Most people think about sex every six seconds. Shorten that to EVERY second and you’ve got Coupling. These people think about sex, they talk about sex, sometimes they even have sex. And they do it all in the most bizarre, hilarious fashion imaginable. Coupling features six thirty-something friends-involved, formerly involved, or looking to become involved with each other-in some of the funniest, most compromising and embarrassing situations ever presented on TV. Think the best bits of Friends, Seinfeld and Sex and the City rolled together in one hip, new comedy and you’ve got Coupling.
eyelights: its cast. its characters. its humor.
eyesores: its broad performances. its contrived, unrealistic situations.
“Why does she look at my ass when we’re talking?” “She’s lip-reading.”
‘Coupling’ is a critically-acclaimed and award-winning British sitcom that ran on BBC2 for four series. The first series, which ran in 2000, introduces us to a group of six friends that are or have paired up through the years. The show revolves around the pitfalls of dating, long-term relationships and, naturally, sex.
I first discovered it in 2009, when I stumbled upon someone selling their first two seasons locally. They were dirt cheap and, after looking the series up, I thought that it looked like a really good gamble. It turned out that I was rather pleasantly surprised by the show; I ended up gobbling both series in no time flat.
So let us introduce the various singles in ‘Coupling’:
Steve: He’s the everyman, the more middle-of-the-road character that is intended to be more relatable. He’s good-looking, but not overly so, lets his hormones get the best of him, is easily insecure and conflict-avoidant.
Patrick: He’s the hunky, womanizer type. He’s conservative in most respects and he has a… ahem… physical quality that women appreciate. His main function is to be in opposition with the others’ more modern views.
Jeff: He’s the grungy, extremely crude, loyal friend. He’s a total dweeb. He never gets the girl, even when there’s almost a guarantee. But he’s funny because he’s always taking outrageous positions on everything.
Susan: She’s the everywoman – or at least, she’s what many women would like to be: petite, blonde, pretty. She’s obviously Steve’s counterpart and they hook up. Personally, I find her bland on pretty much every level.
Sally: She’s an uptight, vain, red-headed beautician, who can be as fiery as her gorgeous mane. Though she tends to be superficial, she’s also very left-wing, which puts her in constant opposition with Patrick.
Jane: Steve’s ex, Jane is an airheaded brunette who simply cannot get over the fact that Steve no longer wants to be with her. She’s bisexual, very open-minded; she’s the outrageous one, both sexually and intellectually.
Episode 1: Steve wants to dump Jane, but she thinks that he might be planning to propose. He’s tried to break up with her before but he’s spineless and she always finds ways to weaken his resolve with sex. As he’s about to have make-up sex with Jane in a ladies’ room stall, he goes out to the condom dispenser and meets Susan; he’s immediately smitten with her and vice versa. So they go out on a date. But, due to all sorts of misunderstandings, the whole group winds up on that first date together. It’s a funny episode, but it falls down at the end; it’s totally implausible. Still, it has its moments. 7.25
Episode 2: Steve calls Susan for a date. She invites him to her place, but he gets self-conscious because she has vibrators (and lots of batteries for them!) and because her ex, who happens to be Patrick, is well-hung. Meanwhile, Patrick asks Sally out, and she agrees even though he’s a conservative precisely because she wants to see what he’s got in his pants. To muddle things, Jane brings a gay guy to the pub where they hang out in order to make Steve jealous – amusingly, she’s convinced that his being gay is no reason why she can’t seduce him. There are also some funny observations from Jeff about masturbation being great practice for gay people – they can get familiar with their partners’ anatomy by their lonesome, whereas heteros don’t have the same luxury. 7.0
Episode 3: While at the pub, Jeff brings up the concept of the “giggleloop”, which is when a person tries to suppress laughter in moments when it would be inappropriate to laugh. And succeeds temporarily, but only makes it worse because then one gets caught in a loop of trying to suppress a laugh about the previous laugh and so forth and so on – which inevitably leads to laughter at the wrong time. This leads to Jane’s aunt’s funeral, to which they all end up going: Jane asks Steve to accompany her because she hasn’t told her family that they’ve broken up – and they like him so she doesn’t have the heart to break the news at this juncture. Since he’s completely unable to stand his ground and eventually accepts, which complicates things with Susan, Susan also winds up going. Except that she then asks Patrick to accompany her as cover. But Patrick asks Sally to accompany him, and so forth. I hated this episode because Steve is a real coward and he only made things worse and worse – just to get out of a predicament that he caused. It’s really dumb, in the same way that ‘Three’s Company’ was at its worst. Still, there were a few laughs along the way. Cue the giggleloop. 6.75
Episode 4: Susan started cleaning Steve’s place, which causes him to worry that she might have found his stash of porn tapes. Well, she has, and while he’s discussing his concerns with the boys, she’s discussing her find with the girls. Susan later decides to hold a dinner with the gang and it all breaks out in the open at the table. Meanwhile, Jane has guilted her therapist into coming with her to the dinner as a “friend” and some of them think that they’re a couple. There are lots of double entendres, and some good moments, but it still felt awkward because the situations are so contrived and the characters so stupid in the way they interact with each other. 6.75
Episode 5: Jeff is getting looks from a really beautiful woman at the pub. The others egg him on, but he’s extremely nervous so he puts his foot in his mouth repeatedly when he goes to talk to her. Thankfully, she only speaks Hebrew so she has no idea how clueless he is – though her friend translates. I despised that the conversations were stereotyped: men are all about boobs and nothing else. Of course. In any event, she returns the next day, and the girls discuss how perfect she is and get a bit catty. Then Jeff approaches her again, at Susan’s pressing, and the conversation goes better – now that her friend isn’t there to translate. What was excellent was that we saw it from his perspective, without understanding what she is saying, and then we went back and heard it all over again from her perspective, now knowing what he’s said. Great idea. It’s just too bad that the characters are so awkward and the dialogues so unlikely. 5.5
Episode 6: Jane shows up at Patrick’s, and stumbles upon a cupboard full of VHS tapes of home videos of the girls he’s slept with. Steve gets upset that Patrick still has a tape of Susan, whom the latter used to date. Meanwhile, the girls talk about it and Susan is also upset that he has the tape. When she pops by his place to confront him, she finds that they’re all there watching it. Awkward… but pretty funny. At some point, Jeff takes the discussion off topic, getting the boys to talk about screen nudity, their favourite actresses, …etc., but it didn’t trip up the episode. I did like that it discussed the risks and ethics surrounding shooting your own home videos – now, with the internet, it’s a bigger concern than ever. 7.5
It’s strange, because I remember adoring this show the first two times I watched it, even lending it to my supervisor at work. But, this time, the laugh track and overly comic performances got on my nerves a little bit. I also found the writing a bit lazy, awkwardly contriving the situations the characters found themselves in.
I still had fun, but the freshness of its basic concept seems to have dissipated since I first discovered it. I found myself cringing more often, though I did laugh a fair bit as well. But I suppose that it’s not uncommon for shows to lose their edge as time goes on – trailblazers lose their edge as culture shifts around them.
Having said this, I look forward to revisiting the second season anyway. It’ll still be fun.
Dates of viewings: Jan 5-18, 2016