Rachel Cooke finds that a new drama is just too neat and tidy.
While I'd like to see an awful lot more television drama about now, as opposed to then, ITV1's new offering, Love Life (Thursdays, 9pm), is so very ordinary that you can't sit in front of it for more than ten minutes without wondering whether your time wouldn't be better spent reorganising your knicker drawer.
Set in Manchester, it's written by Bill Gallagher, who brought us Lark Rise to Candleford. At its heart are two couples: Joe and Lucy, and Dominic and Penny. Joe (Rob James-Collier, best known as the gay footman in Downton Abbey) and Lucy (Andrea Lowe) were living happily together when she decided she wanted a baby, at which point Joe, a scaffolder, scarpered. Actually, I think it may have been her dreary Christmas present to him, a cookbook called 365 Puddings that really had him heading for the hills. But anyway, in his absence - he's back now, obviously - Lucy got pregnant by her boss, Dominic (Alexander Armstrong), a posh fellow (when is Armstrong anything other than posh?) who runs a shop called
Tile Your Life. The twist in the tale is that Dominic and Penny (Sophie Thompson) are unable to have children of their own, a situation that has turned his wife's mind to the point where she pretends to be pregnant to the staff in baby shops.
The main problem with the series isn't the writing, though it's hardly dazzling; I had quite astonishing success predicting what each character was about to say. No, the real problem is the casting. James-Collier and Lowe are about the least charismatic leads it is possible to imagine (yes, he's preposterously handsome; but that isn't the same thing at all as presence). Every line is delivered with the utmost blandness: not badly, exactly, but oh-so-boringly. Thompson, for all that her character is a set of tics and sexist clichés, can act both of them off the screen with a single look. Result: I only care about one of these couples. No, scratch that. I only care about one half of one of these couples because Armstrong, though better than either of the leads, doesn't exactly convince either (I spend most of my time in a state of wonderment at how his eyes got so amazingly small).
As a result, I'm entirely resistant to Gallagher's textbook plotting. Nothing would make me happier than for Penny to steal Lucy's baby. Of course, this will never happen. Nor, alas, will Tile Your Life, purveyor of bathroom mosaics to the denizens of Manchester's smarter suburbs, go to the wall. Dominic, miserably trapped in his lonely marriage, is allowed to set about his latest design with a small hammer. But he must stop right there. This isn't about chaos. It's about resolution. Prepare yourself for an ending so saccharine it would make even Gregg Wallace blanch.