A TV show can be written with the best of intentions, made with love, commitment and an all-star cast, and yet sometimes this isn’t enough. There She Goes, a new series about a couple, Emily (Jessica Hynes) and Simon (David Tennant), who are bringing up a daughter with a severe learning disability, is a case in point (BBC Four, 10pm, 16 October). It couldn’t be more well-meaning if it tried, and the performances of Hynes and Tennant are lovely, the emotional weather scudding across their faces, their funnier lines never overplayed. But what is a drama for, if not to entertain? This one never quite does that.
Shaun Pye’s script is based on his own experiences (he has a daughter with a rare chromosomal disorder), and on the plus side it is determinedly unsentimental. But he tries to do too much too quickly, and the result is at once airless and over-loaded. No mere half hour of television can cope with this many flashbacks (again and again, we’re taken back to 2006, when people could still smoke in pubs and Rosie was a baby with a worryingly small head) and sudden shifts in tone (sadness, frustration, anger, black humour and then, at last, a sudden moment of hope and happiness). It feels unrelenting, and while I see that this may be half of his point – looking after Rosie is exhausting – you do need to give your audience a break every once in a while.
Rosie struggles to communicate, and she is often violent, biting and knocking holes in walls; upending a bottle of milk over her head seems like the greatest fun to her. (She is played by Miley Locke, who does not have a learning disability, but whose delicacy and aplomb ensure she utterly convinces in the part.) She is intensely loved, but this doesn’t preclude other feelings on the part of her parents: a longing for all that she might have been; a sense of futility, especially when faced with a smug neighbour whose child is lugging a cello across a pavement. How do they (barely) cope? Well, there’s wine, consumed enthusiastically after hours. And there are jokes. “I love Simple Minds,” says Emily, catching sight of the band on TV. “That’s no way to talk about Rosie,” replies Simon, faster than a silverfish darting across a skirting board. I have the sense that such lines are supposed to seem daring. But to me, this is just ordinary, human stuff. It hurts to love. If you’re ever to survive it, you’re going to need more than a few carefully deployed bad-taste gags.
In This Country: The Aftermath (BBC One, 10.30pm, 13 October) we returned (for the last time?) to the Cotswold village where Kerry Mucklowe (Daisy May Cooper) was last seen being picked up by police for receiving stolen goods (a load of vacuum cleaners she’d been looking after for her father, Martin). Poor Kerry. Her community service – reading aloud to the visually impaired – had been “even worse” than she’d anticipated; what a nightmare, trying to paint a verbal picture of the “very much too big” hat of Dr Seuss’s cat. Meanwhile, her cousin, Kurtan (Charlie Cooper), has lost his beloved job as barman at the bowling club, even though he had testified against his uncle (“he looks like a shaved worm,” he says, watching news footage of the trial).
I love This Country, the mockumentary to beat them all (the Cooper siblings write as well as star). It’s funny and rude and plangent, and for all its particularity, what it has to say about parochial ennui and purposelessness may be applied to any provincial town, at almost any time in the last 40 years.
I can hardly watch it without thinking – glory days – of those dank summer Sheffield evenings when me and my mates used each to buy a bottle of Concorde wine, to be drunk in the first bus shelter that presented itself to us. Perhaps this is why I was so pleased we were given (sort of) a happy ending, Kurtan at last getting another shift at the club, Kerry finally learning the truth about her father, on whom she’ll now waste no more of her adoration. Special plaudits, too, to Paul Chahidi as the vicar. The scene in which he listened quietly while one of Kerry’s father’s friends described in minute detail a certain sex act had me snorting orange Club all over my sweater. Those eye-rolls. If I could bottle them, I surely would.
This article appears in the 17 Oct 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Europe’s civil war