London’s sexiest sextet are back for a fourth season of farce! Susan and Steve are now pregnant (well, mostly Susan), Patrick and Sally are discussing commitment (well, mostly Sally), and there’s this new guy called Oliver with his eye on Jane…
eyelights: the fantasy sequences. its attempt at a through line.
eyesores: Jeff’s replacement, Oliver. the more sitcom-y writing. the fantasy sequences.
“Can we please talk about this pregnancy without bringing up John Hurt?”
Series 4 of ‘Coupling’ takes the next step from Series 3, with Susan now pregnant and Steve trying to cope with all that this and parenthood entails. Patrick and Sally are now officially an item, though they long fought the urge to pair up, all the way to the last few episodes of Series 3. And Jane, well, she’s just Jane.
Following the departure of Richard Coyle as Jeff, showrunner Steven Moffat decided not to replace the actor, but the character. And so came Oliver, a dorky comic book shop owner, in the form of Richard Mylan. Oliver would end up being the goofy character, though he wouldn’t be as sex-obsessed as Jeff was.
Episode 1: Jane is meeting with a man that her dating agency set her up with, but her gynecologist shows up and she panics. Patrick leaves for the weekend, but forgot to tell Sally until 4 minutes beforehand – and she’d been looking forward to getting frisky. Susan and Steve have awkward discussions about having a child, including a misunderstanding of the purpose of a breastpump and a comparison of childbirth with the John Hurt scene in ‘Alien’. Then Oliver comes in thinking that Susan is Jane. The segment then ties into everything so far, but from Oliver’s perspective, with he and Jane not getting along. It all ends with Jane and Susan making out madly (Don’t ask: It was gratuitous… but nice). Oh, and though Jeff is no longer on the show, Steve receives a “call” from him. 7.75
Episode 2: Steve has nightmares about Susan’s pregnancy, which he and Susan discuss. Then we go to Hellmouth, Oliver’s store: his ex passes by, drops off his stuff, and it turns out that she’s pregnant and met Susan at a prenatal class. Meanwhile, Patrick also has nightmares – of his exclusive relationship with Sally. For some reason, Sally asks him what he thinks about during sex. Then Susan calls her, then Steve listens in, then Patrick listens in, then Jane also gets on the line. Then Oliver calls Susan back and he’s in on it too. Seriously. There’s also talk about the sexiness of pregnant women, and pregnant sex. It’s a very dialogue-heavy episode, but it’s not entirely clever. In fact, in parts it’s total $#!t. 6.75
Episode 3: This one opens with Patrick and Sally in a medieval fantasy setting, with every action being a chess move – then it goes to their bedroom, in a mirror of the same scene. They end up in a conversation about snuggling: apparently, men hate it for countless reasons but women don’t get it. This leads Patrick to asking Steve for the perfect excuse so that he can scamper home after sex. Oliver joins them, and naturally acts douchey. Later, all six of them have dinner together, leading to more chessplaying, more forced tensions and even a horrifying song-and-dance # by Sally. It’s not just an embarrassing episode, but I hate the clichés about men being perpetuated here. 4.75
Episode 4: Steve and Susan are discussing birth places: he compares it to a plane crash and doesn’t understand why she won’t get an epidural. Later, Susan discusses the responsibility of male partners with her pregnant friend, Oliver’s ex. She also asks Sally to be her birth partner but the dismayed redhead keeps tuning out and going to her “happy place”. Then Sally gets Jane to back her up. Jane then invites Oliver, in the hope of getting rid of him. Then he invites Patrick so that he’s not the only guy. Thus they all show up at the prenatal class (was there ever any doubt?). Le sigh. And why are the guys so insistent on the epidural? It’s not a bad episode, but it’s not especially funny. 7.0
Episode 5: This one starts in black and white: Oliver’s coping with his ex’s departure, which consists of not picking up after himself and also reconfiguring the living room. In the present, he meets with Jane at the supermaket and he’s his usual annoying goof. But then she sees him all cool and funny with some of the senior ladies shopping there, so she reconsiders him and they go for coffee – after which she asks to go up to his flat. She recounts the visit to the girls, and he to the boys: he was embarassed by all the porn in the living room, trying to distract her, but she was OK with it and even perused some with him. For some reason, she doesn’t understand what she’s seeing, but they hit it off anyway. Meanwhile, Patrick lets it slip he once slept with Jane and Susan goes into labour, ending on a cliffhanger. It’s not an especially funny episode. 7.0
Episode 6: As Susan is about to give birth, she and Steve pop by Patrick’s to get him and Sally. But Sally is obsessed with finding his tape of Jane (see Episode 6 of Series 1), and he tries to stop her, to kill time, to obfuscate – except that he’s not very bright. At the hospital, Steve dreams of Jeff, now in female form after having had a sex change. It’s a bit weird. Meanwhile, Jane is setting the stage for a hot date with Oliver while he’s banging on the door; since she can’t hear him because she;s got her mp3 player on, he climbs around window ledge to try to get it. The episode ends with Susan’s labour. The show tries to be touching, but it doesn’t really work. And it’s certainly not funny. 6.75
Though it makes sense for Steve and Susan to progress the way that they do, the gags often fall flat, as though the writers didn’t dare to get too irreverent with respect to pregnancy and parenthood – so it neutered the show somewhat. The other characters also seemed a bit uprooted without the pair and Jeff in tow.
Meanwhile, Oliver is annoying. Though he’s intended to fill the shoes left empty by Jeff’s departure, he’s a half-baked character who’s too bloody awkward to be endearing. Throw in a broad performance by Mylan and it’s barely watchable. I mean, even Jeff was better as a side character, so why give the new kid the spotlight?
Add to this the laugh tracks (which Steven Moffat, the showrunner, insists were recorded live during studio performances) which were grating because the gags weren’t at all funny, and some horribly-produced dream/fantasy sequences, and it made this series quite hard to watch at times. It felt trite, a bit cheap.
Well, that’s the note that ‘Coupling’ ended on.
What an unfortunate way to close the series, as a shadow of its former self.
Dates of viewings: November 2016