Did we like it?
An intelligent, well-acted, slick, perhaps too slick, drama about how difficult people find it to become adults when all they really want to do is live their carefree teenage years over and over again.
What was good about it?
• A cast of characters who have depth and whose daily conflicts with the perils of adult life were captivating enough to sustain our interest for the whole of the first episode and have us coming back for more next week.
• The action centres on Brian (Barry Watson), a 34-year-old whose friends are either married or in settled relationships leaving him feeling excluded from everyday life, but who care for him enough to want him to find happiness in a relationship, too.
• But while on the surface, Brian’s friends take comfort from their respectable, predictable adult lives, one of the most attractive things about the drama is how difficult they find it to find contentment in lives they think they should be living but lives that ultimately cause them great personal discomfort leaving them yearning for their youth when everything was so much sunnier.
• Brian runs a computer game company with Dave, Zap Monkey, which is the perfect foil for two men reluctant to grow up both in the name of the company and the fact that their generation is perhaps the first to ‘grow up’ with computer games that have become more alluring to adults as more complex consoles allow for more complex, adult gaming.
• Dave is the symbol of a thirtysomething who got married too young and missed out on the dissolution of his 20s as he was too busy caring for his three young daughters. His wife Deena feels the same and proposes that they begin an “open marriage”. Pretty soon starts an affair with her yoga teacher while Dave is left despondent by his wife’s infidelity.
• Brian, however, has problems of his own. He is in love with his best friend Adam’s girlfriend Marjorie. To distract himself, he embarks on an affair with Karen, who he meets after crashing into her at lights while flirting with young woman in a neighbouring car. To show Brian’s apathetic view on relationships, Karen is referred to for the whole episode by Brian and his friends as “Car Girl”.
• Again to indicate how emotionally immature both Brian and Adam are, they make a pact to break up with their girlfriends “like they were 12-years-old” again. This excites Brian as he is in love with Marjorie, but Adam is a man who gets his kicks from being single so after dumping Marjorie in the evening, he suddenly sees what attracted him to her in the first place and so not only makes up with her but they get engaged. And, to Brian’s horror, Adam blames their temporary break up on Brian claiming he suggested the pact when it was entirely his idea because of his juvenile disillusionment that “after two years you either move in or move on”.
• Brian is shown that he must live as an adult rather than a priapic, impulsive teenager after he and Marjorie kiss while hiding in his apartment cupboard from the vengeful Car Girl. She breaks off and travels to Las Vegas to meet up with Adam. Brian follows but once there realises that his adult duty as Brian’s best friend is to stop pursuing Marjorie and sacrifice his own happiness for that of his friends’.
What was bad about it?
• Although each character is well-drawn and acted, there is something a little too clinical in the manner in which each of them represent a state of adult dissatisfaction – Brian the eternal bachelor; Dave and Deena the couple whose marriage has fallen into emotional sterility; Adam, the Lothario who needs constant excitement in his relationships; and Nic, the older woman who longs for a baby – and this has the impact of exacerbating the artificial nature of many of the plotlines that seem to have piled up in Brian’s life all at the same time, such as his declaration of love about Marjorie, Marjorie and Adam’s engagement, Nic’s miscarriage and Deena’s desire for an ‘open relationship’. And it’s the accumulation of all these events that jerks you back from being immersed in an absorbing drama into the real world of manufactured TV drama.
• Anyone who is 29 years old should be forbidden from watching What About Brian, as it offers an excruciating harbinger of the mediocrity to which their fun-packed lives may soon descend. After watching a single episode, given the choice between the doom-laden paths open to them in their 30s foreshadowed by What About Brian and taking their chances on the Carousel, which people reaching 30 were forced to go on in Logan’s Run as their last futile chance of not being exterminated simply for being 30, any sane 29-year-old would choose to be fried on the Carousel.
• And this choice would have been made all the easier for them as the episode drew to a close. As Brian and his friends sat down to that icon of middle-age surrender the dinner party, made even worse by the glaring sunlight and smiling faces of the guests masking their inner despair, the charade of niceness was soundtracked by Snow Patrol’s Chocolate, a band who disseminate a contagious auditory disease that causes anyone afflicted to age more rapidly than Dorian Gray.
• Shouldn’t there be a question mark in What About Brian?