Wednesday, January 03, 2007

That was the life that was

I don't normally do telly reviews, but given that last night's ten-year reunion of This Life was the closest we come to "event television" these days, I thought I would make an exception.

Iain Dale, clearly as big a fan of the original as I was, thinks it was "outstanding," a reference to the last line of the last series, uttered by Warren when Milly clomped Rachel after discovering she had told Egg about her secret affair with O'Donnell. (Still with me?)

Anyway, while it was good to catch up with the former flatmates again after all this time, the main problem with it to my mind was its lack of believability - in total contrast to the original series in which the believability of the characters was its very essence.

Basically, we all knew people like Myles, Egg, Milly, Anna and Warren. I was actually at uni with Amy Jenkins, who wrote it, and while she did not base her characters on individual members of the UCL Law Faculty, it had its fair share of driven careerists (Milly), sexual predators (Anna), rich boys playing at law (Myles), and state school kids who didn't quite fit in (Warren).

By contrast, I don't know anyone who bought himself a huge house in the country at the age of 28 after making a fortune in Hong Kong, and neither do I know anyone who became an overnight literary sensation after finally completing a novel he had been working on for a decade.

The homespun stars of This Life seemed to have joined the ranks of the super-rich and the moderately famous, which, for me, immediately put them at a distance. It wasn't helped by the fact that Egg, the character I once most identified with, had clearly grown up into an egotistical twat.

Milly's conversion from superlawyer to supermum was more believable. As Anna shrewdly pointed out, she poured the same commitment, the same earnestness into bringing up her child that she once poured her cases when she worked all hours at O'Donnell's practice.

By contrast, Anna seemed to have turned into a cliche of the woman who suddenly realises she "can't have it all" after reaching the top of her profession in her mid-30s. Did it really take her ten years to realise that this is what happens?

The other thing I found really irritating was the lack of continuity between the end of the second series (which was not written by Jenkins) and last night's episode, notably in the relationship between Egg and Milly which had all but foundered after her fling with O'Donnell.

In one of the most powerful scenes of the final 1997 episode, he told her: "I told you that if you sleep with someone else while you're going out with me, it's over." You really believed Egg meant this when he said it, but now we discover that apparently he didn't mean it all.

I think Egg would have continued running his restaurant, maybe making a moderate success of it, while Milly would eventually have married O'Donnell. These were a couple going their separate ways for most of the second series - how are we expected to believe they would still be together ten years on?

It would have been great if they could have got Natasha Little (Rachel) involved. The frisson between her and Milly was part of what drove the second series and I half expected her to get wind of the reunion and turn up uninvited.

The plot denouement itself was neat. Anna had come along in search of a sperm donor to help her realise her dream of motherhood, which of course we all assumed would be Myles. In fact, she asked Warren, although you didn't get to see them actually do the deed.

But then Anna went and shagged Myles after all, leaving me wondering whether we really were being asked to believe that Myles would let Warren co-parent his own child.

If so, I'm afraid that was no more credible than the idea of Myles - a consummate office politician in the original but never really the sharpest tool in the box - as a Tory millionaire with a string of hotels.

All in all, I would prefer to remember the end of This Life as Milly and Rachel brawling on a dancefloor at Myles's first wedding. Now that really was "outstanding."

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james higham said...

Never having seen this, I'm wondering about this Anna shagging first this one then the other. Sounds a nice lady. I imagine parliament would provide similar entertainment to a 'lobby correspondent'.

Sorry Paul, amends made.

skipper said...

Yes, I had similar problems in suspending disbelief. The Guardian's reviewer got close with his argument that the first series focused on people on that fascinating cusp of entry into real adulthood when everything is possible while nothing is really binding. Ten years on the characters have lost that lustre of possibility and we can't fail to be a bit disappointed by7 what they have become. Having said that, I enjoyed it and my interest was held to the end. But The Thick of It was much more of a treat....

RedEye said...

Yes, the Thick Of It is excellent - which makes the Beeb's failure to release it on DVD all the more puzzling (given that it happily releases tosh such as Two Pints of Lager on to DVD so readily).