thu 26/11/2020

Reunited, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Reunited, BBC One

Reunited, BBC One

Latest glossy thirtysomething comedy drama from Mike Bullen feels dated

The cast of 'Reunited' portraying 'a carefully woven fabric of archetypes'

It occurred to me halfway through Reunited that you could map the characters of This Life – the epochal house-share drama of the Nineties – on to those featured in Mike Bullen’s one-hour pilot feature and see little change in the terrain.

It occurred to me halfway through Reunited that you could map the characters of This Life – the epochal house-share drama of the Nineties – on to those featured in Mike Bullen’s one-hour pilot feature and see little change in the terrain. All the tropes of modernity 2010-style – Google, Facebook, iPhones – were trotted into shot, but the premise was a dated one, while some of the supposedly edgy, zeitgeisty signifiers – white-painted bare walls, winking references to cocaine – were way off the pace. At least they didn't play any Portishead.

Six former tenants of “a shared house in Stokey [Stoke Newington, in North London]” were reunited after eight years. Played with zest by Zoe Tapper, Hannah (This Life equivalent: Anna, with less sass and more lipgloss but still clearly in need of redemption through True Love) is a social and sexual adventurer who flees Tokyo after being caught in bed with her boss. She returns to London following the discovery that her significant ex, Martin (This Life equivalent: Miles, the charming, slightly aristocratic high-achiever-with-a-soul, played here by Joseph Millson) is engaged to Sophie (Jemima Roper; TLE: Francesca, posh and peripheral), and suddenly the old gang are thrown back into the same orbit.

This being a pilot, the introductions were made with indecent haste. There was Martin’s former best friend Rob (This Life equivalent: Kira, a carefree fool wisecracking through the emptiness) played with no little charm - and sans specs - by Ed Byrne. Rob destroyed the friendship back in 2002 by sleeping with Hannah (“It was a combination of things.... rum and coke”), an event which, we learn, caused the group to fracture and scatter. In a neat bit of counter-intuitive casting, Rob was perhaps the most unlikely Lothario this side of David Mellor, a struggling photographer and borderline sex pest with the skin tone of a polar bear, who nonetheless seemed to have a conveyor belt of lithe lovelies chugging in and out of his artfully grotty flat.

Bel (Emma Stansfield) and Danny (Navin Chowdhry) were the Milly and Egg of the piece, the ostensibly stable pair whose relationship dated back to the house-share days and had produced three children. Except in Bel’s case that stability engendered the kind of seven-year itch which, under the alibi of a weekly “Spanish class”, tended to lead each Thursday to her conjugating a series of verbs on all fours in her lover’s bed.

A woeful scene with a car salesman made Lesbian Vampire Killers seem sophisticated


Sara (Michelle Terry) was the loosest stitch in this carefully woven fabric of archetypes, the damaged Northerner bumping from nervous breakdown to therapy to religion. She yearned for the past and the group who provided the family unit she never had. Except, of course, they were all bloody yearning, whether for lost innocence, lost love, or just that lost spark. Hannah and Martin, predictably, started sending each other lingering glances and ambiguous texts, muttering about things being “complicated” even as Rob and Hannah furtively relived their earlier casual fling.

Bullen wrote Cold Feet, Sunburn and Life Itself. He knows how to construct these kind of glossy, thirtysomething dramas in his sleep and he certainly set a cracking pace. It takes no little skill to weave together the lives of six protagonists so quickly, carving each of them an identity, even if they were all, at best, two-dimensional (Hannah’s parents, in particular, seemed to have been beamed in direct from Keeping up Appearances). The action took place in LondonLand, that smoothed-over sitcom version of the capital exclusively made up of pastel apartments, grand Victorian semis, wall-to-wall Hackney cabs and impeccably behaved children, and in which everyone met in the same dreadful wine bar in which most of Coupling and all of Miranda seemed to take place. No one took the tube, it never rained; everything was just too well groomed, smart and shallow, and that included the script.

There was an utter implausibility in the way in which they all immediately fell together again. Despite Rob sleeping with his best friend’s girl, their eight-year freeze-out thawed in a trice, and overnight they were playing squash and bear-hugging in the men’s room. Perhaps it’s the curse of the pilot episode (or perhaps just of British television, which gives itself much less time to unpick the story than the best of its American counterparts), but the speed of rapprochement effectively undermined any pretensions to real drama. With no other life on show (no sign of work, or other friends, or hobbies, or family ties), it seemed like eight weeks since they all last saw each other, rather than eight years.

Was it funny? Kind of. There were some good lines (“Camomile?” “Nurofen...”) and some easy, unforced comedy that seemed to arise naturally; then again there was a woeful scene with a car salesman that made Lesbian Vampire Killers seem sophisticated. Was it dramatically engaging? Not really. It was oddly unbalanced and the “heart” seemed grafted on, each serious development cynically measured out and announced with subtle-as-a-brick plinky-plonk music. Reunited was certainly slick, but it was hard to care too much about these folk and their highly predictable tick-boxes of “issues”, although Byrne showed promise in a dramatic role that stretched him just far enough beyond his comedy persona.

The crucial question facing any pilot is: do we want to see more? I’m not so sure I do. Perhaps I’ve had enough This Life for this life.

 

Of course, they were all bloody yearning, whether for lost innocence, lost love, or just that lost spark

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Comments

I agree with most of the review. Maybe I'm still disillusioned after This Life - the dreadful reunion. Didn't care that much about the characters. Probably will watch the next episode if it gets a series. Just to see if it's improved. Have to disagree about Ed Byrne. All comedians can cut it as dramatic actors apparently. Maybe he's the exception who proves the rule.

When is it on again?

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