sun 20/04/2014

Love Life, ITV1 | TV reviews, news & interviews

Love Life, ITV1

Bill Gallagher's parenthood drama lives up to its bland title

Joe (Rob James-Collier), Lucy (Andrea Lowe) and Dominic (Alexander Armstrong)

Following ITV’s resounding victory in the battle of the masters ‘n’ servants period shows – Downton Abbey vs. Upstairs Downstairs, for the uninitiated – the Beeb are overdue for a retaliatory blow. And so the gauntlet has been thrown down, in the unlikely form of what might be the very blandest title ever conceived of for a romantic drama.

When it was announced in September that both channels had commissioned programmes called Love Life, it wasn’t hard to see where the smart money was going. Press for the BBC’s outing (now renamed True Love and set to air in May) promises a set of “original, provocative” love stories and its veteran cast included names like David Morrissey, Jane Horrocks and David Tennant. This effort from ITV is limply billed as “a drama about love, romance, family and babies”, a précis that actually understates the lack of inspiration at Love Life’s core.

Written by Lark Rise To Candleford scribe Bill Gallagher, the script’s interweaving stories follow two struggling couples. Joe (Rob James-Collier) is a commitment-phobic bore whose emotional maturing appears to have stalled somewhere around the gap year age. See how many of his smug “Travelling is the most alive I’ve ever felt! I never want to be tied down to real life!” speeches you can endure before you begin chucking objects at your television.

It’s never a great sign when a romance has you rooting for adultery purely on the basis of it being the least tedious alternative

A year after girlfriend Lucy’s (Andrea Lowe) suggestion that she stop taking the pill sends Joe literally running for the (foreign) hills, he returns from his travels to find her heavily pregnant with what turns out to be her married boss Dominic's (Alexander Armstrong) child. He’s unaware of the fact, and distracted by his own problems with high-strung wife Penny (Sophie Thompson) who’s recently discovered she’s unable to get pregnant herself. It is mind-boggling even to attempt to guess where all of this is heading. Will the desperate wife make a melodramatic bid to take the baby from Lowe’s sweet young thing? Will Joe and Lucy overcome their not-at-all-hackneyed differences and get it together by the series end? It’s simply impossible to say.

Joe (Rob James-Collier)Most of Love Life’s problems are down to its determinedly middlebrow dramatic ambitions, but James-Collier doesn’t help its case. Best known for his enjoyably Machiavellian Downton footman, it’s perhaps no surprise that his blandly pleasant everyman disappoints, but there’s no getting round his essential lack of charisma in the role. Lowe fares better, especially in her before-the-affair scenes with the equally decent Armstrong. It’s never a great sign when a romance has you rooting for adultery purely on the basis of it being the least tedious alternative.

It might have helped to see more of Joe and Lucy in the past – their first flashback to happier days ends in a prescient argument, and it’s hard to invest in a couple whom you have no reason to believe were ever particularly happy, though there's room for this to change over the next two episodes. But even if their relationship were better developed, their characters would still be bland archetypes and their story still wouldn’t have much to say about the beginnings and endings of relationships, nor the inability to conceive, nor the experience of unexpected pregnancy. This is the kind of pandering, teatime-friendly telly that certain Brit commissioners still seem peculiarly unable to resist. In the age of SherlockMisfitsThis Is England ‘88 et al, it feels less reasonable than ever for drama to be ­this relentlessly middle-of-the-road.

Most of the problems are down to its determinedly middlebrow dramatic ambitions

Explore topics

Share this article

Comments

Won't be wasting my time

Won't be wasting my time watching the second episode what a load of boring **##*~ ( not sure what words best describe it so will leave that to your imagination. Characters are bland uninteresting and none of them are good enough to pull off a lead role... Had high expectations due to writers previous works but this is definitely a let down, or is it more to do with the appalling cast...?

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Use to create page breaks.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

Newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday - free!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters