fri 19/12/2014

Love and Marriage, ITV | TV reviews, news & interviews

Love and Marriage, ITV

It's a nice idea, but ITV's family-centric comedy drama is light on entertainment

Pauline (Alison Steadman) is unhappy with drab Ken (Duncan Preston) in 'Love and Marriage'

They say that you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I began to grow bored with Love and Marriage about halfway through the opening credits. What seemed like endless pairs of smiling, photogenic couples swung onto the screen against a twee, brightly-coloured backdrop, and I realised I was already struggling to care.

I mean, get it, okay? Different branches of the family tree and all that? The new six-part comedy drama revolves around the trials and tribulations of the Paradise family, but the big problem with Love and Marriage is that there are too many characters, and very few of them seem to have any redeeming qualities.

It's not a spoiler to reveal that Pauline walks out on her family by the end of the episode

I say “comedy drama” but the laughs - at least in this first episode - are few and far between. Family matriarch Pauline Paradise (Alison Steadman) is retiring from her job as a lollipop lady, a fact that seems to be lost on stoic husband Ken (Duncan Preston). Eldest son Kevin (Stewart Wright) is hiding money worries behind an all-consuming obsession with preparing the family for an intensely competitive annual pub quiz and the upcoming christening of his new baby (pictured below, with mum Ashley Jensen), which long-suffering Pauline is expected to host and lay on food for. Daughter Heather (Niky Wardley) runs through all the sitcom cliches in her desperation for a child, while youngest Martin (Graeme Hawley) seems to have more than enough for all of them.

Given the pre-publicity, it’s not really a spoiler to reveal that Pauline walks out on her family by the end of the episode - albeit only down the road, to the seven-bedroom house where her dramatically different sister (Celia Imrie) is carrying on with Larry Lamb, who's married to somebody else. The final straw comes following the death of her father at the youngest Paradise’s christening, which seems particularly tragic as he got all the best lines.

Ashley Jensen with baby Beyonce in Love and MarriageIt might not sound like it from the above, but I really want to like Love and Marriage. It has a great cast and, with its focus on family dynamics and its older female leads, stands out in a schedule full of crime dramas and period fluff. There are a couple of hilarious scenes that hint at the show’s potential, including a scene straight out of US comedian Louis CK’s sitcom when some of Martin’s many children ask him whether their great-grandfather has gone to heaven. Taking a full episode to set up Pauline’s big decision was probably the biggest mistake, as it’s as if the show hasn’t really been given the chance to get going.

Those with the patience to tune in next week might find out whether Pauline goes on a date with the kindly teacher who gave her a copy of Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” on her retirement. They might discover whether Heather’s suspicions about her husband are correct, what happened to Celia Imrie’s daughter and what’s really going on with Kevin’s finances. However, I probably won’t be one of them.

Taking a full episode to set up Pauline’s big decision was probably the biggest mistake

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