Ten years on, it's all gone wrong

This reunion seemed designed to show that people get duller with age

<strong>This Life Plus Ten</

"Outstanding" should have been, in every sense, the final word on This Life. It was uttered at the end of the last episode of the drama back in 1997. Warren, the confused gay lawyer, had arrived late at his friend Miles's wedding reception. "Outstanding" was the mot juste in his new Australian vernacular . Back from an attempt to "find himself" Down Under, impressionable Warren would, of course, have absorbed the local idiom.

Mind you, the scene he witnessed deserved the verdict. The lives of his ex-housemates were in fabulous, mid-twenties chaos. Unscrupulous, stupid Miles was marrying the wrong Sloane. Combustible Anna, in consequence, had turned critical. Nice but hopeless Egg had learned his ambitious girlfriend, Milly, was sleeping with her boss. Warren's ex, the motorbike courier Ferdy, was off his head on Ecstasy. Outstanding? Oh yes, a lot of lives were left here outstanding.

The adjective was also a fair - modest, even - critical verdict on 32 episodes that had looked (some hope!) as if they might transform TV drama. This was a soap without melodrama, a programme about young drug users that did not do overdoses, a drama starring gay men that didn't feature Aids. Scenes apparently went nowhere; the dialogue was throwaway. It was naturalistic, documentary-like. Cameras wobbled about, their focus sometimes missing the speaker altogether.

So where was the hand-held camera when we revisited these friends a decade on (9pm, 2 January)? Certainly not in the hands of the director Joe Ahearne who, although he also worked on the original series as a writer and director, here placed cameras on tripods at every opportunity. This Life used to look like a reality soap. In this incarnation, it looked like a feature film and, at 80 minutes, felt as long as one.

There was one hand-held camera: it belonged to a pretty young film-maker making a reality documentary about Egg. Egg had actually got round to writing the book he was always threatening, and in its bestselling pages were all his friends in light disguise. As if this conceit were not artificial enough, the thislifers were being filmed at a ten-year reunion being held for no reason at Miles's country mansion, Miles having left the law and got rich in the hotel business. Branagh's Peter's Friends met Poliakoff's Friends and Crocodiles met MTV's Real World, and none of them got on with anyone else.

With the documentary element came video diaries. A decade ago, viewers were left to read between apparently improvised lines. Now the characters lectured mini-cams on precisely how they were feeling. "I've had all this success," said Egg the wordsmith. "People say I should be so happy, so why do I feel like shit?" We did not, however, need Anna to soliloquise to discover that her success as a single professional woman covered a desperate need for a child. An early scene at a fertility clinic showed her noisily demanding "sperm".

With the feature-film pretension came too much plot. Having caught up with everyone's fortunes, we endured Ferdy's funeral, Miles's new Vietnamese bride leaving him, Milly falling off a horse and Warren apparently snuffing it from an overdose - although these last two events were, technically, non-events, as Milly was unhurt and Warren just asleep. Miles screwed Anna. We saw that coming. Anna chose Warren to be her sperm donor anyway. Saw that coming, too.

With the mockumentary came a move towards comedy. Egg, having rowed into the middle of a lake to dispose of the film-maker's tapes, fell in and ended up in a soggy clinch with Milly. Once compared to Friends, This Life now demanded its laughter track.

The still-fabulous cast battled to breathe emotion into all this: Daniela Nardini as Anna and Jack Davenport as Miles had some especially fine scenes. (Oddly, they now both look like each other and a bit like Rod Liddle, too.) But Amy Jenkins's script stifled them. I was always suspicious of how much her "original idea" had been responsible for This Life's success. She was, after all, credited with solo-writing only a dozen of the original episodes. Her dialogue and plotting here were all perspiration. But I concede that if her intention was to show that as we grow older, so we grow duller, she succeeded.

I just felt, as one of Jenkins's mouthpieces might say, a Sense Of Loss: not just for her protagonists' youth, but for their hinterlands: their parents, their lovers, their law courts and their chambers. The last words were left to Miles as he headed off, inexplicably, for Timbuktu: "Love you, guys!"

Not so much, actually.

Andrew Billen is a staff writer for the Times

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Andrew Billen has worked as a celebrity interviewer for, successively, The Observer, the Evening Standard and, currently The Times. For his columns, he was awarded reviewer of the year in 2006 Press Gazette Magazine Awards.