Did we like it?
If The Daily Express gets bored of persecuting immigrants and should it plump for lawyers to become the new Guy whom they lust to set ablaze atop its conflagration of odium, it needs only to slip this between the covers of its weekend supplement and people will be burning photos of John Thaw, Leo McKern, Martin Shaw and Alan Davies in the street. Alternatively, anyone watching it will have all their spirit sapped from them after the first hour and be comatose by the end.
What was good about it?
• Jenny’s (Alison Steadman) first visit to the law offices for her meeting with Tara (Emma Pierson). The walls were alive with dead frosted glass panes, footsteps tapped on the sterile, polished floors like someone prematurely buried rapping politely on the lid of their interred coffin, and smiles that streaked across the lawyers’ faces like a tick in a box on a binding contract.
• Jack’s (Kevin Whately) closing speech, when he blows his top in disgust at the avarice and mendacity of the assembled lawyers and barristers as they vilified he and Jenny for their “moment of weakness” while ignoring their inherent decency in their lives (she is a midwife, he a probation officer). While it was bound up with all the contrivances of how their much lower paid were far worthier jobs than those of the indolent, smirking law professionals present his words contained more coherent passion than was contained in the previous directionless 90 minutes.
What was bad about it?
• The two conniving solicitors Steve (Stephen Mangan) and Tara were essentially one-dimensional sitcom characters dropped into what was often a pretty bleak drama. Their sole purpose was to act as hate figures for the audience as they devised ways to rip off Jack and Jenny, and ultimately ended up as grotesque ciphers, rusted tools of the law industry, whom it was impossible to despise because they were so utterly inhuman; rather like attempting to blame the radiator to which Terry Waite was chained than the kidnappers for his incarceration.
• This made the scenes between Jenny-Tara and Jack-Steve even more awkward as though they were often in the same room or on the same phone line, they didn’t really seem to be in the same universe as Jack/Jenny would be making heartfelt pleas for their dignity while the solicitors would be arranging a date or reading a car magazine. And while this was meant to show their blunt disregard for their clients it really grated.
• The stilted manner in which going to a solicitor was perceived by the saintly characters – such as Jack’s mate – as akin to making a deal with the Devil in which you promise Old Nick not only your own soul but the soul of your firstborn, too. And how divorce can only bring you misery, clumsily embodied by Jenny’s friend who took her ex-husband to the cleaners but is now so depressed she attempted suicide and Jack’s landlord, who after his sixth divorce gets himself a Thai bride who also inevitably leaves him.
• Jack and Jenny had the same argument about five times in the first hour.
• The barristers were, if anything, more viciously portrayed than the solicitors. But again it was impossible to hate them as they were so sketchily drawn they appeared to be as substantial as snot dripping from the nose of The Fast Show with their red braces, slicked back hair, public school arrogance, a witless appraisal of a football match and their cruel bitterness towards the lower classes.
• The unsatisfying payback when Jack and Jenny’s daughter Claire tricks Steve into revealing his and Tara’s plot by seducing him in a nightclub. Both the solicitors were sacked even before they arrived for work they day after the story was published in newspapers with no chance to even deny the story. It was quite a pyrrhic victory as both Steve and Tara’s mistake was “getting caught”, which suggests their places would be taken by even more ruthless solicitors who will fleece unsuspecting couples for their life savings. The only satisfying conclusion would have been for both law firms to suffer a similar fate to the offices in the prologue of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.