Linda (Suranne Jones), an ex-cop turned sex therapist, is pulled into a world of fetish and S&M when her ex-lover, Angie (Eva Pope), seeks her advice on a sordid murder case involving auto-erotic asphyxiation. When another body is discovered – this time one of Linda’s clients – both her professional and personal life is put at risk in this sizzling new miniseries from Kay Mellor (Coronation Street, The Chase).
Strictly Confidential 8.0
eyelights: the core concept. the cast. the secondary stories. the story arc.
eyesores: the deceitfulness of the pretty much all of the characters.
‘Strictly Confidential’ is a show I stumbled upon while browsing the shelves of a local second-hand CD/DVD store. I knew nothing about it, but the description on the back of the box made it sound appealing, being about sex therapists (I once considered the profession, if you must know). Plus which is was a Brit production, so the approach was likely going to be relatively grounded.
It was cheap, I had a store credit, so I took the plunge. And I’m very pleased that I did.
While the series is perhaps more soap opera-ish than I had anticipated, it did exactly what I’d hoped for: it delved into the sexual dysfunctions of regular couples with a certain maturity, providing insight into their issues, issues that many people encounter during their lives, thereby helping to de-stigmatize them as well. It isn’t a reality show, but it mixes fact and fiction relatively well.
‘Strictly Confidential’ is a series of six one-hour episodes, and only one set has been produced thus far. Thankfully, the series wraps up with sufficient a sense of closure that the viewer can’t feel cheated – if anything, it’s like watching a 6-part mini-series, not an aborted full-fledged series.
It covers two main plot lines:
1) A series of murders, which appear to be the mark of the same killer. The latest victim turns out to be a patient of our lead character, Linda. A former police officer, she has been called in by her ex to consult in the matter.
2) Linda and her spouse are trying to get pregnant, but they discover that he is sterile. Out of desperation, she wants to ask his brother to assist them in the pregnancy, causing all sorts of frictions between the various family members.
There are seven recurring players in the series:
Linda: Our main character, she’s an ex-police officer who now works as a sex therapist for Reconcile. Personally, I think Linda’s cool because she gives off the allure of being a solid, independent woman, she has a curvy figure instead of being stick thin (i.e. she looks real), she drives a motorcycle (and looks good in black leather! ;), and she is bisexual. I like that her bisexuality is part of the character and it’s not played out as something salacious. My main beef with her is that she leads with her emotions and can be genuinely selfish (especially when one considers the needs of her spouse). She felt authentic, but she’s not entirely admirable.
Richard: A team-building facilitator, he’s Linda’s spouse. I never warmed up to Richard because, from the onset, he seemed a little shifty. After discovering that he’s not entirely forthright and that his intentions aren’t exactly clear, that impression cemented. Hmmm. Add to this a certain immaturity (he’s extremely insecure about Linda’s continuing friendship with Angie) and a tendency to fly off the handle and there was no salvaging him in my eyes.
Greg: Also a sex therapist at Reconcile, he happens to be Linda’s brother-in-law. He seems like a genuinely nice guy, a caring family man who has a good relationship with everyone around him. However, his close relationship with Linda can sometimes drift into unprofessionalism, discussing clients together, amongst more personal matters.
Penny: She is Greg’s spouse. Pregnant with their third child, she is saddled with her moody mother-in-law, who is mostly bed-ridden and sometimes high maintenance. This character is largely undefined, beyond her virtuous patience, but I like her just because she’s played by Kate Isitt, who was also in the vastly under-rated ‘Coupling’.
Angie: She is Linda’s ex and is the main detective on the case. At first, I thought that she’d just show up from time to time, but she ended up having a more central role in the series, as the investigation deepened. I like her calm composure and professional demeanour. Eva Pope had played police officers before and it shows: she already had the groove down.
Janice: As played by Nimmy March, she is Reconcile’s feisty receptionist, a hard-working woman who has to coordinate everyone’s schedules, the clients and all sorts of unexpected nuisances. She doesn’t get the same perks as the therapists and isn’t too shy to speak up about it. Frankly, she was one of my favourite characters: she was smart, resilient, devoted, and outspoken. I like that.
The mom: She’s just a sketch, really, and is mostly there to add an extra layer of caustic humour to the family’s dynamics. All we know is that she’s ill and that she’s in disagreement with most of what her sons and their partners are up to. Beyond that, there’s not much else to her. She likely would have been developed more if the show had lasted beyond one series.
‘Strictly Confidential’ is then peppered with a variety of secondary characters, most of which are Linda and Greg’s patients, and whose respective stories usually last one episode:
Episode 1: We are introduced to a man who cannot have orgasms and/or ejaculate, a nymphomaniac woman with attachment issues, and a young bride who is physically incapable of having intercourse with her husband despite wanting to. The latter is particularly amusing because the young woman has an overly protective mother who intrudes on her; the mother is such a character, both irritating and amusing at once.
Episode 2: Here we are introduced to a couple who have not been sexual together for a long time. The husband desperately wants to open the relationship up and join a swingers club. Then there is the taxi driver who shares his cab with his spouse, both doing separate shifts. They never see each other, and when they do, she henpecks him. Clearly, their sex life is a bust.
Episode 3: In this episode, we meet a married woman who is addicted to online sex chat. She is unable to have relations with her spouse, and he is so upset that he constantly shouts. Good times. Meanwhile an overweight girl is dealing with her Turkish boyfriend’s inability to get an erection. Complicating matters is her relationship with her incredibly abusive younger sister, who also lives with them. I especially like this episode because it deals with body image on multiple levels.
Episode 4: A woman comes home early to find her husband cross-dressing. This does not go over well and they up at Reconcile. Then there is the rock band tour manager who got caught sleeping around on tour – by his wife and daughter. These patients as well as an another one from a previous episode are brought to a seminar by Linda and Greg as case studies. This also does not go well.
Episode 5: A woman catches her husband having sex with his secretary. The problem is that he appears to be doing it as reprisal for her own past infidelity. Meanwhile, Linda meets with a woman who is completely overwhelmed with her home life, the kids being the primary factor. She has completely lost her libido and her spouse is extremely frustrated.
Episode 6: The parents from episode 1 decided to get help for their own marital problems. It appears that the woman has a much stronger sex drive than her spouse and doesn’t feel desired by him anymore. Meanwhile, he tries to avoid sex because of all the pressure that he feels to perform. It was nice to see them more as regular characters than just as comic relief.
One of the things I liked about the show is that, even though its central theme is sex, it isn’t necessarily sexy. At least not to me. Perhaps it’s because, most of the time, the sexual issues are real-world ones: the show is more about conflict resolution than about titillation – which, to me, is commendable, as it would have been easy to go down the other route for the sake of ratings.
(For the record, it’s certainly not for lack of skin: ‘Strictly Confidential’ has a fair share of it for a television programme. It’s just that the intention of the show was different from your average cable TV midnight movie’s. Thankfully.)
I also thought that the show was exceptionally adept at providing us with a stream of red herrings. Since we don’t know if the murder mystery is isolated to one episode, multiple episodes or the whole series, show creator Kay Mellor was able to twist the knife at any time, throwing us for yet another loop. In retrospect, it will likely seem extremely convoluted, but it works quite well in the moment.
There were two things that kind of bothered me about the show, though. And, no, it wasn’t the melodrama. It was the dishonesty of most of the characters, and the fact that, despite the show’s title, the therapists were anything but confidential:
1) With respect to the rampant dishonesty, my partner and I were astounded by the number of blatant lies and half-truths the characters told each other. At first, we thought that it was limited to one character, but as the series progressed, we were starting to see that hardly anyone was truly honest. And the only ones who didn’t lie were secondary characters who quite possibly would have if given more screen time. I just couldn’t believe how unhealthy the relationships were: I mean, if you can’t respect or trust the people around you, what’s the point of having them in your life?
2) I know nothing about what happens behind the scenes between therapists, lawyers, doctors, or anyone else who is privy to confidential information about their clients, but my partner does: she is a social worker and therapist. She was aghast when she saw the therapists discuss each other’s clients together – in Canada, this would fly in the face of the ethics code. I mean, it’s already “common” sense that when someone confides in you you should keep those confidences to yourself, but I figured a couple of slip-ups, especially between family members, might happen. Thing is, Greg and Linda don’t just slip up from time to time: they’re plain indiscreet.
(As a side note, we don’t get to meet any of Reconcile’s other therapists, although we do see a few of them. So maybe this only happens with Linda and Greg.)
Beyond these two issues, however, I found ‘Strictly Confidential’ especially entertaining; I would have loved for it to have more than one season/series, to see what other patients Linda and Greg treat, what other cases Linda might be pulled into, and find out how all the relationships develop over time.
Sadly, it was not to be.
I’m not really sure what kind of longevity this series will have, now that I know how it ends, but I have no doubt that I will watch it a few more times. And I will also spread the word, lend it to friends. There’s absolutely no reason why, just because it’s called ‘Strictly Confidential’, it should remain so. It’s a show worth watching and talking about.
Date of viewing: February 22-23, 2013