Coupling: The Complete Seasons 1-4 Review
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The British love their saucy and vulgar comedy. However, on a show like Coupling, this risqué humor comes across as more playful and innocent than merely shocking. Why? Because the subject matter is handled with such a farcical adeptness that one cannot be offended by the sexual innuendo and scatological references. As soon as the characters utter their first lines of dialogue, they endear themselves to the audience because they’re honest.

On its release in 2000, the show was initially and erroneously compared to the popular NBC sitcom, Friends (NBC attempted to remake this comedy for the American market, but failed miserably). But where Friends preached to the converted: pretty young people letting loose with witty one liners, Coupling, by contrast, was comfortable with its more down-to-earth, wry, everyman (and everywoman) appeal. From the onset, the characters never come across as glossy products designed to sell magazines.

The strength of the series lies with writer/creator Steven Moffat (BBC’s Dr. Who, Jekyll) and his exceptional abilities as a writer of comic farce (look out for the non-linear storytelling, too). Moffat has skillfully created a cohort of engaging personalities: the women are fire-brands and, even in vulnerable moments, they show a steely and spunky strength. Even the men, as they awkwardly brag and swagger through some tear-inducing, raunchy conversations, still manage to emote a charismatic and playful charm. The character and situation set-up is prosaic to say the least: six 30-something friends attempt to negotiate relationships and sex.

Jack Davenport plays quirkily handsome yet verbally accident-prone Steve Taylor. In the first episode, cheered on by his perverted yet lovable Welsh best friend, Jeff Murdock (Richard Coyle), Steve attempts to end his relationship with irritating and ditzy Jane (Gina Bellman). To complicate matters (in a riotous scene in the ladies’ bathroom), Steve falls for sassy and independent Susan (Sarah Walker), who’s just broken up with the vain and relationship adverse Patrick (Ben Miles). Also along for the ride is Susan’s best friend, Sally, the paranoid beautician played by Kate Isitt. By the end of episode one, Steve and Susan are together—the start of their relationship journey that will take them through the next 27 episodes.

Unlike the American sitcom, in which a staff of writers contribute to a season (usually 22 episodes), Moffat wrote all 28 episodes in the four-season run—and every one of them is a gem. The Brit-com generally has a shorter season run (6 -10 episodes), and the advantage to this limited output is obvious on a show like Coupling. The writing, when filtered through fewer writers, leads to a more consistent storytelling (think John Cleese and Connie Booth with Fawlty Towers). Davenport’s Steve is given some particularly ribald and biting monologues about everything from pornography to his frustration with Susan’s need for so many cushions on a new couch. Over 28 episodes, audiences are introduced to such quotables as the “giggle loop,” “Captain Subtext,” “The Melty Man,” and “The Cabinet of Patrick’s Love.”

While the writing and acting is consistently excellent throughout the series, the forth and final season is the weakest. In season four, Coyle’s Jeff is replaced by Richard Maylan as timid and accident prone Oliver Morris. Mylan’s comic timing when it comes to farce is more than competent. However, for any actor, replacing such a beloved character as Jeff, would’ve been a daunting task. Maybe if the character had had more than one six-episode season to establish himself, things would’ve been different. But, as is, he’s the weakest link in the chain of the last season. And while there are still many uproariously funny moments of physical humor and sardonically wicked dialogue, always in the back of the viewer’s mind is a strong sense of Coyle’s absence.

The series only lasts 28 episodes—a bite-sized morsel compared to Friends’s 238. However, Moffat’s magic words and the actors’ quirky enthusiasm will leave you feeling substantially more satiated.

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