marc Warren, State Of Play). She’d hit the glass ceiling, while he was being fast-tracked to consultancy. When he cheated on her, she got revenge by stealing his identity (and trousers), and taking his prestigious new job. Desperate to win her back, he went along with it, becoming “her” in a less exalted teaching role.
A fair amount of disbelief-suspension was needed to swallow this, even in a comedy context. Disappointingly, that effort was rewarded with a portrayal of gender difference that came straight from the “all men are feckless tossers while women are noble and wise” school of thought so beloved by female-targeting advertisers who buy space in peak-time drama slots. To become a man, Charlotte simply had to be arrogant, brash and thoughtless. To be a woman, Chris had to develop a caring, empathetic side. And, er, that was it.
Of the two, Warren was, surprisingly, the more convincing gender-bender, despite looking more than a little like Freddie Starr in drag. His femininity (such as it was) seemed to come from inside, whereas Parish’s was plastered on in the form of loose-limbed gestures and rough manner. But it was, at heart, a fairly blatant take-off of Jack Lemon in the classic boys-as-girls comedy Some Like It Hot (script included), and it soon wore thin, as did Parish’s impression of an anglicised Kyle McLachlan in Twin Peaks.
The plot was no more satisfying. After a few by-the-numbers near-exposure subplots (almost seen by colleagues in restaurant, almost seen by Chris’s parents), the faux-Chris thwarted the evil senior consultant (the ever-smooth Anthony Head of Buffy fame) by saving his patients from unnecessary hysterectomies. Doctor Evil was left writhing on the floor after a kick in the balls from his wife, and we were left wondering if there was any saving grace whatsoever in being male.
Gender differences are, in reality, a bit more complex than this, and in two hours we might have expected just a small hint of that. Instead we got a string of divisive clichés, no real insights into what it is to be male or female, and not a lot of real entertainment either. Why?